by Taylor Anderson and Patrick Ehlers
Taylor: A couple days ago, Erica Henderson announced on Twitter that she would be stepping away from artistic duties on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. For fans of the comic, particularly those who have been reading it from the beginning, this comes as crushing news, which is only moderately softened by knowing Henderson is stepping down of her own accord. While that makes the situation a bit easier to swallow it’s still is weird to consider a Squirrel Girl comic not drawn by Henderson. Luckily, there are still a few issues left to appreciate Henderson’s artwork and the 30th issue provides a great example of why she’ll be missed so much.
Having narrowly escaped a bunch of cosmic missiles, Doreen, the Silver Surfer, and their friends must now convince the various alien species duped by the Imposter Surfer to make amends and not blow them or anyone else up. This proves no easy task as there are nearly 70 aliens all gathered together, who also have beefs with one another. While this is a tall task for Doreen to solve (which of course she does because she’s amazing) the portrayal of all these creatures proves an easy — and worthy — task for Henderson. Take, for example, how she clearly establishes a wide and differing range of species in the first scene on the Mother Ship.
The two aliens in the foreground are somewhat typical alien space fare — you know, a giant blue chameleon and pink guy with a weird head. These guys don’t stand out all that much, especially when compared to the myriad of aliens scene in the background. Henderson has always done a great job of bringing Ryan North’s weird ideas to life and this is readily appreciable here. In the first panel, I fancy the grey tube worm with four arms. In the second, it has to be the grey blob barely visible among the chaos happening. Neither of these aliens are as revolutionary as, say, Abbot and Costello from Arrival, but they’re unique and fun enough to warrant praise here. Instead of humanoids with funny shaped heads or different colored skin, they are aliens more unique and fitting of the weirdness typical of this series.
In this way, Henderson does a great job of complementing North’s ideas in fun and interesting ways. However, that’s not where her skills end, because Henderson is damn funny too. Later in the issue, when Doreen is brainstorming how to reconcile all the various grudges held by the aliens, she makes use of a whiteboard to help her visualize her thinking. Typically, Henderson is sure to not let this chance for humor slip through her fingers.
A couple funny things stand out here. First, Vegans are an alien species listed on the board. Nothing need more be said about why that’s funny and clever. It speaks for itself. More glancing around proves just as funny though. All of the connecting lines that Doreen has drawn have various synonyms for agreement. There’s something about seeing all these similar words plastered up on this board that just tickles me. Are the different shades of meaning between the words meaningful? Is Doreen just being creative? Or is there a deeper meaning to Doreen’s writing here? It’s wonderfully weird and a small attention to detail that becomes increasingly funny each time I look at this panel.
Henderson can clearly take North’s ideas and makes them funnier and better, but even on her own she’s incredibly funny. While Doreen is helping the aliens solve their problems, Chippy and Nancy go to collect a fragment of the Power Cosmic so it can’t be used as a weapon anymore. As part of their plan to capture the fragment, Nancy has to pretend to use a bathroom to distract the guards. This means she’s cornered into using an alien bathroom, which, as Henderson shows, is horrifying.
There are several funny things about these two panels. First, the symbol for alien bathroom is both confusing and disturbing. It appears to be an alien from the Alien movies vomiting into a toilet. Is…is that how things work for these terrifying creatures? Also, if that isn’t vomit, does that mean the alien is inserting it’s bitey mouth snake into the toilet? If so I have questions. So that’s funny, obviously, but then Nancy opens the door to reveal what appears to be heavy machinery in the bathroom. Again, I have questions but I’m not sure if I want any of them answered if that’s how bodily fluids are being taken care of. Lastly, the inside of the bathroom contains a hilarious reference. Immediately behind Nancy are three shells. Anyone who has seen Demolition Man starring Sylvester Stallone recognizes those. Again, their use and meaning is mysterious, save that they somehow involve the toileting process. What a weird, but wonderful reference!
Patrick, are you similarly bummed to know that Henderson and her wonderful and hilarious artwork will be exiting this series soon? If so, is there anything else you want to shout out about Henderson’s artwork in this issue? Also, what about the story itself? North is typically funny and clever here, but does anything else stand out to you?
Patrick: I’ll definitely miss Henderson on this book. It’s not just that just she’s able to go toe-to-toe with North in terms of humor, but in terms of genuine warmth. North and Henderson’s yuks always seem to come from a place of positivity. I can’t help but compare them to some of the other jokesters in Marvel’s bullpen, creators like Gerry Duggan, Christopher Hastings, Chip Zdarsky. I love all of their writing, and they — along with North — share a sort of self-aware humor that puts the silliness of the Marvel universe into perspective. North and Henderson seem alone in wanting to plumb the depths of their hero being successful in that universe. Deadpool is compelling because he can’t quite seem to do anything but murder-and-regret his way through life, Gwenpool knows her world is fictional (and often treats it that way), and Howard the Duck bumbles from one in-over-his-head case to another. Doreen, Tippy and Nancy know they’re in a silly world and they still endeavor to make it a better silly world.
I have an example of exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a moment in this issue when Silver Surfer tries to explain the full extent of the power cosmic to his compatriots.
Henderson goes full bore here, showing off trippy space magics truly worthy of North’s poetic description of universal oneness. Shoutout to color artist Rico Renzi for that transcendent mix of staggering colors — especially when it’s compared to the ultra-flat coloring on the two panels that follow. The whole team is working together to sell the wonder of this moment… and then it is immediately undercut by the alien explaining that Nancy’s only wielding the weapon-y parts of the power.
And it turns out Norrin’s “aw geez” reaction is sufficient, because all it takes to de-escalate Silver Nancy is for Squirrel Girl to continue doing what she’s been doing: making peace. I love it! And North and Henderson have been broadcasting this kind of resolution since the very beginning of the story arc. Remember? Squirrel Girl 27 started with Nancy and Tippy being tricked into revealing how Doreen stopped Galactus from devouring Earth. The answer: she made friends with him. I mean, even your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is gonna solve problems by punchin’ a dude; Doreen’s just gotta have a heart-to-heart.
For my money, the cleanest distillation of this story arc’s meaning comes directly from Henderson. Two wide-eyed aliens that have been shouting at each other for two pages (and untold generations before that) decide to make peace.
The silence is nice, the handshake is civil, but the hug (and the heart!) are perfect. Optimism, pacifism, communication, forgiveness, love is the answer — hot damn this series makes me feel good.
(Oh and, Taylor, I assume the inclusion of “Vegans” on the whiteboard refers to aliens from a planet in the Vega star system. I suppose it could be referring to people who don’t eat animal products, but I can’t imagine anyone would have beef with those guys.)
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?