You know, it’s not easy being a super hero. After all, if you’re not one of the big guns, you get either made fun of, ignored or mistaken for Green Lantern. The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris, out this June from Quirk Books, highlights some of the lesser known characters (at least by mainstream audiences), but not all of those lesser known heroes are exactly forgotten. No, there are certainly characters that, given the creative team and direction, can shine no matter how silly or over-the-top they are. One of those characters is Squirrel Girl.
Created in 1992, Squirrel Girl is a bit of an anomaly in the Marvel Universe as easily one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel canon who happens to have one of the silliest gimmicks. This is the heroine who can take down a powerhouse villain like Thanos … with her squirrelly squirrel powers. And she’s a bit of a goofball.
As of January, Squirrel Girl has a brand new platform in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson. It’s the story of Doreen Green, mild-mannered young woman who just enrolled in college who is definitely not a mammal-themed superhero. Of course in reality she is Squirrel Girl and in between getting used to college and making friends, she must battle the big bads of the Marvel Universe. As you do.
With two issues out so far, let me tell you why this book is definitely worth a read.
1. Ryan North as Writer: Months ago when the book was announced, the very first thing I saw in the press release was that Ryan North was going to be writing the series. And my immediate reaction was, “Well … that is absolutely perfect, isn’t it?”
Because if you’re on the internet often (as I am wont to do), you may have seen a little webcomic called Dinosaur Comics. That’s written by Ryan North. He’s also done some of the Adventure Time comics as well. By and large, he’s known for writing really funny, clever stuff. His style is irreverent and silly and always nudging (occasionally cracking) the fourth wall. Squirrel Girl is a character that needs that kind of silliness and fun in her writing. She needs the kind of writer that goes “Yeah, let’s have our hero learn about Galactus heading towards Earth via her squirrel friends and their ability to sneak into observatories.” It’s also the writer who goes “Let’s have Squirrel Girl plan to take a selfie on Galactus after thoroughly kicking his planet-sized butt.”
Dinosaur Comics is well-known for its quippy hovertext and yep, the book has its own kind of hovertext. Well, sort of. Instead of hovering over it with your mouse (which is a little hard to do with a book made out of paper), the text is instead at the bottom of each page in light orange. Like I said, if you’re familiar with Dinosaur Comics’ hovertext messages, these have a similar tone. It’s like getting a bonus joke on each page!
2. Erica Henderson as Artist: Erica Henderson is on art and, like North, this was a great choice. Henderson’s style is clean but with cartoonish character designs that fit the tone of the writing so well. Best of all, Doreen’s design is fantastic. She’s on the shorter side compared to the humans around her (especially issue one’s foe) and Henderson draws her as curvy. Doreen has a body shape I’d actually see in real life and, when her tail is magically tucked in during the day, she has a “conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” Her words.
Imagine, a female character who thinks her big butt is awesome!
Add that to her pixie cut hairstyle and the slight overbite of her squirrelly buck teeth and there’s just something so appealing with her design in this book. The creative team has said they didn’t want her to be “sexy” — that her being desirable to dude readers who want to look at “hot girls” was not something particularly driving the book’s development. But I go back to the description of appealing — she’s physically appealing to me as a reader because she’s absolutely happy in her own skin and her curviness is one aspect of herself that she embraces. The body language of the art is part of that.
3. She Has Her Own Theme Song: You heard me right — a theme song. The whole series starts off with a two page intro scene where Squirrel Girl beats up some muggers. And she sings during it. She sings her theme song. While she kicks butt.
If you suddenly find yourself singing along, don’t be ashamed – Ryan North himself sang a cover of it, squirrel-style.
Now you might be saying, “But Katie, isn’t that the Spider-Man theme?” Well, the creative team answers that in the letters section:
“The song was composed by Academy Award winner Paul Francis Webster and Robert ‘Bob’ Harris in 1967, but at the time it was accidentally applied to another obscure Marvel character named ‘Spider-Man.’ Several decades later we detected this error and corrected it, restoring the song to its originally intended glory, and now it's totally about a woman who talks to squirrels.”
4. Doreen is a STEM student: I might have been an English major myself, but I have a warm place in my heart for women in STEM. Because ladies in science and tech fields are awesome and they also get a lot of erasure and harassment, not to mention that young women get dissuaded from pursuing STEM fields to begin with. So yes, it made me very happy to get to the part of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 when Doreen is moving into her new dorm room and tells her squirrelly pal Tippy that she’s chosen to major in computer science.
Now, Tippy is shocked that she’s not majoring in Squirrels (which to be honest may very well be a thing you can do in the Marvel universe), but Doreen has the best answer:
“Tips, higher education is about bettering yourself, and I already know literally everything about squirrels. I’m Squirrel Girl. I’m not Achieving Consistency across Distributed Database Systems Girl. Well. Not yet.”
Hooray for more tech ladies!
5. The Side Characters: To be frank, the cast of characters in this series has been quite slim so far, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Considering there’s some pretty big stuff happening already in the comic, including the planet eating ancient space being Galactus making his way towards Earth in issue two, only having a handful of characters interacting with Doreen at this point makes sense. Luckily, the side characters also happen to be a delight to nearly rival Doreen herself. Sidekick Tippy the squirrel keeps Doreen in line and has her back no matter what the danger, Doreen’s brand new crush Tomas is charming and has great cheekbones, but my big favorite so far is Nancy, Doreen’s roommate. A bit rough around the edges, Nancy is focused on two things: knitting and her cat Mew. Mew is short for Mewnir, by the way. She has very specific tastes, is what I’m saying.
We’ve only seen a little here and there of Tomas and Nancy at this point, but their roles as bouncing off points for the often manic Doreen work nicely. And to be honest, it makes sense that she and Nancy aren’t super best friends forever just yet, since this is their first day of college and just met as roommates. Still, Nancy has a sweet side, quickly seeing Doreen flustered around Tomas and giving her some encouragement when it comes to flirting with him. She certainly doesn’t have to give her roommate a morale boost, but she does and that’s a good sign for their dynamic as roommates. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Nancy.
6. The Deadpool Trading Cards: Hey, do you know about Deadpool? The smashing-the-fourth-wall Marvel anti-hero who really loves tacos and cracking wise? Well, it turns out he’s been making trading cards within this comic universe. And it turns out Squirrel Girl is using them as handy dandy references for the who’s who of villains and any or all starships they might have. The panels with the cards are drawn by Maris Wicks (who is the colorist for Batgirl, another book I really enjoy about a superheroine getting her degree in a STEM field) and they’re the perfect complement to Henderson’s overall art in the series.
If you’re a fan of Deadpool, it’s a delightful little treat. If you’re a not a fan of Deadpool … it’s only one panel each. I’m sure you can handle it.
7. The Pure Fun: Is it a cop out to use “It’s pure fun” as the last reason when the rest of the points are about how fun the book is? … Maybe. But it’s my list and dang it, this deserves its own place. Fun is at the heart of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It’s the book’s mantra. It drives our character, the story, the mood. A big grin finds its way on my face every time I read issues and on top of that, it’s totally appropriate for younger readers, too.
And if you’re still wondering who Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is for, Doreen can tell you who it’s not for.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #3 comes out March 18th. Check it out.