It’s a quieter week for Marvel comics, so we’re trying something new to get you all caught up with what happened last week: bite-sized reviews! Perfect to read while grabbing a quick snack before going on with the rest of your day.
We last saw Squirrel Girl in issue #8 in the conclusion to her Asgardian-themed adventure against Ratatoskr, the trouble-making squirrel deity. Last week, the comic relaunched with the inaugural issue of its second volume, beginning the story with Doreen in her second year of college instead of her first, complete with a new apartment, new classes, and new problems. Since this is a bite-sized review, we won’t focus too much on the minute details, but dive right into the book as a whole.
It is such a good thing that we still have a Squirrel Girl book to love and call our own, and I’m so incredibly glad it was able to survive the Great Marvel Title Purge that’s been happening both before and after Secret Wars. It occupies a unique place in the lineup of comics that are on the shelves right now, and is certainly unique in terms of the Marvel stable of titles. It’s a superhero comic that’s accessible to a wide audience and a wide age range of readers. It’s genuinely fun and genuinely funny, and never too consumed with its own gravitas or importance to go for the joke. It’s packed full of serious moments and messages right alongside some of the best comics humor and meta-humor that I’ve read in ages, and it’s capable of leaving me laughing so loudly and for so long that my apartment neighbors become concerned about my well-being. It’s just a great, wonderful book, and it’s fantastic that we get to read even more of it moving forward.
This issue is a wonderful mix of serious topics, off-the-wall humor, incredibly relatable circumstances, and great meta-commentary, and the first of which involves Doreen’s relationships with her “villains.” In this issue, Doreen actually realizes that punching first doesn’t always solve problems, and the trend of “this person might not do these bad things if given other choices” continues with Brain Drain. In his case, Brain Drain is a villain because he literally lacks the capacity to change from his programmed villainous ways, and it’s through the intervention of Nancy and Doreen that he’s given both a new body and his first opportunity to make choices about his life since becoming a brain-powered robot. It’s telling to me that the antagonists in these stories don’t tend to be able to be boiled down to “cut-and-dry villain” (except for maybe Thanos and Doctor Doom). I love the way The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl views their antagonists as people first and villains second, as it allows them to tell some incredibly interesting and complicated stories with someone as simple as a humanoid hippo or a brain in a robot-shaped jar. (Granted, choosing a HYDRA/Nazi scientist-turned-robot was maybe not the most sensitive choice for their next Z-list villain to redeem. That could have been thought out a little bit better.)
There’s a lot of great moments in this issue, but if pressed I have to say Doreen’s mom is easily my favorite part of the whole thing. She’s a fantastic character and I do hope she shows up again in future issues, and maybe brings Doreen’s dad with her, but this comic manages to capture both the incredible stress and fear that happens before meeting the parents of someone who’s important in your life, as well as the bonding that can happen between parents and the friends of their children (Nancy demanding that Maureen tell her more Doreen baby stories is amazing).
The character of Squirrel Girl has always been about the meta-commentary from its inception, starting off as a created character to lovingly poke fun at the ridiculousness of superheroes and superhero comics. That legacy is still being carried out in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl today, as its latest jab dealing with the origins of Doreen’s powers takes on Marvel’s current handling (or mishandling) of their mutant characters.
It’s very deeply unsubtle and I love it all the more for that, because it’s a very pointed way of saying “we want no part in your shenanigans; leave us out of it.” If you’ve been out of the loop, the newest mutant-related SNAFU is also related to the Inhumans, because — wait for it — it turns out Terrigen Mist (AKA the stuff that gives Inhumans their powers) causes grave illness in mutants. Also, it sterilizes them.
Yeah. They went there.
This is, of course, disregarding the fact that there have been mutant characters who’ve undergone Terrigenesis in the past, but hey, ignoring continuity is done all the time! What’s one more retcon between friends?
And yes, it is deeply unsettling to have a huge plot revolve around the mass sterilization of a minority-representing group, compounded by the fact that it’s caused by the mere existence of another minority-representing group, even in a fictional universe. But even though it does feel like Marvel is throwing a tantrum and saying “you only get ONE minority-representing group and you’ll LIKE it,” I tend to think it’s more related to movie rights and the fact that Fox isn’t giving up the X-Men any time soon. Doesn’t make it any less of a tantrum or any less disturbing of a plot decision, but that’s comics for you.
At any rate, I love how clearly the creative team for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl went “Yeah, we’re not doing that.” The “I can never take this back” line is doubly hilarious to me in that comics are retconned all the time, and everyone knows any huge deviation from the status quo tends to go back to normal after some time has passed. Mutants will be mutants again, Pietro and Wanda will be Magneto’s children again, the list goes on but we all know that in the end, things will go back to the way they were no matter who decides to mess with them today.
Really, though, how many times can I profess my love for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl before it starts sounding old? Probably at least once more, I hope, because it is absolutely ridiculous how much I love this comic. One-liners that leave me in tears from laughter (sometimes multiple times per page), bright, fun, dynamic art that uses both its physicality and capacity for nuanced emotional expression, incredibly self-aware meta-commentary, lessons we could all stand to learn at the end of the day, and so much more. I could go on for hours, and have in the past to very tolerant friends who were amused enough to let me ramble on about squirrels and girls and the superheroes who love them, but we’ll just leave it with the fact that I absolutely adore this comic and move forward from there.
Henderson’s art is as on-point as it ever has been, with a greater simplicity of backgrounds that helps keep the focus on the characters and a lovely tendency to draw characters of all body types and sizes. Renzi’s colors are as bright and beautiful as always, and they’re so well suited to both Henderson’s art and a book like this that I can’t imagine it without them. North goes above and beyond in this new #1 with the humor, characters, and sheer enjoyment factor of the story, and I can never, ever say enough about how much I love the yellow caption text under every page.
Overall, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 is a fantastic start for the second volume of this comic, and the creative team steps up their game for their second #1 this year. They’ve brought us into a familiar story in a new place, using characters we’ve gotten to know to introduce us to the new status quo, whether that’s a new apartment, a new costume (which I happen to love), or a new superhero team-up group. It’s a great read and a great book, and as always, I can’t wait to read the next issue.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 was written by Ryan North, with art by Erica Henderson, trading card art by Joe Morris, colors by Rico Renzi, and lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
Images courtesy of Marvel
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