I used to think that Squirrel Girl was just a joke.
In my defense, that was usually how she was brought up, in a laughable, dismissive way. I distinctly remember some form of the phrase “Even Squirrel Girl will have her own Marvel movie before DC figures out how put popular character X on film” uttered multiple times on twitter in a pre-Batman V. Superman world. And for a while, I just accepted it. I mean, this is a character whose 100% squirrel-based powerset includes talking to squirrels, and having having the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel after all.
But then, a couple years ago, I noticed that people were beginning to embrace the character in a less ironic way. The words “awesome” and “hilarious” were thrown around a hell of a lot more, and usually in reference to a new book written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson. So when the first trade came out, I knew I had to pick it up.
And my mind was blown. Squirrel Girl wasn’t just some throwaway joke, Squirrel Girl was — and still is — AMAZING.
Yes, the comic, aptly titled The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a comedy book, first and foremost, but this goes beyond dumb humor. You do have to have a certain appreciation for nut-related puns (puns in general really), but on top of that, the dialogue is sharp, and the art is often sprinkled with wonderful little visual gags. And this is always played out with a delightful air of goofy sweetness that’s guaranteed to make you smile issue after issue.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl also proves to be the perfect haven for the most ridiculous aspects of the genre (and let’s be honest, we’re dealing with comic books, so that well is pretty deep). From Galactus in all of his purple helmeted glory, to a sentient enraged Hippo, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is most at home while embracing the weirdness of comics that more serious-minded titles like to pretend do not exist. And the best thing is that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl manages to find the humor in the weird without seeming mean-spirited. The creative team clearly possesses a tremendous amount of affection for comics, from its roots, to its most recent twist and turns. Issue #5 is a great example of this — lampooning everything from classic Captain America (complete with Golden Age style artwork!), to the more recent Edge of the Spider-Verse crossover event.
Even beyond the funny stuff, there’s just so much to love about our unbeatable protagonist. For one thing, she’s quite the formidable superhero. Squirrel Girl, real name Doreen Green, may be a goofy computer science major by day, but by night she kicks butts and eats nuts, and some of those butts just happen to belong to the biggest baddies in the Marvel universe. This includes both Doctor Doom, and the aforementioned Galactus. Add in Kraven the Hunter, and a handful of more minor baddies, and you end up with a list of defeated enemies that would make anyone sit up and listen — and that’s just in the first three trade paperbacks of the North/Henderson run.
But it’s the way that Doreen takes down her villains that makes her so great. Yes, she is quite accomplished in the fisticuffs department, but she has also outwitted her enemies by using her smarts. Interestingly, her greatest strength is often neither of these things, but her sense of empathy. Every fight may begin with fists and fur flying, but Doreen understands that sometimes the best answer is just listening to her opponent. Oftentimes, she can find an alternative way to get them what they really want without anyone getting hurt in the process. The fact that Doreen is often able to find solutions to problems that don’t involve violence, in a genre that’s highly emphasizes fight scenes, is pretty amazing. Squirrel Girl isn’t just a great superhero, she’s actually a great role model. Violence isn’t always the answer. Sometimes the answers (and even new friends!) can be found by just sitting down and listening.
After reading issue after issue of Squirrel Girl, something else has become clear to me, Squirrel Girl isn’t just an awesome superhero/role model, she’s just awesome in general. From her upbeat go-getter attitude, to her affection for small furry animals (which extends beyond squirrels to her roommate Nancy’s cat Mew), Doreen just seems so cool. Dare I say, she would even make a great friend. This, combined with writer Ryan North’s infectious sense humor, Doreen’s superhero antics, and Erica Henderson’s great artwork, is one of the many reasons I get excited whenever a new collection of Squirrel Girl comics is released. I have yet to read one that hasn’t put a smile on my face. Squirrel Girl may often be referenced in jokes, but trust me when I say that she’s far more than just a punch line.
Further Reading: Trust me, you’ll go NUTS over these!
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 3: Squirrel You Really Got Me Now
Mark your calendars (or grab a time machine!) for these future squirrel-related releases from the North/Henderson team:
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats up the Marvel Universe. Release date: 10/04/16
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It. Release date: 12/06/16