By Arpad Okay. I fell in love with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl instantly. Erica Henderson’s art is alive, and each lively moment she creates holds even greater action. The writing from Ryan North has me slack-jawed with love. Together they plant fertile seeds that easily grow wild in the reader’s imagination. (Or were those acorns?) It’s funny and it’s beautiful. And best of all, it’s whip-smart.
The thing is that Doreen Green, a girl with the powers of a squirrel, and her sidekick Tippy-Toe (also a squirrel), are Avengers now. (Well… Doreen is.) So being Unbeatable is no longer enough. The Avengers are supposed to be there to handle situations where one side merely winning won’t solve things. And Dor? She deserves the charge as one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. So naturally she rises to meet the challenge. And in her new book, the trials Squirrel Girl have to face are scarier than Galactus or even (gasp!) Ratatoskr: Doreen has to introduce her best friend, Nancy Whitehead, to her parents.
Squirrel Girl’s relationship with her mother Maureen is so real. I am like that. I watch Dor shut down and turn into an angry kid and suddenly I turn into that angry kid. The balance in this comic is top notch. You coast from the action right into the domestic and it’s all good. Stuff that doesn’t read like regular tights comics often feels more like life. Squirrel Girl feels like the comics I read as a really young fan exploring the medium. Not what was coming out at the time, but whatever I could find off the spinner rack on the cheap. Y’know, yard sale comics and hand-me-downs left lying around in an attic somewhere until someone ends up having a kid. Peter Parker had a job in these comics. He had a life once outside of clones and the Carnage Cosmic and constant threat of whatever. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl channels the power of these Bronze Age stories of living superheroes through a thoroughly modern aesthetic. It is as informed by The Death of Speedy Ortiz as it is the death of Gwen Stacy.
Now, I am not advocating that we need to go full Fantagraphics and drop the butt kicking. This comic’s first job is being fun, and it does not disappoint. Especially with its choice of villain: Brain Drain, a brain in a jar atop a military robot, who says things like “the futility of trying to break unbreakable glass only serves to highlight the essential madness that surrounds us” when you punch him in his brain face is proof that this comic has something to offer for absolutely everybody. Watching Squirrel Girl deduce a way to kick Brain Drain’s chassis was great, but what followed was even better. Dor and Nancy, encouraged by Maureen and informed by their education — they are both computer science majors — come together to actually fix this outdated robotic villain. Might not be such a bad guy. Might just need a hardware and software update. Might just need to enroll in the coolest college in New York beside Squirrel Girl and Nancy Whitehead and Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi so he has an outlet for all that energy.
Might be teaching me things about life, comic book. Does your child read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl? Because they should. Doreen is a hero, but she doesn’t just save people from burning buildings. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl teaches people to think first, find acceptance, and embrace posthumanism! (Probably.) Just because a person is a squirrel or a fish or a brain in the jar or different from you in some mundane way doesn’t mean they have to be defined or marginalized by that characteristic. The case is actually quite the opposite; these odd folks are intensely relatable and as real as you and your friends are. I loved this issue. This is what comics should be.
Written by Ryan North.
Art by Erica Henderson.
Colors by Rico Renzi.
10 out of 10