She Can Fly: Eat Nuts, Kick Butts

Or why Unbeatable Squirrel Girl fails as a Squirrel Girl comic, but succeeds as a superhero comic.

Squirrel Girl was a deeply underrated, fascinating character. I use the past tense because Squirrel Girl can no longer really be considered “underrated.” Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now on its sixth issue, has sold incredibly well. So well that the first and second issues have both simultaneously just released an unusual third reprint, with the third and fourth issues now on their second reprints. But this Squirrel Girl…is she really Squirrel Girl?

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has so many nods to canon and continuity, from Squirrel Girl’s origin as a 13 year old who wanted to be Iron Man’s sidekick to her history of unusual and off-panel defeats of some of Marvel’s greatest villains, yet it blindly ignores previously important facets of Squirrel Girl’s character throughout the ages: Squirrel Girl was part of the Great Lakes Avengers, Squirrel Girl was the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Squirrel Girl was already attending college in the Bendis penned New Avengers series (in which she also had had an unspecified relationship with Wolverine). Ultimately, the pieces of canon that writer Ryan North (and, to a lesser extent, artist Erica Henderson, who has included subtle nods to canon, such as a poster of Doreen’s longtime crush, Speedball) chooses to ignore are the items that made her fully fleshed as a character. Yes, Squirrel Girl still retains her unusual power and unexpected victories, but many of the traits that made her more defined as a fictional “person” have been blatantly ignored.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; Henderson and North are reforming Doreen Green, and creating a new Squirrel Girl. Even visually, very little of the original Doreen Green is retained in the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series (she has more pronounced buck teeth, is no longer a brunette, and no longer has her inexplicable mime-inspired eye makeup), but the same could be said for the Squirrel Girl that Slott used in Great Lakes Avengers  in comparison to her original incarnation (her eye makeup changed, she lost the big buck teeth, she become older and more conventionally attractive).

Even the tone of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a derivation of more “traditional” Squirrel Girl comics. North focuses on comedy, and surrounds Doreen Green with equally wacky characters (Bass Lass, Koi Boi, Chipmunk Hunk). Normally, this would be a disservice to the character: Squirrel Girl, in a way, is a lot like Deadpool. When she is surrounded by typically serious teammates or a seriously toned title, she becomes a unique focal point that brings levity and breaks up the monotony of an otherwise dark series (think Cable and Deadpool). But, if she is surrounded by similarly goofy archetypes, then the uniqueness and “specialness” of her can easily be lost; the thing that separates her from other characters, and allows her to offer a different perspective on the tone of the series, no longer exists.

Squirrel Girl started, not as a joke, but as a desire for writer Will Murray to bring the levity of the Silver Age back into dramatic early 90’s comics; Don Slott expanded on that concept and made her into a substantial character that had comedic aspects, but also criticized the grim-dark atmosphere of the modern comic industry (and doing so by breaking the fourth wall); Brian Michael Bendis retained her optimism and enthusiasm, but highlighted her a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants to be. Treating Squirrel Girl as a “joke” character negates the entire point of her character and creation. North and Henderson aren’t actually making Squirrel Girl a joke, they are simply embracing the idea of humor and joy in comics and presenting something disparate from modern “adult” comics fare.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an incredible all-ages superhero comic, something that Marvel, up until recently, has kind of lacked in their main line. Ultimately, the title is not about the Squirrel Girl I discovered and love; it’s about making an odd character accessible to the massed. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a comic for anyone. You don’t have to know continuity, but the nods to the Marvel Universe make it fun. You don’t have to know Squirrel Girl as a character, but the creative team pays homage to her history, while inventing a new interpretation of her. Titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Groot are tapping into a demographic Marvel had primarily ignored, and is offering a jumping in point to kids and adult alike who are more interested in quippy Whedon-style content akin to the MCU, than the dark realism that has been so pervasive in the comics industry since the 90’s.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ultimately isn’t a comic about Squirrel Girl; it’s a comic about being a young woman navigating life. It’s full of friendships, humor, and unbelievable heroics. While it may not feature the version of my favorite furry-tailed heroine that I love the most, it features a character who is relate-able and accessible to everyone. When comics are accessible, that’s something worth celebrating about; and anyway, you can’t beat Squirrel Girl!

 

She Can Fly: I Couldn’t Not

I was going to create a convention survival guide this week, in honor of New York Comic Con, which I will be attending and reporting from, with all sorts of handy info, like always have bobby pins and safety pins on hand, but that was before some earth shattering news broke this week.

Squirrel Girl is getting her own series.

squirrel2Yes, the Destroyer of All that Breathes, the Anti-Life, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is getting her own solo, ongoing title.

At first look, it seems like a bizarre choice. But…when you look back to August, you see Marvel copyrighted the squirrel-themed heroine—a move that is done specifically for the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and things start to come together. After all, two years ago, Squirrel Girl was announced as being added to the popular Facebook game, Marvel: Avengers Alliance. A year later, Squirrel Girl was one of the debut characters in the Marvel Heroes MMO. She’s also an unlockable character in both the Marvel Superhero Squad series of video games and in Lego Marvel Superheroes (beating out “better known” heroes like Kitty Pryde). She even made her first animated speaking appearance in Ultimate Spider-Man (although she briefly appeared in the 2006 Fantastic Four cartoon).

Marvel clearly has big plans for this little squirrel. Honestly, a solo title seems a logical choice to lead in to what (I believe) could be a major role in Avengers 3. After all, Squirrel Girl has beaten Thanos.

Ryan North, of the popular Dinosaur Comics webcomic and writer for some of the Adventure Time comics, will be penning the series, with Erica Henderson (Quantum & Woody, Adventure Time: Marceline & the Scream Queens) taking on art duties. These choices reflect Marvel’s interest in appealing to a younger generation, with writers and artists who appeal to tumblrites, social media gurus, and cartoon fanatics. Erica Henderson’s voluptuous lines belay a vivacious energy that is so fitting to one of the most cheerful characters in the Marvel Universe, and bodes well for the character continuing to be the antithesis of the grim&gritty that most comic companies so readily embrace. Though I would have love to seen a female writer on the title [cough*me*cough], Ryan North has done great justice to the plethora of princesses in Adventure Time, and his tone is both smart and fun.

In her initial appearance, Doreen Green was viewed as something of a joke, but creators Steve Ditko and Will Murray were actually trying to bring back the light-hearted joy of comics, rather than to mock Golden Age heroes. Some writers, like Dan Slott and Brian Michael Bendis, embraced the character, the former establishing her as a fourth wall-breaking character who was against the darkness that is so popular in modern comics, and the latter adding more depth and emotion to the character. But not everyone is as enthused about the rodent heroine; a few NYCCs ago, I ask a Marvel panel about Squirrel Girl and if she would be reappearing on the (at the time) upcoming Avengers title. Jonathan Hickman said Bendis suggested he use her in the title, to which he responded “you’ve got to be f*cking joking.”

Ryan North, however, is clearly enthused about writing the character. In his interview with CBR, North said he the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is “fun, funny and features a squirrel girl beating up bad dudes…My core idea for the book, and I believe I used this exact all-caps quote when first describing my idea to Wil, is ‘AWESOME ALL-AGES ADVENTURE!’ I think there’s a big difference between ‘all ages’ and ‘for children!’ For me, ‘all ages’ is just that: Adults can enjoy it, so can kids. It’s not dumbed down. It’s awesomed up.”

Squirrel1North and Henderson will be taking Squirrel Girl (and Tippy Toe) to a new stage in her life: “Doreen is in this interesting place. She’s defeated Doctor Doom, Thanos, tons of the really heavy-hitters…Her victories have usually been unseen, off-panel…[S]he loves fighting crime! — but she’s also not sure she’s living up to her full potential. So she decides to make some changes in her life and go to college. Because, of course, that’s what you do!” North says the book will be joyful, silly, and an easy jump on point for new readers, while still having nods to continuity for diehard fans. That said, the title will drop Tippy Toe’s propensity for speaking only through fourth wall breaks, as it’s not the easiest way for her and Doreen to have conversations. This title brings Marvel’s total for female-led books up to double digits, and promises to be one of Marvel’s most accessible titles.

My biggest qualm with the whole concept is that Squirrel Girl was already attending college in New Avengers (NYU, to be specific, and in full costume too), but that’s just me being a nitpicky continuity nerd. Let’s be honest, any title that embraces and welcomes new readers and presents a positive, all-ages heroine is good in my book!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will be out in January. Stay tuned for more Squirrely news!