Aw yeah, new article series!
Lately, I’ve had a bad habit of buying #1s of all of the series I’m interested in, and then either letting the single issues stack up or buying the trade when that drops. In Binge-Reading, I’ll catch up on everything I’ve been missing since falling off the monthly train.
First up is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which lives up to its name in the most creative ways.
The cover of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s first volume, Squirrel Power, shows our earnest hero day-dreaming about being accepted and embraced by the most iconic characters in the Marvel Universe. Gaining a spot among the likes of Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Iron Man may seem like a lofty goal for a character whose claim to fame is having the “power of both squirrel and girl,” but her crime-fighting and world-saving adventures follow through on her fantasy. See, here’s the secret behind Squirrel Girl: she was never not awesome, and Erica Henderson and Ryan North are here to demonstrate why she’s your new fave.
First up, let’s talk about Erica Henderson. I’ve been following her work for about as long as I’ve been reading comics, and even did a pitch with her waaaay back in the day. What originally drew me to her stuff – as both a fan and a writer looking for an artist to create with – is the vibrancy in her character design, the way the people inhabiting the worlds she creates leap off the page with life and enthusiasm. Her distinctive style has evolved over the years, culminating in this run on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which soars with humor, personality, flair, and heart. It’s really dang fun, you guys.
Ryan North’s unwaveringly enthusiastic take on Squirrel Girl is the perfect match for Erica’s art. She sings her own theme song (to the tune of the Spider-Man theme we’ll all never ever forget) while beating up bad guys, majors in computer science at Empire State University, has a best friend named Tippy-Toe (a squirrel), and collects Deadpool’s Guide to Supervillains trading cards, which helps her out as she takes on her various foes. North really leans into Squirrel Girl’s bizarre powers, having her do stuff like stop a bank robbery by wearing a battle suit made out of a swarm of squirrels, who the news mistake as a separate entity, dubbing it “Squirrel Man.” It sort of harkens back, in some ways, to the fervent pursuit of the strangest ideas that make classic comics fun to read. There is no sense here that this title has to be grounded to be an engaging read, and watching North take the wildest ideas as far as they will go, spinning them in incredibly strange, inventive directions makes for some exceptional comics.
My favorite aspect of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, though, is the way she is unbeatable. Sure, she dispatches a few of her foes with punches, but by and large, she is a problem solver. Okay, so – no spoilers here, but in these issues, she goes up against Kraven, Whiplash, Iron Man’s armory (she’s broke in – but for the pursuit of justice!), bank robbers, and Galactus. She defeats all of them (kinda!) with knowledge gained from her trading cards, as well as a genuine sense of empathy for those that would normally never be looked at more than a monster, even by heroes as selfless and noble as Captain America. That is why Squirrel Girl is such an amazing hero. She could go toe-to-toe with the rogues of the Marvel Universe in a physical fight, but she’d rather talk to them, find out their interests, and send them away with something to do other than stealing purses or eating the planet.
Though The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is obviously unique (I mean, have you not been reading this!), it does remind me of another comic… not because of its content, but because of the way I felt reading it. The first ever superhero comic I read as an adult, the story that got me interested in superheroes again, was Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways. I fell in love with those characters and that world, and it ended up being a gateway into the rest of Marvel’s characters. Squirrel Girl feels that way, too, where I think it might not matter if you know anything about any other Marvel heroes. I think this is the rare book that will excite new comic book fans enough to give other titles a try and, to me, that is the greatest thing in the world.
NEXT TIME: Binge-Reading… Ms. Marvel: No Normal.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Destiny NY, Hellchild, Van Helsing), novels (Avengers, Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). Follow him on social media @PatShand and tell him to get off the dang computer and get back to writing.