Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
Release Date: January 7, 2015
Question: How do you take a minor character who’s been tossed around for comic relief for twenty years and thrust her into the center of her own ongoing series?
Answer: Make the whole comic into a squirrel’s nest of jokes so she’ll feel right at home.
The original Squirrel Girl may have been created by Will Murray and Steve Ditko in the early 1990s, but The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl feels like writer Ryan (Adventure Time) North and artist Erica Henderson just dreamed up an entirely original character. This new title thrives in a world defined by indie, off-the-wall whimsy, but also embraces the overarching Marvel Universe by poking fun at everything in it (especially itself).
The titular Squirrel Girl — real name Doreen Green — is a cheerful, stocky, round-faced lass with a buck-toothed pout and cheeks that obscure her eyes when she smiles. A rodent-powered mutant who’s filled the ranks of B-teams like the Great Lakes Avengers, Green starts her journey by transitioning from The Avengers’ attic to the dorms at a local college. Contrary to her exotic alter ego, Green tucks in her tail and tries to blend into her domestic surroundings. After dropping off some boxes and meeting the obligatory roommate, she and her literal squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe, scrap with old-school Spider-Man villain, Kraven the Hunter.
Erica Henderson’s art remains chipper and cartoony, whether she draws clusters of concerned squirrels or Kraven in his capri-length leopard-print leggings. Every line fits perfectly into a fully-realized vision, with no element extraneous or out of place. Even small details like Squirrel Girl’s jaunty bush tail convey a rare degree of finesse and consistency, aided by Rico Renzi’s shading. Renzi’s candy colors straddle both playful pinks and oranges as well as organic browns and greens — appropriate for a woodland girl in an earth-toned costume.
What actually occurs in this issue is far less important than the atmosphere of silliness that North, Henderson and Renzi create. On the first page, Squirrel Girl beats up a gang of muggers as she sings her new theme song to the tune of the ‘60s animated Spider-Man ditty. (Samples lyrics: “Finds some nuts, eats some nuts! Kicks some bad guuuuys’ evil butts!”). Even in this simple set up, North packs an impressive number of disarming jokes into limited space: the man being mugged corrects his fashion-oblivious assailants, stating “It’s not a purse! It’s a leather satchel.” A mugger ponders “I am currently re-evaluating the choices that led me to a criminal liiiiiiife!” as Squirrel Girl launches him through the air.
North’s chatty dialogue and Henderson’s physical comedy fuel most of the humor here, but little jokes and asides also seamlessly dot the pages. This book continually riffs on its own absurdity, even in the most subtle ways. Take the opening credits panel with headshots, aliases and bios: Squirrel Girl’s caption states that she “Likes: squirrels (luckily).” It just gets sillier from there. The biggest laugh may well be on the letters page, where the first entry reads, “Excuse me, but how are you following me, how are you getting all this information? -D. Green.”
Even the tiny, tiny lines of text running along the bottom of the pages reinforce the light-hearted tone. One of them reads, “Squirrels in pants? Squirrels eating pants? Squirrels secretly replacing pants with other squirrels??” These charming notes make it feel like Squirrel Girl herself is sitting next to you on the couch, reading the comic with you, pointing out bits she finds especially hilarious. Of course, she starts to giggle at her own jokes before she can even get to the punchline, so you don’t exactly know what she’s talking about, but her laugh is so infectious that you start laughing too.
Doreen Green might be a chipper weirdo. She might be a walking punchline. But what she doesn’t like is injustice (see page 3). And if any long-time Marvel buffs don’t like Squirrel Girl’s lighthearted style, rest assured that she doesn’t care.