In the past few years, the folks at Marvel have definitely tried to expand their repertoire to better suit today’s more culture, gender, and human aware world. From Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel to Hawkeye, the publisher is definitely trying to shift their line of comic books away from macho, stoic white male superheroes to relatable (in both character and image) yet flawed male and female characters facing struggles against both villains and common human problems.
As part of this progressive movement, Marvel introduced in 2015 a new character and a new series with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
With the release of the first issue, an enormous amount of praise went out to Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi, and after diving into the earliest issues (it’s only three issues in so far), I must admit The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl deserves the excitement and praise directed toward it. North has created a hilariously goofy and yet all the more charming character, and Henderson and Renzi have created a perfect visual style to match, but what really makes this series shine are all of the small details included in each issue to make the story richer and often funnier and allow us to understand how Doreen Green, our protagonist, fits into the rest of the Marvel world.
Doreen Green is part girl and part squirrel. She possesses strength and agility and an overall excellent sense of humor. She battles villains with her sidekick Tippy with ease, but now, she faces a new challenge: college.
The series opens up with Doreen on her move-in day for her first year of college. Already a time challenging for most humans, Doreen will have an even tougher time in school because she must (like so many superheroes before her) try to integrate into society as a somewhat normal girl while maintaining watch and diligence on the world around her for any approaching villains.
In the first issue, Kraven the Hunter pays Doreen a visit on her college campus, and before she even has the time to unpack her boxes, she must already shed her “normal girl” identity and reveal her superhero costume and her hidden tail. With Kraven’s visit, the false hope she had to live a regular life shatters with the reality that danger lurks all around her and her own responsibility to face that danger. In addition to her superhero duties, Doreen also must face the awkwardness of making new friends, living with a complete stranger, and developing a crush, which is really why I return to this series (and suspect why others will too!).
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl carries plenty of laughs from Doreen alone with her self-effacing humor, social clumsiness, and overall frenetic tendencies (after all, Doreen is part squirrel…), but as I mentioned before, North and company pack many small details into each issue to fortify the comedy in this series. From Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains and Super Villain Accessories to Squirrel Girl’s theme song, North has put a lot of love into making The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl not just an action filled superhero comic but also one with humor, joy, and vivacity to accompany Doreen’s hyperactivity.
Furthermore, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has a feature that makes it more charming than almost anything else out there: a protagonist who also acts as a direct narrator to the audience independent from the narrative. At the bottom of each page, in pale text, Ms. Doreen speaks directly to the reader, giving her own feedback on the events in the panel on the page and providing further detail into her character. Combined with the conversations, comments, and interactions on the panels, these sentences lingering at the bottom of the page create a series with a character who readers can identify with and almost even interact with.
Like the other Marvel series I mentioned at the beginning of the review, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is emerging to become a more character-driven series with a relatable, approachable, and realistic lead. Gone are the days of valiant, knight-in-shining armor heroes (which I truthfully do like; I began my own love for heroic characters from reading Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur). We’re now in an era of heroes who have real lives and face similar growing and life pains as we do while they continue to commit heroic acts. Despite my own love for the tradition of heroes, I wholeheartedly welcome Marvel’s next generation of comic book leads, for they better suit today and bring a fresh and bright light to a concept that was almost obsolete in our morally ambiguous world in need of more complex and more human heroes.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Issues 1-3 are available NOW! Go get them!