Doreen “Squirrel Girl” Green is a character that only the truly joyless could dislike. Sure, it may seem like she lost the super power lottery when she got the ability to talk to squirrels (and as she’s quick to point out, the proportionate strength of a squirrel), but her heart of gold and never say die attitude have led to her using her limited powers to defeat such A-list villains as Doctor Doom and Thanos. Despite her stellar win/loss record, though, the closest Squirrel Girl has ever come to having her own series was a prominent role in the 2005 Great Lakes Avengers mini-series. Thankfully, Marvel has started off 2015 by rectifying that situation, with help from the creative team of writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson.
It’s hard to imagine that the critical success of books like Ms. Marvel and DC’s recently revamped Batgirl had nothing to do with Marvel deciding to take a chance on one of their most beloved oddballs. With its indie comic aesthetic and the cuteness of Doreen’s squirrel-based powers, it’s certainly primed to be discovered by the Tumblr fandom scene. However, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is still its own book with its own voice. As befits a character as sweet and positive as Squirrel Girl, this is a Saturday morning cartoon romp of a comic. The story North sets up here is one that will see Doreen trying to make a slightly more normal life for herself, cultivating a secret identity and focusing on college. Even when a super villain does show up, the battle is played for laughs, and sees Squirrel Girl looking for a creative (and largely non-violent) way to dispatch him.
North’s script is clever and gets Doreen’s infectious positivity across while, giving her just enough self-awareness to steer her away from the corny, oblivious comedy relief she has been in past appearances. And despite Doreen’s makeover as a trendy (if still oddball) young adult, the book never feels like it’s stretching for cultural cache. There’s no dubious slangy dialogue or just out of date pop culture references to be found. And this issue may revel in its twee humor, but so far it never feels cloying or desperate, two major perils for a mainstream comic that aspires to indie cool.
If there was one area in which I wish the book would have reached a bit harder, it’s Erica Henderson’s art. First of all, I’ll admit that I’ve never really come around on the new look she’s given Doreen. Aside from the basic style of the costume, this looks like a completely different character, which never stopped feeling jarring for me. And despite the book’s cartoonish aesthetics, I didn’t find the supporting characters introduced here particularly memorable. That’s not to say I was entirely down on the visuals, of course. Henderson’s action scenes are fun and creative, and best of all, she’s found a way to emphasize Doreen’s squirrel-like physical traits not just by playing up her chubby cheeks and buck-teeth, but through body language and subtle facial changes during more intense moments.
Even though I’m a Squirrel Girl fan myself, I can understand why it took Marvel so long to give her a shot at carrying a solo book. The joke of Doreen being able to beat top tier supervillains with her squirrel-based offense isn’t really the foundation for a long-running series. Still, I don’t think even Doreen’s biggest fans are interested in seeing her go through a serious evolution. North and Henderson have split the difference here, giving Squirrel Girl an environment in which she can develop a bit without getting too serious; and if the first issue is any indication, they’re going to take a broad view of what being “unbeatable” means. Whether the book will last is anybody’s guess, but for now, I’m just happy to see Squirrel Girl get a much deserved turn in the spotlight, especially one in which she’s not the butt of all the jokes.