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The Non-Guilty Pleasures of Reading The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl


Guitly pleasures. We all have them. They’re those things you enjoy that you know you’re not supposed to. For a foodie, that might be something like boxed mac n’ cheese. For a music snob, it might be something like singing along with Fallout Boy songs. For a sci-fi movie buff, it might be something like watching Superman III. It’s those things you do or like that you’re not sure you want your peers to know about. You hide it away, or laugh it off, as though you partake ironically. You don’t actually like this thing.

I have acted this way in relation to comics, most frequently when someone finds out I was a fan of Image Comics back in the 90’s. I laugh it off. Sure, I knew the art was ridiculous, and that the plots were almost non-existent. Oh yeah, I totally got how badly they’d ripped characters straight from Marvel and DC, that’s why I read them, to make fun of this! Well, actually, no, none of that really mattered to me then. I was in my teens, and drawn to the bright colors and ludicrous art. Even that’s kind of a copout, indicating I still feel some guilt in reading those books.

Squirrel Girl looked a bit different in 1992.

Squirrel Girl reveals herself to Iron Man, kicking off years of pestering him on Twitter. When it's finally invented.

Steve Ditko/Will Murray, The Coming of… Squirrel Girl, Marvel Super-Heroes, Vol 2 #8, January 1992.

One current book that I thought would be a guilty pleasure is Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I still recall picking up Marvel’s 1992 Winter Special, and reading this odd tale about a 14-year-old girl with an odd tail trying to become Iron Man’s protégé (this would be Squirrel Girl). He tells her to go join the X-Men, but she rolls her eyes and makes a comment about Kitty Pride being stuck up (totally missing the opportunity to call her too catty, but I digress). In the end, she rescues Iron Man from Dr. Doom, dealing Doom a defeat he’d probably like to forget.

Things go a bit SQUIRRELY for Doom.

Not a DoomBot. Or a clone. Or a hologram. This is 100% Doom being defeated. By squirrels.

Steve Ditko/Will Murray, The Coming of… Squirrel Girl, Marvel Super-Heroes, Vol 2 #8, January 1992.

Good news for him – most fans forgot about it. Apparently, SG was supposed to join the New Warriors shortly after this, but it never happened. In 2005, she resurfaced to join the Great Lakes Avengers, a sporadic series of comic relief books, and later in the decade became nanny to Jessica Jones’ and Luke Cage’s kid (spoiler alert, though I don’t know if the TV series is going down that route, what with Jess killing Luke’s wife and all, though the number of beds they’ve broken indicates there’s mutual attraction there, at the very least). I read most of these comics, particularly the GLA titles, as she was very active there.

She is a fun character. Cheery and upbeat, she supports her friends and teammates, cheering them on when things are going well, pepping them up when they’re not, and even kicking them in the pants when they are down in the dumps. Eternally optimistic, she never believes she – or her team – is going to fail, and she’s not often wrong. I enjoyed her interplay with other characters, heroes and villains alike, and was a little bummed that she wasn’t utilized more often. Then, I found out she’d be getting her own title.

Squirrel Girl got a minor revamp in 2005.

Squirrel Girl in 2005. Not pictured, her wrist spike. Of course, it's not pictured in the 1992 image, either, but it's in there.

artist unknown

I was excited, but wary. This was going to be different. Ryan North was picked to write it, and while I knew he’d written Adventure Time comics, I’d never read them. I am a big fan of his Dinosaur Comics webcomic, though, and I knew he was smart and funny. Then I saw the first cover, and Erica Henderson’s artwork, and I knew this would be a more comical comic, as opposed to something like Spider-Man or Avengers, which, while they have comedic elements, are serious, and weighty. That’s fine, but when I bought the first issue, I found myself wary of this being a guilty pleasure.

The first panel of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1

Squirrel Girl in the very first issue of her solo title. Yes, that is sung to the classic Spider-Man theme song.

Erica Henderson/Ryan North, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol 1 #1, March 2015.

On top of the tone of the book, there was my age. I don’t often worry about demographics. Disney movies are geared towards children, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them. I think a lot of this comes from not abandoning plot and character, as well as adding in enough content that adults will appreciate, from the Genie’s impressions and references to people and movies of our parents’ generation to dry humor that might be lost on younger viewers. That said, there are some things that are clearly for people outside my age group. The Jeopardy Teen Tournament, for example, where the questions are so easy I get bored easily (I know, the point of watching Jeopardy is not to answer the questions, but to watch the contestants, but really, the point of watching Jeopardy is answering the questions, feeling smarter than the contestants, and claiming you could do better, even though you know in your heart that if you even made it through the audition process, you’d freeze up, get everything wrong, and tell some rambling, pointless anecdote that made you seem like a complete moron). The point is, there are some things for which I am not the correct age.

Here’s what I’ve learned: this is truly a comic for all readers, of all genders, and all age groups, as long as you’re willing to have fun. And enjoy puns. Seriously, this book is nutty with them. Chock full of ‘em, if you will. Some don’t work, but others are… treemendous. I’ll stop now.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a decidedly light-hearted comic, in the sense that you feel good after reading it. It is packed with humor, from the aforementioned puns, to Doreen’s pack of “Deadpool Villain Cards” that she checks every time a new baddie appears, to Doreen’s attempts to fit in with her friends and classmates in college and deal with being a superhero and a young woman. It also gives us a new character in Nancy, Doreen’s roommate and best friend, whose rational deliberation gives a nice counterpoint to Doreen’s spontaneity. She doesn’t have powers, but is whip-smart (she figures out Doreen’s secret identity in the first few comics), and loyal, and as much a hero as Squirrel Girl herself. Seriously, Nancy is awesome. Everyone, from Anna Kendrick (who I think could pull it off) to John Barrowman (see below), wants to play Doreen in a movie adaptation (Netflix series, please!); what I want to know is, who's going to play Nancy?

Barrowman rocks the Squirrel tail.

Squirrel Barrowgirl? Honestly, there are worse choices. He rocks the tail.

That doesn’t mean it’s all fluff, or not very serious. Now college-aged, Doreen (aka Squirrel Girl) takes on serious challenges. It’s just that she approaches things much differently than other heroes. She’s called “unbeatable” for a reason: she never loses. However, this doesn’t mean she’s invincible, nor does it mean she’s infallible. There’s no way she could get into a one-on-one brawl with someone like Galactus and survive, let alone win.

Instead, North plays with the idea of fighting as a necessity, and has SG use her cleverness and cunning to determine the best way to defeat the baddie. In the case of Galactus, it was to offer him an uninhabited – and far more protein-packed – planet made entirely of nuts. Punching isn’t always the answer.

It is an important comic, teaching us the power of optimism, friendship, and a protein-rich diet, not to mention the importance of education, humor, and creative problem solving. Some may look down on this comic, but one thing is for sure, I will never feel guilty for enjoying it.

Posted: 02.22.17


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