The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Written by: Ryan North
Art by: Erica Henderson
At a glance, Doreen Green appears like an average ordinary girl…who has buck-teeth, a long and bushy prehensile tail and talks to squirrels. In reality, Doreen is the unlikely superhero known as Squirrel Girl, who has faced down some pretty nasty foes in her career. This time she tackles a much tougher and more complex opponent: College. Awkward social interactions coupled with the on-campus appearance of Spider-Man’s old foe, Kraven the Hunter, prove to make life at Empire University a tougher nut to crack than our heroine imagined in this story crafted by Ryan North.
For those not in the know, Squirrel Girl has a very unique history in the Marvel Universe. She has conquered some of the universe’s top-level villains such as Doctor Doom and Thanos. And yet, her superpower is that she can communicate with and has the proportionate abilities of the common forest squirrel. While mostly used as a joke character, she’s grown to have quite the cult fan following over the years. While I haven’t read any of the character’s previous appearances, I can see why people get behind a character who shouldn’t work but somehow does. With a name like Squirrel Girl and powers that seem so pedestrian in comparison to other more mainstream heroes, it’d be impossible not to take her seriously. And yet, she still comes out on top. I’d go as far as to say that Squirrel Girl’s most powerful ability is making everyone, even the readers, underestimate her until she shows everyone just how awesome she truly is.
Case In Point:
Squirrel Girl vs Doctor Doom
Squirrel Girl vs Thanos
Much like Doreen herself, it’s easy to see how some readers who like the “Dark, broody, grim & gritty” comics might dismiss this issue at first glance. It’s cutesy almost to the point of saccharine, with cartoonishly bright colors and a protagonist so cheery and upbeat it would make more cynical comic readers throw up rainbows like Shmebulock the gnome from Gravity Falls (A show I highly recommend, by the way). But it’s in that very sweetness that Squirrel Girl’s charm shines through and becomes all the more endearing. The artwork, by Erica Henderson (ericahenderson.net), is exuberant, vibrant and animated. I admire that she doesn’t look like the stereotypical Rob Liefeld-esque superheroine stereotype. It is somewhat of a departure from how she’s normally depicted, especially leaving out the dark spots around her eyes and making her a little more curvacious. But ultimately, Squirrel Girl’s look is absolutely adorable and I love it, personally. To me, it’s her positive personality that is infectious and attractive.
I really enjoyed watching the interactions between Doreen and someone as simultaneously serious and silly as Kraven the Hunter. His depiction in this issue seems paradoxically out of character and yet very much IN character. In the Spider-Man books, he had be brought back to life and the only person who can kill him is Spider-Man (Which is probably why he was nowhere to be seen during Superior Spider-Man). He was considered one of Spidey’s greatest foes. Kraven buried Spider-Man alive, nearly killing him during Kraven’s Last Hunt, a dark and tense story still talked about to this day. And here we see him hunting squirrels. Once Squirrel Girl asks him why, it all makes a sort of sense and implies a change in direction for the lion-manned pursuer of “Most Dangerous Game”. Plus, Kraven saying, “Perhaps I have been too focused on men. Particularly Spidered Men” while he sparkles is kind of chuckle-worthy.
While the conflict with Kraven is silly and fun, it is extremely thin, despite taking up half of the book. And while the idea of Squirrel Girl going to college is a neat idea, the premise on its own seems very generic. We get a brief introduction into what I can only assume is a supporting cast in Nancy, Doreen’s roommate and Tomas, a young man she awkwardly met while moving into her dormitory. I hope these characters are given more to do and more interactions with Doreen as the series continues, but as it stands, it’s sort of a shallow, unoriginal premise.
That all having been said, Squirrel Girl #1 is still a delightful, bright, colorful romp with a funny, tough, and strong-willed protagonist despite a bare bones setup and light conflict. I imagine this has more of a comedic bent tonally, which is perfectly fine. We can never have too many opportunities to have fun with superhero comics these days. And, in a nutshell, “Fun” is most definitely the word I’d use to describe this issue. I look forward to reading more in the coming months.