Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Eric Henderson

Frivolousness is in short supply in superhero universes -- we can usually only get one concentrated dose of it at a time, and even there it may be years between one dose and the next. I still have fond memories of John Byrne's silly She-Hulk comic, which is at least twenty years ago now, and there have been a few other examples.

Now I don't mean parody; superhero universes do occasionally descend into self-parody -- witness most of the '90s -- and even do it on purpose once in a while, as in Not Brand Ecch and the like. What I mean is a story that's supposedly in-universe but actually has a different tone and style than the standard superheroing-is-serious-business bullshit, that isn't in love with its self-image of caped weirdos as the purest, most special exemplars of humanity of all time.

One of those is actually coming out now -- has been for a couple of years now; I've been slow getting to it due to the aforementioned aversion to superhero bullshit -- under the title The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson. And I finally read the first collection, Squirrel Power.

Squirrel Girl is not your average woman in comics: she's cute rather than gorgeous, sturdy rather than pneumatic, and her costume actually covers a majority of her body. She's got mousy hair and buck teeth: she's a normal person who happens to have the relative strength of a squirrel and an indomitable attitude. And, metafictionally, her real power is that she never loses -- that's what the title alludes to. She was originally a semi-joke character, who defeated all of the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe by being perky and spunky and chipper and positive, but every joke in a superhero universe eventually turns into just another standard trope.

As this new series opens, Doreen Green -- yes, her name rhymes; she lives in the Marvel Universe, after all -- is moving out of the attic of Avengers Mansion and into a dorm at Empire State University, since she's finally a college student (after spending the last three decades being fourteen, more or less). And there's a bit of settling-into-college stuff in these first four issues, as Doreen meets her new roommate and thinks about joining clubs in the student center. But the bulk of the plot, of course, has to do with her defeating one of the most powerful villains available, since that's what she does. (It's Galactus, by the way.)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is fun and zippy and amusing and light-hearted, with silly webcomics-style notes on the bottom of each page, as if North was telling us about the genesis of each page as they rolled out daily. It has a tone all its own, and shows that superhero comics don't need to be dour and self-important: they just prefer to be that way most of the time.

In a better world, it would be one of hundreds of similarly varied takes on standard comics tropes. Our world is very much not better, but at least we have this.

No comments:

Post a Comment