Monday, April 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #113: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I've stopped reading the letter columns entirely at this point. Sorry, Ryan and Erica, but they don't make much sense in a collection to begin with, and I don't really care to see lots of stories about your young fans, cute though they may be. For what it's worth, I do glance at the pictures to see various people's cute daughters dressed up in homemade Squirrel Girl costumes, and I love that that is a thing that happens in the world.

But I'm here for the stories, so I'll focus on that. I hope you understand.

Here in the fourth volume -- under the run-on title The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It -- I started to realize that this is more obviously an all-ages comic than I'd pigeonholed it as. (Marvel has been running so hard in the opposite direction for so long -- making everything grimmer and grittier and darker and so much more the kind of "adult" that appeals to grumpy twentysomething men -- that I assume they've entirely forgotten that children, and particularly girls, even exist.) But writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have snuck a girl-positive, female-centric comic into a quirky little corner of the Marvel Universe, and hooray to them for that.

(See my posts on the first three volumes, if you care -- one and two and three.)

I realized that because this is the collection of stories all about the love life of Doreen Green, our titular Squirrel Girl. No, she doesn't meet someone who she falls in love with -- though the reverse is true, mostly because she's polite and pleasant in ways that person is not used to -- but she does decide to start dating in the middle of this run of issues, mostly because she's never done it before and thinks dating is something a college girl should do at least a little.

Her love life is shown in an entirely all-ages-appropriate way, pitched in a tone even those elementary school girls in hand-made costumes will understand and enjoy. She has the obligatory montage of bad dates, which is amusing but much like every other obligatory montage of bad dates. And there's the aforementioned person who falls in love with her because she apologizes for things and doesn't immediately turn to punching as a solution to conflict, unlike every other human being in the Marvel Universe. (Which provides a lesson to those girls, who may have similar people in their lives who need to be told firmly that she is not interested in them.)

Doreen does somewhat damage her series title in this volume, taking a dive in a fight. I admit, it's for a very good reason, but, still, it tends to make "unbeatable" less true. On the other hand, the whole point of this version of Squirrel Girl is that she's Unbeatable because she's not someone who turns to fighting as a first resort. Sure, her motto is "eat nuts and kick butts," and every costumed person in the MU is quite fond of punching, but she's about as pacifist as it's possible for a human being in a costume in Marvel NYC, always looking for another solution to every problem.

North and Henderson also continue to teach random computer-science concepts to their audience, which, again, makes more sense the more you realize that audience is largely young girls.

Kissed a Squirrel is really just a specific case of the general rule: everything becomes more like itself as it goes on, focusing down on the central, intrinsic elements and pushing aside the less important stuff. I suspect at some point Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will speciate enough that I'm not longer a good reader for it, and I'll stop reading it then. But we're not to that point yet: this may be mostly for smart girls and their parents, but there's still room for the rest of us. I hope it stays that way for a good long time.

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