Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North (text) and Erica Henderson (art)

On to the next Read Harder challenge! It will probably not shock you to learn that I was a big fan of comic books and related media as a teenager. Suffice it to say that my brother and I collected Marvel Comics trading cards.* But I hadn’t read an actual comic book in a long time when I decided to tackle task #6: read an all-ages comic.

Squirrel Girl was originally introduced as a joke in a one-off Iron Man comic. She’s young mutant with ridiculous powers–the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, plus the ability to talk to squirrels–who nonetheless managed to help take down Dr. Doom. She’s appeared as comic relief in some other Marvel adventures. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is her solo debut. Since I wasn’t particularly in the mood for angsty superheroes this seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed.

When The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 begins, Doreen Green is starting her first semester in college in New York City. She’s hidden her tail in her leggings and is carefully pretending not to be able to lift heavy boxes when–of course–she learns that New York City is under attack by Kraven the Hunter.** Later, she’s trying to sign up for some college clubs when her sidekick Tippy Toe delivers even worse news: Galactus, the devourer of planets, is on his way to Earth.

One of my favorite things about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that while we do see Doreen and her squirrel friends in action, Squirrel Girl doesn’t always fight her way out of a dilemma. She thinks about what her enemies want and finds ways to defeat or distract them based on what she knows about their desires. It’s a smart, fun twist on the usual comic book battles.

However, a lot of the time it felt like the comic was trying too hard to be zany and subvert expectations. There’s a manic quality to the dialogue that starts to grate after a while, and some of the quirky bits–like Twitter exchanges between Squirrel Girl, the supervillains, and more famous Avengers like Iron Man–go on too long and lose their punch. On the other hand, some of the quirky bits work really well. I loved Squirrel Girl’s collection of Deadpool-narrated supervillain cards, which felt like a nod to those 1990s trading cards.

The art may have been another reason that the comic occasionally felt too frantic. The layouts are very busy, and for at least a few pages, I had to squint and re-read the dialogue bubbles several times to figure out the right order for the panels. However, there was also a lot I liked about the art. The original Squirrel Girl character design felt a little bit mean–she was wide-eyed and aggressively homely, a character we’re meant to laugh at rather than root for. In The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Doreen/Squirrel Girl is not the average hypersexualized Marvel heroine, but she’s also not someone you’re supposed to mock or feel sorry for–her round-cheeked face is always full of determination and self-assurance.

If comic books aren’t your thing and you don’t have much familiarity with the Marvel universe, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl may not be the place to start. But if you’ve seen “The Avengers” and think a confident, cheerful teenager who talks to squirrels sounds like your ideal heroine, give this one a try.

Rating: Library Loan

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* Our holographic Wolverine was especially prized. Dang, based on that list price I should have kept some of these.

** Why does anyone in the Marvel universe still live in New York City?

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