REVIEW: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

by Stephen Hardman

Writer – Ryan North
Art – Erica Henderson
Colours – Rico Renzi

Squirrel Girl is perhaps one of the more unlikely superheroes to have an on-going monthly comic book published by Marvel. However, it is testament to the desire for alternatives to the mainstream superhero books among today’s comic book readers that a character like Squirrel Girl can reach a big enough audience to warrant an on-going series in an industry where titles fall by the wayside every month as if sales are not high enough.

Doreen Green was a high school student when she hit the pages of a comic book for the first time in 1992. She idolised Iron Man and tried desperately to earn her way to being his superhero partner, a theme which has continued into the current run, though she is much less in awe of Tony Stark these days. A physical mutation gave Doreen enhanced speed, strength, agility and reflexes, as well as the tail of a squirrel. She soon discovered she had an affinity with squirrels and she was able to communicate with them, and Squirrel Girl was born.

Squirrel Girl had sporadic appearances in various Marvel comics over the years but it was not until the start of this year that she finally got her own series. Written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the titles I look forward to reading the most each month.

The Canadian writer Ryan North made his name with the web-comic Dinosaur Comics. He went on to write the Adventure Time comic book series, which span out of the Cartoon Network animated series. Artist Erica Henderson had done various work-for-hire jobs for different publishers but The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl was her first major comic book gig.

The creative partnership of North and Henderson works brilliantly on this title. North’s achingly funny dialogue and fantastic plotting combines perfectly with Henderson’s cartoon-style art. The one thing they’ve clearly set out to do is create a fun reading experience. They’ve succeeded. From the moment the first page is opened, to finishing reading the letters page, I am invariably grinning from ear to ear. Often I find myself laughing out loud.

North and Henderson approach the creation of this comic book with reckless abandon and abundant enthusiasm. They are clearly not afraid to disregard conventions and they constantly play around with what the medium of comics can offer. From the regular opening page showing Squirrel Girl’s Twitter feed (a similar trope was used in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s superlative Young Avengers), to the recent “Choose Your Own Adventure” style issue, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is also one of the most inventive comics currently being published. Rico Renzi is also a huge factor in the success of this comic, his vibrant colours perfectly complementing Henderson’s art, and cementing the overall ethos of the book.

One thing that strikes me when reading the letters from fans is how the comic has struck a chord with young readers, especially girls, for whom Doreen is a source of inspiration. As Squirrel Girl she is much more likely to engage with her enemies in a bid to understand their motivations, defeating them with logic and love, rather than fighting them. Her values of tolerance and inclusivity make her an ideal role-model in a world that is increasingly insular, bigoted, and hateful.

North and Henderson have managed to create a comic book which has appeal to all ages, being smart, funny, and modern. I just hope they can keep going for a long time to come.

Stephen Hardman

Stephen Hardman is a trainee Legal Executive Lawyer who currently resides in Bath, in the UK with his wife and their cat.  Among other things he writes in his spare time. He is currently working on a novel which he hopes to finish soon, and he has written a few short stories as well, though has not had anything published. Yet. Stephen loves reading and is a huge crime fiction fan; George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen being particular favourites. He is an editor and contributor at the geek culture website Geeks Unleashed.

His obsession with comic books knows no bounds and he loves sharing news and reviews of all the great comic books and graphic novels being published right now. He also loves listening to music and seeing bands live, and is always seeking out new bands and musicians to obsess about.

You can catch him on Twitter @HardDaysWrite.

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