The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson and Tom Fowler
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Lots and lots of squirrels. If this latest chapter of Doreen Green’s adventures had to be summed up in one word, that word would be “squirrels” - and that’s probably the way the titular character would want it, too. And yes, while “squirrels” might not make the best adjective (because it’s a noun) to describe a comic book, in this case, it absolutely fits. Not only does the entire plot circle around squirrels taking over the planet from humans, but writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have been able to craft a story that embodies Squirrel Girl’s favorite little critters, because The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is fast-paced, easily distracted, but at the end of the day is just downright cute.
If you are completely new to Marvel’s latest take on Squirrel Girl, the short version is she has gone from punch-line to punch-giver. That homage to The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe on the cover isn’t by accident - there are times, especially in this story, where Doreen is the most badass character in her own world - and she knows it. TUSGBUTMU just takes it a step further - Squirrel girl has moved on from Kraven, Galactus and Thanos and is now on a quest to conquer Marvel’s stable of iconic heroes.
What makes this version of Squirrel Girl enjoyable is not that Doreen has the power of squirrels (which is, admittedly great), but her super-powered optimism and self-confidence. North’s interpretation of the character almost feels like she got lost in the Marvel Universe on her way to Adventure Time. That said, while it makes the character more accessible, it also doesn’t leave much depth to Doreen in terms of personality. Much like a puppy, Doreen is fiercely loyal and brave – there just isn’t a whole palette of emotions past that. The extent of her character is pretty much summed up at the beginning of the book in the introduction. Even when she is cloned and the second Doreen, Allene, becomes consumed with the twisted notion that squirrels should inherit the Earth, both versions of Squirrel Girl keep it surface level. Doreen wants to kick evil’s butt and Allene wants to kick humans' butts. That’s great, but that’s also the thrust of these character’s actions.
However, that’s all North needs to keep the story moving forward. The light and funny tone of the comic book definitely carries the weight here and Squirrel Girl breezes through her trials and tribulations. Although it can feel one-dimensional, North never tries to make the emotional resonance of Squirrel Girl the focus of the story. Instead, it’s all about the humor that is literally crammed into every page. Not an easy thing to pull off in comics, North’s humor appeals to both the intellectual in his critique of language and his own story telling as well as the zany aspects of his protagonist and her universe. Ryan North’s voice is so strong here that the writer is practically on the page with his characters. This is the appeal of North’s Squirrel Girl.
North’s accomplice, Erica Henderson, is a perfect fit for this title. Much like the way North doesn’t concern his story with the larger machinations of the Marvel Universe, Henderson doesn’t slow down the story with too much detail to distract the eye in the panel. Her style is reminiscent of Paul Pope of Rafael Grampa run through the filter of a stylistic Saturday morning cartoon. Although sometimes the characters in her panels are reduced to crude symbols, it’s all in the favor of sticking as much as possible on the page. There is the feeling that, much like Squirrel Girl, Henderson isn’t worried about the details when there is so much else going on. Henderson nails this aspect in Doreen’s eyes. They are almost always drawn wide with pin-point pupils, taking in the enormity of whatever Squirrel Girl is feeling. North and Henderson are at their best on the pages that could stand alone. In one page, Squirrel Girl tricks a hero, takes them down, and gains their powers. It’s simple yet expertly done, and perfectly captures the tone of these two creators.
North and Henderson haven’t broken their stride since starting on, what most people considered, a joke character. Squirrel Girl’s latest adventure is no different and stands strong against the other installations of the character. This is why Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe can stand next to the other characters in these “(verb) the Marvel Universe” books - North and Henderson have unlocked this character’s potential and it’s time to measure her against the other heroes in the Marvel Universe. Crackling on every page, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe doesn’t slow down long enough to catch up to itself or revel in its own joke. Which is fitting for a story about a character who, even split in two, seems to be forever pivoting and moving forward. North and Henderson do justice to their little furry friends and Doreen Green’s world - and let me tell you, there’s nothing Squirrel Girl likes more than justice.