Meet Squirrel Girl. Unless you’ve already met. Either way: Squirrel Girl!
Squirrel Girl was the joint invention of Spider-Man’s co-creator Steve Ditko and author Will Murray, who previously ghost-wrote dozens of Destroyer novels but this one time in the ’90s had an itch to do something different. That plan came together and Squirrel Girl is unquestionably different from Remo Williams. In 2015 someone wise at Marvel Comics promoted her to the front lines and she now stars in her own ongoing series, the optimistically named Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
The premise: Doreen Green is a young lady with the powers of both a squirrel and a girl. This includes squirrel communication, which allows her and no one else to understand her crimefighting ally Tippy-Toe, who’s mostly a normal squirrel except for all the impressive lifesaving stunts she can organize with other squirrels. After traipsing through various corners of the Marvel Universe over the past several years, Doreen is now living on campus at Empire State University (Peter Parker’s alma mater), majoring in Computer Science, living in a dorm with her roommate Nancy, and continuing to punch evil in the face on the side. In five issues she’s fought three different longtime Marvel villains, touched base with other heroes, saved the lives of everyone on Earth without expecting any gratitude, and refused to let any challenges ruin her chipper attitude.
For a time Squirrel Girl was a member of the Great Lakes Avengers, a branch of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that never receives any respect because they’re all goofy. Squirrel Girl may or may not be goofy, but she’s now one of several Marvel super-heroines — along with Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel — to earn a solo series. Squirrel Girl lacks the marketing advantage of a legacy built on someone else’s super-hero name. She’s put herself out on a limb by wearing a costume made of browns rather than primary colors. To readers who only want Serious Heroes who do Serious Maiming with Serious Grimness to Serious Psychos in their Serious Leotards, she is the enemy of all they hold dear and a threat to the fabric of graphic storytelling itself.
I’m pretty cool with that kind of joyful subversion. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl keeps rising to the top of my reading pile every month thanks to writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson, colorist Rico Renzi, her modest supporting cast, surprising performances by super-villains we know and hate, and, of course, Squirrel Girl herself.
The latest issue, #5, is a variation on a classic Batman: the Animated Series episode called “Legends of the Dark Knight”, in which the story isn’t about the hero so much as it’s about other people’s interpretations of the hero. Through this and the preceding issues, Squirrel Girl’s greatest traits shine through: idealistic verve, unflappable persistence, imaginative resourcefulness, unique powers, the loyalty of squirrels who’ll do anything she asks, and a moral compass as big as her heart. Once she’s a little older and more established and headlining her own Marvel motion picture, she’ll grow to become the kind of upstanding citizen who has no problem being a role model and inspiring a whole new generation of Squirrel Girls to follow in her footsteps, though they’ll hopefully develop their own powers and motifs instead of stealing her intellectual property, because that would be wrong.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an unpredictable 21st-century all-ages joy that deserves to be much, much, much higher in the sales charts. If words like “fun” and “heroism” and “positivity” mean anything to you — I mean, really mean things deep down — then Squirrel Girl’s picture needs to be next to the definitions of those words in the dictionary inside your head. If those words aren’t in your dictionary, then you should fire your mind palace’s curator.