Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 August 2016

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, v. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now

Collects: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl v. 2 #1-6 and Howard the Duck v. 5 #6 (2015-6)

Released: May 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9780785196266

What is this?:

The culprits: Writer Ryan North, with help from Chip Zdarsky on both #6s, and artist Erica Henderson, with help from Joe Quinones on Howard the Duck #6

I’m a little surprised I haven’t reviewed a volume of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl yet. Let’s rectify that with the most recent release, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, v. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now.

Squirrel Girl (Doreen Green) was treated as a joke character for a couple of decades after she was created by Will Murray and Steve Ditko — yes, that Steve Ditko — in 1992 for Marvel Super-Heroes #8. In that issue, she defeated Dr. Doom, whose armor was not, it turns out, “squirrel proof.” When she was used after that, whether as a throwaway character or in the Great Lakes Avengers, the joke was that she could defeat anyone, despite her only real power being to communicate with squirrels. In the past few years, however, she’s been taken more seriously and given her own title and a spot on one of the many Avengers teams.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coverIn You Really Got Me Now, that first victory vs. Dr. Doom becomes relevant in issue #2 as Doreen wakes up in 1962. No one but her roommate, Nancy, remembers her; in her attempts to get Tony Stark to rescue her, she runs into Dr. Doom — specifically the one who was just defeated by Squirrel Girl (and tangentially by Iron Man). She manages to convince Doom to take her to rescue Squirrel Girl, threatening that Squirrel Girl could be messing with Doom in the past at that moment.

Nancy preventing heroes from attacking Doom by claiming he’s a really good cosplayer rather than the real Victor von Doom gives you an excellent idea of the kind of book this is. Another joke emblematic of the book’s tone and subject matter: Doom has created his own computer programming language, in which all the commands are variations on the word “Doom.”

The time-travel story plays out like you might expect, and that’s not a bad thing. Doreen is appalled and enchanted, in turns, by the ‘60s; she’s always afraid she or one of her classmates — Doreen discovers a lot of Empire State University computer science students have been sent to the ‘60s — will mess up the timeline, but she’s not afraid to encourage the positive aspects. She hides a message for Nancy in a ridiculous fashion, and of course Nancy finds it immediately, since that’s how things happen in time-travel stories. Plus, there’s a dystopic Doom-future, with Doombots eating hotdogs, walking Doomdogs, and trying not to get pooped on by Doompigeons.

Writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson are totally not taking things seriously, decorating the plot with plenty of sly jokes. Henderson has fun with the ludicrous action and Squirrel Girl’s attempts to fit in in the ‘60s. North makes the story as ridiculous as possible; the man responsible for sending all ESU students back in time used his time-travel gun to get rid of all the people who were wrecking the curve in his computer science classes, and Doom is defeated by a pack of Squirrel Girls (caused by using the time-travel device over and over) in much the same way Doom was defeated by squirrels in Squirrel Girl’s first appearance.

In the first issue in the collection, Doreen is embarrassed by her mother telling stories to Nancy (who is enthralled) and later reprograms a Nazi robot. The former makes Doreen relatable in a way that’s unusual in superhero comics — Peter Parker’s never embarrassed by May, is he? — and latter is the kind of thing a heroic computer science student should do.

I mentioned the two issue Squirrel Girl / Howard the Duck crossover in my review of Howard the Duck, v. 1: Duck Hunt. It’s a great melding of two comedy books that are somehow even made better by combining them. Plus it features the Kra-Van, Kraven the Hunter’s customized van with airbrushed art on the side.

It’s hard to imagine Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with an artist other than Thompson. Her art fits the tone of the book perfectly: she doesn’t take the stories too seriously, but she allows the characters to retain their dignity. Even when a joke is at the expense of Dr. Doom, he never looks less than his regal self — not even when he’s being mobbed by Squirrels Girl. Doreen and Nancy look like real people, not the idealized people in superhero comics. (Although I admit one of the ways Nancy looks like a college student is that she has chosen a hair color that doesn’t suit her or her wardrobe very well.)

This opinion might be an outlier, but I think it’s time to discontinue reprinting the letters pages in the trade paperbacks. Their inclusion the first time was cute; the second time it came across as repetitive. In You Really Got Me Now, the cuteness has worn paper thin; there’s only so often I can read letters gushing about how much they like Squirrel Girl and informing the creators about their cosplay and cute kids. Neither costuming nor children appeal to me, really. By all means, Squirrel Girl fans, keep writing in to the comic! But I’m asking collections editor Jennifer Grunwald to please stop including them. Yes, I could skip the letters pages, but I would rather not pay for those pages — not even the miniscule amount of money, space on my bookshelves, or even mass those pages take.

The comments on the bottom of the pages, however, are not growing old. North has a humorous sentence or two on most pages that comment on some aspect of the page — a follow-up joke, development of a throwaway gag, a new throwaway gag. They slow my reading speed, but they are almost always worth it.

I’ve been unusually positive about You Really Got Me Now, and the previous two volumes are as good or even better. I can give Unbeatable Squirrel Girl an unqualified recommendation, provided you aren’t the kind of comics reader who is put out by the Tumblr crowd. (See cosplay comments above.)

Rating: Squirrel Girl symbol Squirrel Girl symbol Squirrel Girl symbol Squirrel Girl symbol Half Squirrel Girl symbol (4.5 of 5)

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