While there may not be a “last days” banner on the cover, this is the last issue of this volume of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”. As Marvel Comics’ “Secret Wars” trudge on (slightly behind schedule), an entire line wide relaunch is visible just over the horizon. Apparently comics with that “last days” banner are directly tying into the “end of the world” motif as established by the annual crossover. Those that do not are simply ending before experiencing a brief nap and then a return in the fall with a fresh number one. Even comics which haven’t even reached the tenth issue mark will get this treatment. Fortunately, “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and colorist Rico Renzi manages to march to the tune of its’ own drum as it wraps up this short, yet amusing, volume.
Continuing from the previous issue, Doreen Green and her friends from Empire State University (her dorm mate Nancy Whitehead and fellow oddball heroes Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi) found themselves flummoxed by an animal super hero named “Girl Squirrel” who seemed to take the city by storm. Even faster, however, was the spread of a corrupting influence which was inciting both civilians and superheroes (like the Avengers) to a rage. It turns out that Ratatoskr, a demonic squirrel from Norse mythology, has been freed from its’ prison on Asgard and seeks to destroy the world. As Doreen does her best to fight the demon (and everyone else) back home, it is up to Nancy to figure out how to solve the problem once and for all with new Thor and the rest of Asgard’s favorite characters. Loki, in particular, takes a shining to the young woman and her cat-themed spoof of his brother. Working together, everyone figures out how to solve the crisis in time to back it in for “only our second #1 so far this year” in October.
As with every issue, the charm is in Henderson’s terrific artwork and flair for visual humor as well as in the dialogue and creativity of its’ plot. Considering the fact that Norse mythology has been one of the founding principles of the Marvel Universe since 1962, finding a threat from that lore which fits in with Squirrel Girl is a simple stroke of genius. Every page seems lined with one funny panel after the next, and one quotable line after the next (whether in dialogue or in gags below each page border). The universe that is depicted in this series is a universe which acknowledges the vast history and scope of Marvel and adores it, yet still is able to highlight its’ sheer absurdity without appearing smug. That is a tough balance to strike within a “big two” comic, yet this series nails it easily. Even more charming is the fact that Squirrel Girl is only “unbeatable” not because of her powers or fighting skills, but because of her tenacity, creativity, and ability to pick the right friends. Nancy in particular has this issue to shine in, providing critical intelligence to solve the threat.
If there is one flaw, it is that Ratatoskr seems to be defeated too easily, even in a series which offers short arcs such as this. After proving to be a global scale threat, the giant squirrel is essentially beaten by a distraction and a magical blast from Loki. Even for a comedy series, that does border on anti-climax, which isn’t for everyone.
The sales for this series haven’t been the greatest; if not for a line wide relaunch, it would have been doubtful if this series would have lasted without some sort of editorial action. Yet it has gained critical acclaim and above all, constructed a great cast and niche for a heroine who was the legendary Steve Ditko’s last creation for the company which is neither exploitative nor mundane. It is good to know that much like the spirited Doreen herself, this series isn’t quitting and will in fact return refreshed in the fall. Hopefully, those fans who ignored it the first time around give it plenty of love this October. It would be a shame to see this much lighthearted creativity go unrewarded.
To continue along the theme of marvelous Marvel Comics ladies, below is an honorable mention. It isn’t as quirky as Squirrel-Girl, but then again, what is?
A-Force #3: Considering that this mini series has proven popular enough to warrant a transition into becoming an ongoing series set in traditional continuity this fall, one would hope that it was better than it is. That isn’t to say that it is bad or even mediocre, but one gets the feeling that writers Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson (the latter of which co-created and writes the excellent “Ms. Marvel”) have a better idea which is trying to poke out from beneath the crossover obligations. Tasked with creating their own parallel universe to exist as part of “Battleworld”, the pair (alongside artist Jorge Molina and colorist Laura Martin) went with the angle of an all-heroine team of superheroes defending an island utopia. It is enough to make one wonder why either of these writers weren’t approached by DC Comics to give Wonder Woman the reboot she desperately needs. At any rate, this version of She-Hulk was running things well enough until the arrival of a monster caused one of her team to be exiled under Emperor Doom’s law. Now, the distraught Nico Minoru has made a new friend, who may or may not be a walking dimensional rift herself. In this issue, She-Hulk violates the rules herself to investigate, finding herself battling a horde of Sentinels as well as a team of Thors (Doom’s hammer carrying police). There is solid dialogue, a great gasp of Jennifer Walters as a character, terrific artwork, and a sense of mystery. Yet it all seems more hollow than it should be, likely due to this being a temporary team in a temporary status quo. The fact that the “new dimensional girl” is obviously being built up for greater things in the next volume also can be distracting. One wishes that there was more to this comic than a gimmick of an all-woman team of heroes who are competent and without being drawn to the “male gaze”, but so far there is little meat beyond that. At best, this is a prelude to a better series to come.