She made enthusiasm, earnestness and empathy cool. Seriously.
10 Apr 2017 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2017 - 10:48 AM

Squirrel Girl might seem like an unlikely superhero, and an even more unlikely character to receive a standalone comic book series, but she's become a fan favourite.

With a fluffy tail, the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, and the ability to speak with squirrels (and let’s not forget her squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe), Squirrel Girl is something of a surreal character. She’s certainly not quite as slick as, say, Iron Man, Black Widow and the current big names from Marvel dominating popular culture.

But not only did Squirrel Girl get a standalone series in 2015, written by Ryan North and with art by Erica Henderson, she has since become a fan favourite. This might explain why Marvel's first live-action scripted comedy New Warriors, a planned production with Freeform slated for release in 2018, will feature Squirrel Girl at the centre of the ensemble cast.

From the first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl fans have been wooed by the endearing Doreen Green, and the comic’s refreshing, empowering representation of a young, female character. Then there’s the fact that the series is genuinely funny, and acts as an antidote to the often dark and gritty superhero tales that receive the most media attention.

Upbeat humour and the character’s unshakeable empathy and enthusiasm have always been central to Squirrel Girl narratives.

In her very first appearance, in 1991’s Marvel Super Heroes no. 8, by Will Murray and Steve Ditko, she teams up with Iron Man to help defeat Doctor Doom. The character is amusing because the reader doesn’t expect a squirrel-superhero to pose a serious threat; it’s not as immediately threatening as a character called something like Tiger Woman or Lioness, after all. But in fact, Squirrel Girl is a total bad ass, and the jokes are never at her expense.

There is so much to like about North and Henderson’s interpretation of Squirrel Girl. She writes and sings her own theme song while beating up purse-snatchers. She owns hilarious Deadpool-branded super villain training cards, which provide her with amusing stats and weaknesses on the foes she encounters. She takes the time out of beating up super villain Galactus to discuss the importance of gender-neutral third person singular pronouns.

In fact, while she can talk to squirrels, her actual superpower is just talking to – and listening to – the bad guys she encounters. More often than not, she stops a super villain from destroying the city by listening to their gripe, and then finding a way to help them out – without destroying the planet earth and all of its inhabitants. This earnestness and positivity feels inventive and even inspired. Squirrel Girl isn’t just about beating down; she’s about diplomacy.

While talking to her squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe (just go with it), about her need for a secret identity, she says, “My enemies might go after my loved ones, T!” But as T points out, “What enemies are you talking about? You’re the unbeatable Squirrel Girl! Who doesn’t like you?” She’s an impossibly likeable character, who makes such levels of likeability believable.

From a fan girl perspective, one of the other things that makes The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl so much fun to read is that she is, no doubt intentionally, a very regular character. She has interests outsider of superhero-dom (she’s studying computer science at university), and is also drawn to look like a regular young woman. Well, I mean, she has a squirrel tail almost as long as she is tall, but in Squirrel Girl you don’t see any of the physiologically unlikely female proportions that are so common in comic books.

Squirrel Girl is muscular and athletic, and says of her own body, after dressing in everyday clothes to attend university, that she has a, “conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” Her crime-fighting costume is similarly not drawn for the male gaze.

The last super awesome element of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl that must be mentioned (you have to forgive me for all this enthused language, because Squirrel Girl would approve) is that the supporting characters are diverse. There’s her university roommate Nancy, a black young woman who loves cats and knitting; and then there’s the dreamy Tomas, a nerdy Latino who Doreen falls for on her first day at school.

The art from Henderson matches the bright, optimistic outlook of the rest of the comic. Faces are cartoonish, colours are loud, and lines are strong. Villains seem much less threatening in the Squirrel Girl universe; Galactus is nothing more than a brightly-coloured Ken doll.  

Look, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is silly, but that’s exactly why it’s so enjoyable. Squirrel Girl is a character you can have fun with, as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride.

Follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter and Instagram at @melissawellham. 

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