Review of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #16

By Ryan North, Will Murray, Erica Henderson & Rico Renzi

“You said you’re ten, right . . . [so] why are you already deciding there’s things you can’t do, Doreen Green?”

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Erica Henderson

by Ryan North, Erica Henderson,Rico Renzi, Will Murray & Steve Ditko

Last week, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its title character. Co-created by Will Murray and Steve Ditko, Squirrel Girl debuted in a one-off tale for Marvel Super-Heroes #8. In the story she tussled with Iron Man before defeating the latest egotistical machinations of Dr. Doom. Despite some initial editorial skepticism, she would stick around the Marvel Universe over the next couple decades landing gigs on The Great Lake Avengers and as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ babysitter. Her biggest spotlight, however, arrived in 2015 with the premiere of her first solo series. Writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson invested the title with a distinctive flavor which was an immediate success, winning over new legions of fans for Doreen Green. North and Henderson bring that same spirit to the anniversary issue, crafting a charming, heartfelt portrait of a girl discovering herself.

North begins his story at the beginning with Doreen’s parents cute meeting over some spilled wine at a singles’ mixer. Over the course of a few panels, North and Henderson trace the evolution of their relationship leading to the birth of their daughter. Following the tight panels of the montage sequence, Henderson opens up the frame with a splash page depicting the couple cradling their newborn, as Maureen murmurs “she’s perfect.” The simplicity of the scene is lovely especially given the added detail of a bushy tail cushioning the baby’s head. From the start, Doreen was different and from the start her parents did not think twice about it.

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Henderson

This theme of acceptance runs throughout the narrative as Doreen ages. Her parents are wisely protective of Doreen’s unique characteristics, fearful of what others might think, but they never allow this to reflect back on how Doreen views herself. Still, kids will be kids. When the Greens move, ten year old Doreen finds herself in a new school where she has trouble making friends, which leaves her alone on her birthday. That is until she makes the startling discovering that she can communicate with squirrels.

North does an excellent job of scripting this initial encounter between Doreen and her future side-kick, Monkey Joe. They have an easy rapport which strengths when Doreen rescues Monkey Joe from a dog. When Monkey Joe proclaims Doreen a hero, she is quickly dismissive. Heroes are people like Captain America out there fighting cosmic battles to save planets. Monkey Joe is having none of it however. So what if Captain America flies off to the moon or wherever, how does that effect Doreen? What matters most are intentions and Doreen’s are quite noble. Her first instinct was to sweep in and save Monkey Joe from his hunter. Is that not what makes a hero? If Steve Rogers was once some scrawny guy from Brooklyn, what could Doreen grow into being? Why limit herself at such a young age? North handles this aspirational message with his usual natural skill, never allowing the dialogue to tip into pontificating. Instead, he and Henderson render it heartfelt, as in a later splash page revealing Doreen’s initial Squirrel Girl design for an art class project.

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Henderson & Steve Ditko

For the Doreen at 15 segment, co-creator Murray returns to the character for the first time since Marvel Super-Heroes #8. His story is set during the early days of Squirrel Girl’s career, not long after her defeat of Dr. Doom. This time around she needs to guide a temporarily blinded Hulk in overcoming The Abomination. Murray picks the character back up as if he never stopped scripted her. Her adventure with the Hulk has all the charm of North’s stories. Adding to this seamless transition between segments is the unifying presence of Henderson’s art. From the beginning, Henderson’s cartoonish style has been key to the series’ personality, investing the comic with equal doses of humor and excitement. She does that once again for #16, as she illustrates Doreen’s gradual evolution from newborn to confused child to courageous superhero.

One of the most appealing aspects of Unbeatable has been the emphasis on Doreen’s resilience. She never loses faith in herself, always trying to puzzle out another way to either fight or think her way through a tough situation. For her anniversary issue, North, Murray and Henderson not only demonstrate how that plucky personality came to be, but also how her readers can be inspired by it as well. At the same time, they deliver a comic which continues to be a delight to read.

Cheers

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