Character Appreciation: Squirrel Girl
Squirrel Girl was originally created in 1991 by writer Will Murray and artist Steve Ditko, based on Murray’s ex-girlfriend who read comics, loved wild animals, and was a big fan of Ditko. Explains Murray in an interview:
“I think I got the idea because I had a bunch of squirrels running around my roof and sometimes coming in through my open bedroom window and inspiration struck.”
After helping Iron Man defeat Doctor Doom, Squirrel Girl didn’t appear again for almost a decade, returning as part of the Great Lake Avengers – a team mostly intended as comic relief. She went on to defeat the likes of Wolverine and even Thanos, earning her “unbeatable” title.
At a 2010 Comic-Con panel, Marvel Writer Brian Michael Bendis’ announcement of Squirrel Girl’s return, yet again, was received with much applause. This time, she would be playing the role of nanny to the infant daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.
When Marvel trademarked the character name last year, our own Rachel Stevens feared Squirrel Girl would be a joke that Marvel dragged into the dirt, long after people had stopped bothering to laugh. I can understand Rachel’s concern. I’ve seen Squirrel Girl appear on more than one “dumbest characters” list. Her powers (the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, and the ability to communicate with the same) are laughable, and the entire concept of her and her swarm of rodent companions defeating major villains and heroes alike, is ludicrous.
Yet when I first met Squirrel Girl in 2011, it was to the tune of great praise from the friends who introduced me to her. I thought they’d been joking when they referenced her in conversation, but a quick Wikipedia search later revealed that she was indeed a real character. Everything about her is just plain silly, and maybe Marvel is milking it, yet people are quite happy to play as Squirrel Girl in Marvel Heroes and other video game incarnations.
She continues to pop up within fandom through cosplay, fan art, and more. Comic relief or not, there are still many fans that love Squirrel Girl.
When I heard about the Marvel trademark, I thought it was a great idea. Perhaps she’d get to have as much fun as a character like Deadpool who’s always good for a laugh. Maybe she’d be more like a Harley Quinn, but with a little less crazy. But what we actually got with the launch of her ongoing series was something far better.
Writer Ryan North is known for his work on Dinosaur Comics and Adventure Time. The latter is on my short list of shows I love to watch along with my daughters, ages six and nine. It’s a cartoon filled with carefully injected adult humour, and many great life lessons. In fact, I was sold on the show by a friend who told me about the episode “Princess Cookie,” where a boy is denied his right to be a princess just because he’s a boy.
Add Erica Henderson’s art and the vibrant colours of Rico Renzi, and what we clearly have is a book aimed at a younger audience, that happens to be fun for all ages.
This is my first time actually reading a comic involving the character, and I am more than happy with the results. So much so that I read it with my daughters the next day because Squirrel Girl is a great role model. She exudes the kind of confidence that is both charming and empowering. She isn’t “unbeatable” because of her superhuman abilities, but because she believes in herself, goes after what she wants in life, and stands up for what is good and right.
(Now, my six year old felt that Squirrel Girl should have done a better job of teaching the muggers in the park a lesson, rather than simply just kicking their butts. But this is the same daughter who complained until I fastforwarded to the elevator fight scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I question her judgment.)
We spent a good amount of time discussing Squirrel Girl’s butt, which, when she goes incognito as Doreen Green, is amplified by stuffing her tail into her pants. My daughters thought this was hysterical and our discussion encompassed the various body images presented in the comic, since Henderson does such a wonderful job of drawing unique characters of diverse body shape and size, and Green herself is quite proud of her body. While my daughters’ butt-related giggles weren’t consciously focused on the self-image issues this scene addressed, these are the kinds of images young people need to see more of.
Later, when Squirrel Girl ponders how best to defeat her current foe, Kraven, the girls and I shared a chuckle over the prospect of squirrels in his pants – a wise tactic, if “S.I.M.P” from the Disney cartoon, Phineas and Ferb is anything to go by.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 worked well for me as both a superhero comic lover, and as a mother, and reviews from others, including our Kayleigh, have been pretty positive as well. This series has turned a silly joke into something more by giving the character her own playground, where her eccentricities become a part of the fun. If you like your comics to be all doom and gloom, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re a fan of Squirrel Girl already, then you’ll appreciating a book that doesn’t take itself seriously, while still addressing some significant and current issues with a sharp sense of wit. This isn’t shunning what makes the concept of Squirrel Girl ridiculous, and it certainly isn’t changing or apologizing for it. Instead, the comic turns what should have been a one note piece of comic relief into a fully fleshed out character. Through Green, as well as her bristly roommate, Nancy Whitehead, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 embraces differences and lets us know that it’s perfectly okay to be weird.
And now it’s time for the Squirrel Girl sing-a-long!
Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl!
She’s a human and also a squirrel!
Can she climb up a tree?
Yes she can, easily.
Her name is Squirrel Girl!
Is she tough? Listen bud:
She’s got partially squirrel blood.
Who’s her friend? Don’t you know:
That’s the squirrel, Tippy-Toe.
Surprise! She likes to talk to squirrels.
At the top of the trees,
Is where she spends her time
Like a huuuuman squirrel
She enjoys fighting crime!!
Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl!
Powers of both squirrel and girl!
Find some nuts, eat some nuts!
Kicks bad guuuuuuys’ evil butts!
To her, life is a great big acorn!
Where there’s a city crime-torn,
You’ll find the Squirrel Girl!!!