The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50
Derek Charm (artist), Erica Henderson (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Ryan North (writer), Rico Renzi (colorist)
November 13, 2019
There are some series where a neat and tidy ending in which everybody lives and the bad guys are all defeated would feel like a cop-out. Those series are not The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
The final issue of the series—only their second #50!—sees Doreen Green, her secret identity newly outed by the dastardly Melissa Morbeck, in a hopeless place. Melissa has Iron Man’s armor. She’s allied with Doctor Doom and every other villain that Doreen has defeated throughout the series. She and her friends have taken a serious beating and things are looking dire.
Until Galactus arrives. Galactus was one of the first enemies Doreen fought in the series, and also one of the first enemies she extended a hand to. That isn’t to say that Doreen Green, squirrel-themed superhero and computer engineering student, befriends genocidal space giants because she’s just that good of a person. Well, she does, but it’s less “There are both sides to every conversation about genocide, and I’m willing to listen!” and more “I believe that you have the capacity to be something other than this.”
That is, at its heart, what The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and especially #50 is about. As adults, we may wring our hands a bit about what it means. Is Doreen endorsing atrocities by quite literally extending the hand of friendship to a creature that devours entire planets? If that’s how you want to think about it, sure, you could make that argument. But the point of this series is not the redemption of galactic baddies, nor even that friendship and love conquer all; it’s that change is both the universe’s most powerful and wonderful force.
I expected this final issue to be one impactful event after another. And it is, on some level—Galactus shows up, the bad guys are defeated, Doreen and friends begin to pick up and build their lives anew—but the actual events of the comic are less important than the message it leaves you with.
Despite Derek Charm’s unfailingly adorable artwork—all large eyes, smooth linework, and powerful expressions—there’s a sense of heaviness to this issue. It’s not in the characters or how they move—they are as fluid and expressive as ever, with Rico Renzi’s bright and cheerful colors infusing even the heaviest scenes with levity—but in the sense of finality.
Renzi’s colors particularly shine during Galactus and Doreen’s conversation on the moon (which is a phrase I will, sadly, probably never write again), with Galactus’ purples and blues echoed in a swirling nebula dotted with white stars. It’s a beautiful expression of the issue’s themes of change and scale. On the one hand, this is a series that has meant a lot to a lot of people. On the other, it’s one piece of a larger universe. It’s both, it’s beautiful, and though the universe will keep on changing, this frozen moment on the moon will last, exactly as it is, forever.
I’m sad that this series is ending. It’s brought me endless joy over the past few years, and marked the beginning of me getting into comics as opposed to just occasionally reading them. This issue recognizes and honors that sadness. During Galactus and Doreen’s conversation, he explains that there’s a sense of gravity to their meeting, too. Eventually, they will meet again. When they do, they will be different.
In one sense, this is because people change over time. I’m a different person today than I was when I started reading this series, and I will be different again tomorrow. In another, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has been a pocket of comfort and safety in the Marvel Universe. Characters like Galactus or Kraven can be something other than what they have always been; there is space for them to change here, even if they only change here. The next time I see Doreen or Galactus or any other character, they will be different—they’ll be by another writer, another artist, who may not treat them as Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Derek Charm did. I may not like the direction they take. In all likelihood, I won’t like the direction they take; I have loved The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl because it’s so different from what I expect of superhero comics.
But, as Galactus points out, “change is the defining characteristic of life.” I can’t ask the series to go on forever, and it shouldn’t; I believe that things are better when they end. And as Galactus explains, there is value in this wonderful, warm space, even if it no longer exists the same way.
As I read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50, I knew that the ending I had hoped for wasn’t going to happen. As I wrote then, I wasn’t necessarily sad about it, because issue #31 had already given that ending to me. But the events weren’t lining up with my expectations; it didn’t feel like an ending so much as the conclusion to this particular adventure. I wanted something big and grand and, essentially, final. “This is where the story of Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl as you know her, ends.”
It isn’t that. It can’t be that, not just because comics are an eternal cycle of reboots and revamps, taken on by creators with different intents and understandings, but also because there really isn’t a fitting ending. Instead of a final event to make the end of this arc, North and Charm leave us with a reminder that change is necessary and good, and that the time we spent in this space is no less valuable even if things are different later.
Is it a fitting farewell for a comic that has touched audiences of all ages? No, because it isn’t really a farewell. Like issue #31, it ends one story and begins another. It’s full of possibility and of space, and I hope that one of the kids that grew up reading this story about compassion and choice and embracing change is eventually the one who writes that story in their own wonderful fashion—different, the same, and full of meaning.