I told you the next book report for a Read Harder Challenge 2017 book would be soon! Because this one is for challenge #18: “Read a superhero comic with a female lead.”
Honestly, my first thought on seeing that challenge was to find a magical girl manga. (Like maybe try a volume of the Sailor Moon manga, since I’ve been watching the anime lately. (Only 20 years late to the party…)) But then I remembered that there was a genuine, American superhero comic my brother had been wanting me to read…
I’m not a big fan of the superhero genre (though you might not think so, given my near-slavish devotion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and my surprising number of dolls of DC super ladies) possibly because my father and brother are such huge comic book aficionados: what could turn a girl off something more than hearing others drone on endlessly about it ad nauseum? So while I love manga (and grew up reading Asterix, Tintin, and Carl Barks Disney comics), I’ve always been hesitant to read typical American comics. Therefore, when my brother wanted me to read the first (trade paperback) volume of Squirrel Girl, I was reluctant, and all the more so since my first thought on seeing the art was that it was cartoony in a very odd way. But I didn’t want to be one of those obnoxious people who judges a book by its cover, so I gave it a go.
And I absolutely loved it. The art style — while not really my cup of tea — fit the story and characters perfectly, and the writing is hilarious!
Now that the backstory is out of the way, let me get on to the report on this, the second trade paper collection of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Written by Ryan North (who became rather famous for the wildly successful crowdfunding of his Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style take on Hamlet) and drawn by Erica Henderson, this comic follows the adventures of Doreen Green, brand new college student majoring in Computer Science. Who just happens to have a squirrel tail, the ability to talk to squirrels, and the (supposedly) proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, which makes her quite literally unbeatable. Like, able to defeat any Marvel villain (or hero) in no time flat. (And probably DC ones, too, only the two companies don’t often let their characters interact officially. Doubtless there’s tons of fanfic on the subject, though…) Doreen is smart, confident, a bit silly, sometimes a little flighty, and all around lovable. There are two particularly fantastic things about her. First, she is neither exceptionally pretty nor unattractive, nor does she have ludicrously impossible curves or a shockingly revealing and/or skin-tight costume. Second, while she can solve any situation just by punching, she usually doesn’t; she prefers finding a different, and usually better solution. I really love those things about her, especially the second one: if she always used violence to resolve the problem, what would be the point of continuing to read, when you would already know how it was going to turn out? But as it stands, you don’t know what she’s going to do (and some of the things that happen are pretty crazy, let me tell you!), so you’re actually wondering what’s going to happen next.
(In summary: if you haven’t read any Squirrel Girl and you like to laugh, go read it already!)
So, specifics about this volume.
First of all, there are a lot of cameos from other Marvel superheroes throughout the book. (This was the case in the previous volume, as well.) And, um, there are a lot of things that are very different right now than in the movie versions. Some of it I knew about (like the new female Thor, for example, and her smooch with the original Thor) and some of it I really, really, really didn’t. (Also, a lot of heroes are given nameless background cameos and I’m like “who the heck is that? Should I know them?”) Possibly my favorite cameos are actually in the Twitter-style “previously on” page at the beginning of each episode. It turns out that the Hulk is a lot of fun on Twitter. (I hope he has a very large and durable keyboard!)
I don’t want to give away the contents of the various chapters — uh, I mean issues — contained within, so I’ll just make two comments. The first chapter reminded me of an episode of Batman the Animated Series. It starts out with Squirrel Girl’s (or rather Doreen’s) roommate Nancy and a bunch of other people trapped in the head of the Statue of Liberty, where they’re being held hostage. Meanwhile, Squirrel Girl and a number of other heroes (including Thor, the Hulk, Storm, and Falcon (er, I mean Captain America (which I’ll be cool with in the movies (because he’s wonderful) as long as he doesn’t get the job by Steve dying, ’cause that would suck))) are fighting an army of robotic dinosaurs outside. On seeing the state of the battle outside, the hostages begin to despair of being rescued, and Nancy tries to cheer them up by assuring them that Squirrel Girl can’t be beaten, and she’s sure to save them. None of the others have actually heard of Squirrel Girl, but they try to claim they have, and tell zany stories “about her,” some of which are just ridiculous made up stories, and others are lifted from the histories of other heroes (prompting the great bottom-of-page line “Oh right: spoiler alert for what happened to Spider-Man two decades ago! If you don’t want to know what Spider-Man was doing two decades ago, please forget this page riiiiight…now. Perfect!”) and none of which are even remotely like Squirrel Girl. If you’re my age and/or know/remember Batman the Animated Series, you probably know the episode I immediately thought of: a bunch of kids were talking about Batman and telling stories about him, each one wildly different from the others. Of course, even there it’s different: those Batman stories were all based on earlier versions of Batman (the one doing the ’66 TV show was my favorite for being hilarious), whereas I don’t think any of these stories are based on any previous incarnation of Squirrel Girl. (Though I admit that I don’t know that for sure.) Also there are more of these.
The other one I want to talk about is actually a two-part story (most of them are self-contained within the issue), and I absolutely love the villain for the story! They show the opening of the Wikipedia entry for the villain, and guess what? I just looked at Wikipedia, and part of the entry they show actually is from the real Wikipedia entry. (Not all of it, though. The evil stuff is made up.) The villain’s method of spreading evil and chaos is so very true to folklore that it felt almost real. (If it weren’t for the fact that the folklore in question already had someone who did that sort of thing, I might actually have believed it.) And the villain’s true form! It was spectacular. The one part of the art I truly loved.
In summary, a list of pros and then a list of cons.
- Diversity. Doreen’s roommate (and human best friend) is African-American, one of her two new crime-fighting companions in this volume is Hispanic (and might be Doreen’s love interest?) and the other is Asian-American. All four of these characters are Computer Science majors, they all seem roughly equal in smarts (with Doreen and Nancy perhaps being a bit smarter), and all three of the superpowered ones have comparable powers, though only Squirrel Girl is unbeatable. (Well, she is the lead.)
- Character Interaction. They spend more time talking to each other than punching things. (I dunno; maybe that’s the norm these days? Without reading other superhero comics, I have no basis of comparison.) They all have their strengths and weaknesses, their fun little foibles. The way everyone interacts (both the regulars and the cameos from more famous heroes) is both naturalistic and delightful fun.
- Inventive Writing. (That pretty much sums it up.)
- Humor. The only other book in recent memory that’s given me this many laughs per page is Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. A couple of fun points I especially love is little asides from the narrator (or whoever) at the bottom of almost every single page. And that Doreen carries around cards that are “Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains” which are always hilarious. (Sadly, not as many of those in this volume as in the previous volume.)
- The art is definitely not my thing. (But better than the bonus “first appearance of Squirrel Girl” at the end of the first volume. Ugh, was that ugly art! And that was reprinted from a regular comic book! Ack.) Particularly problematic for people, especially super people I know from movies…
- Loki shouldn’t look like that! Loki should only look like Tom Hiddleston, forever! (Who, me, fangirling? Never!)
- The bonus chapters from other books at the end are always such a letdown, ’cause they’re not as good.
I feel like there was more I wanted to say, but now I can’t recall what it was. (And I really need to get over to AO3 and post another chapter of my longfic; I didn’t post one yesterday, and at this rate it’ll take me until late next month before I can start posting the sequel.) So I guess I’ll just abruptly close off this post here.
Dunno when the next Book Report will show up. Next on my Read Harder 2017 list is the book for #20, and I haven’t started it yet, so I don’t know if it’ll be a fast or a slow read. (It doesn’t seem to be all that long, though. But it’ll all depend on how things go after my class starts on Monday. Unless I drop it. Which I totally want to do. Class hasn’t even met yet, and the professor’s already patronizing us like no one’s business. Even though this is graduate school and most of the other students are teachers themselves.)