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She Has No Head! – Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 Is Criminally Cute And That’s A Great Thing

So, I had the honor of reading an advance copy of THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #1 (releases this week – 1/7/15!) and I am here to tell you that it’s criminally cute and MUST be purchased by anyone interested in variety in their big two comics, or anyone just interested in great fun comic books period. I wrote a few weeks ago for CBR about Bitch Planet #1 being a “perfect first issue” and the power of such a thing. There are few “perfect issues” in a year of comics and yet here I am, first week of January writing about another one.

Squirrel Girl being adorbsLet’s start at the beginning (the very best place to start, amirite!?!) with the inspired creative team of writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson, colorist Rico Renzi, letterer Clayton Cowles, and contributing artist Maris Wicks. Right up front I can admit that this is not going to be a creative team for everyone. It’s likely that the same people that found the art in Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk “ugly” are probably not going to be able to get on board for this one either. This was their loss before and will be their loss again (though since we all lost She-Hulk, I suppose it’s all of our loss on that one and let’s hope USG gets more of a chance despite being an odd duck in an otherwise similar stable of superhero comics).

Anyone familiar with North’s work — most known in comics for three years of excellent hilarious work on The Adventure Time books for Boom! — knows he is indeed a funny guy and he excels at cutting loose and keeping things light, zany, and even a bit surreal. Paired with Erica Henderson, the combination is just magic. Her lines are expressive and full of movement. The entire book is pumped full of energy and well, sheer joy. Joy of being a superhero, joy of being a comic, joy of just being, and the enthusiasm in these pages is contagious. North’s script is straight up funny and Henderson (and Wicks) execution makes it even funnier – taking what he has given them and making it better and of course far more adorable. Renzi’s mostly flat bright colors are again, a perfect match for the book’s themes, tone, and setting. They have a great superhero pop to them but they never overwhelm and he makes just enough creative choices (the bright red sky below, or the slightly off-green background above) to keep the book feeling fresh and young and unexpected.

SG Cartooning Badassery

This book just feels incredibly well put together overall. There is not one missed or false note, it’s a totally cohesive vision. Everyone creating this book knows exactly what they want it to be and exactly how to get it there. The goals, tone, and purpose of the book are devastatingly clear and flawless in their execution. This book knows what it is (a fun, funny, empowered, rollicking good time) and it does not care if that’s what you want or not – that is what it is delivering, regardless of your puny wishes, from adorable unconventional (adorable) title block to funny squirrel girl teeth. It’s bold and confident, totally unapologetic about what it is. You don’t like that Squirrel Girl isn’t “conventionally hot” enough for you? Well, stuff it! To which I say, SWOON. AND TAKE ALL MY MONEY, BOOK!

SG I dont go here

One of the best things about this book, other than its confident and consistent execution is how creative it is with both the big and little things. One of the biggest pieces of a new series is also one of the of the trickiest things – and that’s getting through the often necessary but frequently clunky exposition and world building that you need to convey to readers so they can understand your world and SG Excuse mecharacters. This can be especially tricky with superhero comics where there are long convoluted characters and continuity histories. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl covers most these “tricky problems” with absolute creativity. I won’t spoil the fun and surprises but they use things like a song that brings you up to speed as well as a brilliant and hilarious device (drawn adorably by Batgirl colorist Maris Wicks) that perfectly integrates into the story to explain a complex character. It works like gangbusters and also manages to be one of the funniest bits in the whole book. In all of these little ways North, Henderson, Renzi, and Wicks level Unbeatable Squirrel Girl up from just a cute fun comic to something really spectacular and surprisingly smart, even while it remains light and fun. These things not only make the necessary exposition feel organic and well integrated but make the book even more new reader friendly. Anyone can read this comic. ANYONE. And that feels awesome.

Story continues below

At the same time, the book never forgets the little things. The things that really make a comic book sing. Things like – the labels on Squirrel Girl’s moving boxes – “Hulk Pants (torn),” “Cool Clothes,” “Cute Clothes,” “Nuts (misc)” are hilarious little touches that not only make you chuckle but actually also speak to character and story. We learn so much more about Squirrel Girl from these simple bits of information than we would from plain blank boxes and that helps make the most of our scant 20 pages.

Lastly, and in a nice bit of everything being cyclical, like Bitch Planet, I would call The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl decidedly feminist. There’s nothing soap box-y about it, there’s no ham-fisted message to worry about, it’s just boldly about what it’s about and what it’s about is an empowered together confident superheroine, being friends with squirrels, making some SG hiding her tailchanges in her life, going to college, and kicking ass in her spare time. She’s human and flawed, complex as any good character should be. She’s funny and silly and smart, and not so good at certain things (flirting!), but also totally doing it on her own. And there are a million little signs that let you know that this is a book that celebrates women – characters, creators, AND readers. Squirrel Girl has no need to get naked on panel in this book – even though she actually changes clothes twice. Squirrel Girl is also not drawn to look “traditionally beautiful”  – she has features that aren’t generally considered “ideal” including well, everything – her body shape, height, and even her hair cut are totally atypical for “pretty” and idealized comic book heroines. It’s actually kind of amazing that the book gets away with it and I love everyone involved all the more for just going for it. I mean, girl has a fluffy tail, it would not have been hard for them to sex her up to a crazy degree. But this way, she is adorable, relatable, and destined to become a cosplay favorite. It’s great. Also in this issue, Squirrel Girl is embracing the idea of a secret identity, and that means she’s hiding her tail in her pants giving her a big butt, which she proudly calls “a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.”

I hope, rather desperately I think, that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, quirky though it is, can find the kind success of Ms. Marvel, instead of getting cancelled like She-Hulk. But if it doesn’t succeed, it won’t be because the creative team and Marvel didn’t put together a truly unique and awesome little superhero comic. No matter what happens all involved should be proud…unless Marvel doesn’t give it a chance to find its audience…which let’s face it, has been a big problem. C’mon Marvel, let this weird little book fly free!

Run, do not walk, to your comic book store (or whatever) this Wednesday (1/7/15) and get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1. It’s fantastic and it deserves our love.


Kelly Thompson is a freelance writer living in Manhattan. She is the author of the superhero novel THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING recently optioned to become a film, and her new novel STORYKILLER is out now. She is also writing the forthcoming JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS comic from IDW. You can find Kelly all over the place, but twitter may be the easiest: @79semifinalist

41 Comments

Thanks for the recommendation! I’m on board. It sounds like a really excellent read – maybe even one that will fill the She-Hulk-shaped hole in my subscription box (and my heart).

I haven’t said it before so I’ll take the opportunity now: Looking forward to your “Jem and the Holograms” book! Congratulations again.

Can I just say that I find the whole discussion about Squirrel Girl not being hot enough really creepy? And a shining representation of almost everything wrong with comics fandom?

I’ve been looking forward to this book but I can’t see it lasting longer than She Hulk. Which would be a shame. I think when it comes to this kind of thing, Marvel only seems invested in keeping one going and that one is Silver Surfer. When it comes to that kind of cartoony style, it seems mainstream buyers are only going to put up with it if the artist’s name is Allred.

I’m not sure a secret identity works for a hero who goes around maskless, especially if she’s going to be doing much fighting on her campus. I wonder if this might end up with a Johnny Storm-type situation, as discussed in the comments on another article today.

And stuffing that enormous tail into pants like that looks as painful as the Angel’s old wing-harness.

This still looks like it could be a great series, though.

I am so looking forward to this!

Gah, I just really dislike the character of Squirrel Girl, who in the past I’ve found to be the very definition of “trying too hard”. But this book does sound appealingly different and not reliant on so many of the issues I have with the character. So torn!

Is this book suitable for young children?

I have a friend whose daughter is 10 years old and is interested in comics.
Would a 10 year old (who reads at a much older age) have an issue with the material in the story?
Or would it gear more towards 13+ years of age?

@Derek: Thanks! :)

@Kings_Gambit: Co-fucking-signed.

@Steven T: I agree that a book like this (especially with what we saw on She-Hulk so recently) is an uphill battle. I keep hoping Marvel will learn to let books like this have some extra time to find readers, especially since they are good books for bringing in new and even (gasp!) young readers. We need new (and young) readers to grow our medium and I wish Marvel (and DC) could find a lower line at which they’re willing to invest in books that probably just can’t sell as much as you know, random issues of X-Men or Avengers or what have you. Books that are less profitable but are GOOD for their line, good for diversity, good for their growth…books that are long term investments instead of short term payoffs. But so far that is not the approach. We’ll see.

STILL. There’s a chance this could hit things right and capture the same magic a book like Ms. Marvel did. On the surface of things, Ms. Marvel does not look like a book that should have made it – a book starring a YA Muslim heroine of color stepping into an existing/recently vacated hero name/role, and with a creative team that while perfect and talented would not necessarily be considered “high profile” or “A-list” a year ago. All of that should have probably meant the book lasted 6 months at best and instead it’s one of Marvel’s biggest hits. So…dare to hope? Dare to dream? Feeling optimistic today I guess!

@Mary Warner: You’ll have to read the book. The book is very light and fun. The premise of the secret identity and trying to have one is not some “do or die hide my secret identity, use a special voice to make sure nobody knows or finds my batcave kind of secret identity thing” (not knocking that, just that I think there’s room for both – or rather all kinds of approaches to this). Anyway, it totally works tonally and in-story. This is a freewheeling character (and approach to superheroes) that would never plan and over think these kind of things.

@SallyP: It’s so great!

@Patrick: You know, prior to this book I would have said I was neutral to negative on the character. Seemed kind of ridiculous and yeah, maybe “trying too hard” but this is a really great fresh approach and I absolutely fell in love with this take on her. Please do give it a try, it’s SO FUN.

@Grum: You know, I am on record as being kinda awful at figuring out reading ages, some combination of not having kids of my own (and only two very young nephews) and also because, like many kids, I read WAY above my age level as a kid. That said, I don’t see anything inappropriate for a 10-year old in this, especially one who tends to read up. I think it’s probably way more appropriate for most 10 year olds than the majority of television, movies, and video games aimed at them. And in fact, I see a TON that a 10-year old interested in comics would LOVE. I would definitely say buy it, but if you’re unsure, just give it a read through yourself first – you’ll be glad you did, cause it’s awesome for you too. ;)

I tried to read She-Hulk. I really, really did. But Pulido’s artwork WAS horrible. So I guess I’m one of “those people.”

I think USG is a totally different situation, tho. The character is different, so having slightly-unconventional art is an asset, not a hindrance. I honestly think that the biggest problem USG is going to face, is that the character tends to have more of a “love/hate” relationship with fans. And I’m not sure there’s enough of the “love her” fans out there for Marvel to justify keeping this book around.

(For all the people who love Deadpool and/or Harley Quinn, SG should have no problem having a large fan base, but there ya go…)

@Steven: I would love for USG to get a Deadpool or Harley Quinn level audience but I’m loathe to compare it to either of those books. I’m not sure how similar (or dissimilar) it is from Deadpool as I haven’t read DP regularly in a while, but I find almost nothing in common between HG and USG. I find HG painfully unfunny and kind of mean and a weird blend (that doesn’t work for me) of hyper realistic and insanely unrealistic. This is none of those things to me. That said, I would love to see USG get HQ’s audience, as people are buying that book like crazy. Not sure why but glad to see a lady-led book getting huge sales numbers (and happy for Conner, Palmioti, and Hardin) even if I don’t particularly care for the book.

“Most known in comics for three years of excellent hilarious work on The Adventure Time.”

This is probably true and it breaks my tiny little heart. *snif*

I love the art for Squirrel Girl and I hated the art in She-Hulk, sooooo…

Count me among those who didn’t care for Pulido’s She-Hulk but thinks Henderson’s art here looks pretty neat.

I’d vote for Squirrel Girl as the most gorgeous woman in fiction, the artist on this book doesn’t make me think otherwise. She’s so cute and charming, and despite some squirrel-features (tail..) looks way more realistic than her average fellow superheroine.

Which would not be a reason to get this book. I find it pretty horrifying that people are making an issue out of her (supposedly-ugly) looks.

Anyway, it seems there are more than enough reasons to follow the new series, it seems great!
Thanks for the review, Kelly.

In fact, thinking more about the look-issue, reading and totally agreeing with Kelly’s comments about Doreen’s appearance – I have to add that I really, really love how proud and satisfied she’s standing in front of the mirror, optimistically joking about how her tail adds to her bum size. I think this picture goes straight on my list of ‘best panels ever’.

She’s not beautiful despite her having (in relative respect to other superheroines) perhaps somewhat thick legs, maybe a small chest, sort of a tilted nose and some largish teeth; she’s amazing because of all that, how that’s not made into an issue, and especially of her own attitude to go along with it. She wears it all so well. If the art shown here has anything to say about beauty it seems to be a strong message of how subjective it all is and really everybody’s pretty in their own way. But all subtly shown through the comic book medium. I love it. This book really looks to be fantastic.

@Seth T. Hane: Sorry, Seth! :(

@NatalieShark: Yeah, so that’s why the sentence reads “It’s likely that the same people that found the art in Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk “ugly” are probably not going to be able to get on board for this one either.”

The LIKELY and PROBABLY are in that sentence for a reason. Just for people like you, soooo…

@Andrew: Glad to hear it.

@Valentijn: SG’s “look” is fantastic and a unique wonderful refreshing change for comics and something I hope readers can get on board for, it’s awesome all around.

People didn’t like Pulido on She Hulk? Wha? It’s like I don’t even know people!

I look forward to USG in my pull box tomorrow. I can’t remember which cover I got, but it looks like it’s going to be a winner of a book. I’ll actually READ this column after I get the ish (I doubt you “spoiled” anything, but still….)

Oh man, I’ve been wanting this book for ages :D Glad to see it’s getting some good buzz

Looks like your review went a bit ranty and you made it into an article :p

Can’t say I care either way about the character, but I do love squirrels, so I might check it out at some point.

re She-Hulk: Pulido was freakin’ killing it, but I think that horrid fill-in artist might have scared unconvinced people away, those two issues definitely hurt the series if you ask me.

Pulido’s art always made me think of Gilbert Hernandez inked by Jaime Hernandez, or vice versa. And that’s high praise indeed.

I bought and read this today, and it is everything you said and more. This is an amazingly good comic. My favorite extra touch were all the little gags at the bottom of each page.

I really enjoyed the book, especially the tiny type at the bottom of each page. I was halfway through the book when I first noticed it, and I had to go back and read each one in context, it definitely changed the dynamic of the book. Though as much as I enjoyed this book I wouldn’t call it “perfect”. After reading your review of it I have put a bit of thought into what would have made it perfect, and unfortunately for me I can’t put my finger on what would have tipped the scales for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was great; I just don’t see it as a perfect issue. Though I could have been bribed with some deadpool trading cards, even the officially unofficial ones. That might have made it the perfect issue for me, if a set of those cards had been released for download or purchase. I think that as different as this comic is, if it were to make a clear effort to come off of the page (whether through regular interactions through tumblr, or mail away cards for squirrel girl nut flavored gum) I think that would be how this comic could best shape the landscape of comics to come, make its mark (more than it already has), and insure its longevity. Just my two cents though.

I really enjoyed the first issue, and generally books that “do humour” irk me, but it felt zany, ,and joyous and light. One downside, I was saddened to note the teeny print at the bottom of each page when I realised that with my eyesight I could not make out any of the actual words.

Still reeling from the loss of Adventure Time, but this sounds like a suitable replacement. Though I much prefer the Land of Ooo over the Marvel Universe. But oh well. :)

Meh, didn’t care for it. I honestly don’t see this book having a strong longevity success.

I love Shulkie and I really wanted to support her latest title but I really couldn’t with that art….I think he’s the most polarising comic book artist I can think of.

Eric’s Henderson on Squirrel Girl though? LOVE. I think as Steven mentioned, SG can get away with having unconventional art more because it actually works to help her stand out. I have never really cared much for SG aside from thinking she’s mildly amusing every now and then but Ryan North can do no wrong by me so as long as he is putting out work as quality as the first issue was I am all aboard ^_^

just what are those atrocious slippers she’s wearing in the last image?

Someone myssssterrrious

January 10, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Is this Ryan “Dinosaur Comics” North or a different Ryan North? Because if this is Dinosaur Comics Ryan North I might buy it purely on principle.

PS I love this book. BEST BOOK MARVEL MAKES. BAR NONE

IF U ARENT BUYING THIS, YOU DONT LIKE GOOD COMIX.

The only problem I had with the issue was with the running commentary from Squirrel Girl at the bottom of the page(s).
While an interesting idea that I hope continues, its presentation in issue 1 was hard to read even with a magnifying glass.
Maybe print it in a darker color?

@Grum – I read it to my 3 year old daughter this morning and she dug it. I definitely think it would be great for a 10 year old. (My daughter digs squirrels and her favorite show is Avengers Assemble, so this was right up her alley.)

Yeah, agreed. That was great, all-round.

@Lee Houston, I think that’s kind of the point. He’s intentionally calling to mind a technique that a lot of comedy webcomics use – hiding extra jokes or commentary in the in the title text that appears over an image when you hover over it with your cursor. It’s a fun little extra thing that you might not notice if you don’t stumble on it or know to look for it. I love it a lot.

@Someone myssssterrrious – this is very much the same Ryan North who writes Dinosaur Comics, and his voice works amazingly with the character.

This was a top-notch book. I’m happy with the balance of lighter fare and more serious work that Marvel has going on right now.

Henderson’s art work is bursting with life. I hope they don’t have to get anyone to fill-in anytime soon.

And as for everyone who can’t tolerate Pulido’s and Wimberly’s art, I kinda feel sorry for you. It’s beautiful work that made She-Hulk one of the best titles on the market.

I am got to say while I liked this review and agreed with almost everything about it . I found the mentioning of she hulk both highly offensive and unnecessary. the art for squirrel girl is well done and very detailed to compare the art to she hulk devalued Maris Wicks. they are not slightly in the same league . the reason we did not like the art in she hulk was not that it was different it was because the art t was bad and amateurish . a better comparison for Squirrel girl would be Adrian Alphona when he first started runaways . or the new artist on Bat girl . another selling point you should have brought up is that like Ms. Marvel the book can be read by all ages. heck they didn’t even show kravins nipples (I pointed that out to a comic shop owner who wondered about the open shirt were kids were concerned ). I think if the readers of ms Marvel got into this book it will survive . yes squirrel girl is the last character I expected to get a series but it is a lot of fun and it is one I can share with kids . truth is Ms Marvel did the same thing it surprised me . I want this series to survive.

@Philip A Moore:

Wow. If you found the mention of She-Hulk art as “highly offensive” I really don’t know how you get through a day.

Good luck to you, man. The world’s gotta be tough on you with skin that thin and sensitive. Yeesh.

Nicola Marshall

January 14, 2015 at 5:45 am

Sorry I’m rather late to this party. Just wanted to say that USG#1 was totes adorbs and made me giggle from start to finish. (I want those Deadpool cards!) If it can keep this up then it’s a strong contender to replace She-Hulk as my second favourite Marvel book.

I liked your review It was when you said I would not like squirrel girls art because I did not like the art in she hulk that got to me . I have no problem with art that is different from norm Skotty Young is great. do I have thin skin not as thin as you think. I picked she hulk and wanted to like it the story was good Charles Soule I one of my favorite writers to see him with art that did not fit the story and did not even look human was depressing. I like to feel like an artist knows how to draw people I did not feel that way with she hulk .

I have not read this yet, but as a person who loves Squirrel Girl (when written right, as even I got tired of the goofy “let’s have her beat up every major Marvel villain” running joke) I very much want to. As for her appearance, while it absolutely should not be an issue that makes a difference in whether people buy the book or not, I’ll admit to having a little fictional-character-crush on SG. But I like her because of her personality and uniqueness, and the fact that (even when drawn by more “cheesecake-y” artists) she doesn’t look like your average superheroine. She has buck teeth, and a full-coverage costume, and yes, a big fluffy tail.

One thing I do notice about her appearance in the panels above, though… where are the black marks under her eyes? I love those!

“It’s likely that the same people that found the art in Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk “ugly” are probably not going to be able to get on board for this one either.”

I’m not sure that’s true. I couldn’t get past the art in She-Hulk, and didn’t buy it as a result, but I love the art here.

Count me as another who had serious trouble with Pulido’s art on She-Hulk. I bought it anyway and tolerated the art because the story was excellent. I have to say that Pulido’s backgrounds, landscapes, and bodies were good, but I have serious trouble with his style of drawing faces. I can’t quite put my finger on it…. too square, maybe? Not organic enough? Wimberley, the fill-in artist, was absolutely awful all the way through.

By contrast, Henderson’s artwork is totally accessible, I like all of it.

It’s kinda cute, but my main problem is that the faces look kind of weird at times. I’m not expecting super model pretty, but it’s kind of distracting.

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