"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
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.
Let’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.
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!
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 characters. 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.
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 changes 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
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