By Jason Karlson
She has always been a character referred to by both readers and creators alike with a warm fondness, yet with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, both Erica Henderson and Ryan North have fleshed out Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl into a more complex and rounded character beyond the knowing jokes and geek trivia lists. This issue rounds of the first arc and last issue of the surprise hit of the year before she returns in October with a new number one and juggling the responsibilities of college and her position on the New Avengers team. She goes from well-liked comedy character to star of two books in only eight issues.
Norse menace Ratatoskr's plans finally come to fruition as she continues to turn people against each other using their own insecurities and mistrust. Our heroine and her friends race to put a stop to her smack talk and save the world. Throughout its first seven issues the series has always had an emphasis on nonviolent conflict resolution, which might sound counterintuitive for a superhero book, but North makes it work. Leading Squirrel Girl and company to seek out more creative methods for dealing with her would-be foes makes for a far more interesting read. It's the perfect series for anyone seeking non-stop action and adventure without the dull repetitiveness of the bif-pow superhero slugfests. Oh sure, Squirrel Girl isn't afraid to throwdown with the best of them when push comes to shove. Even when shove comes to out and out brawling, but in true Marvel fashion she's currently slugged more of her fellow heroes than she has villains. This issue is no exception. With New York under the threat of destruction yet again, Doreen and her team set about finding ways to defeat an enemy who can turn the strength of the Earth's heroes against them.
A comic can live or die by its supporting cast, or lack thereof and North and Henderson know this adding some of the most interesting creative and flat out funny additions to the 616 in years. Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk are hilarious and great new characters but it's the no-nonsense Nancy Whitehead, who finds herself Doreen's roommate, who is the particular standout. With Earth's mightiest heroes having succumb to Rataskrs poisonous whisperings she takes center stage helping out the Asgardian heroes, once again using brains not brawn. The moment when she cuts through the overly complicated superhero dramatics to point out the single, simplest solution is one to behold. Even Tippytoe gets development. After sulking on Nancy's shoulder throughout the conflict she makes the the ragtag team of animal themed superheroes that they need to make more of an effort to include her and communicate. She also offers great physical comedy in a book already packed with panel upon panel worth of humour.
North continues to be as inventive as ever with his writing employing the kind of tricks and touches that wouldn't look out of place in his equally loved run on Adventure Time. His use of seemingly offhand throwaway jokes returns in this issue as Nancy's headcanon, fanfiction creation Cat Thor comes to life with the aid of Asgardian's resident trickster god in some of the funniest moments this issue. I'm sure a cosplay of an in comic cosplay that will surely end the world as we know it must only be a few days away at most. It's an overwhelmingly positive book that North and Henderson have created and truly what comics should be about. Writing Squirrel Girl as an defiantly upbeat character who sees the very best in people, even villains, is a welcome change from the norm and her rousing speech towards the end of the conflict with Ratatoskr is most definitely one of the best examples of the positive power of comics.
Henderson's art is on top form again, this time around getting to draw a few more heroes including her brilliant renditions of Thor, Odinson and Spider-Man. I'd urge North to write bigger and bolder team up issues in the future if only to see Henderson tackle all the Marvel Universe's myriad numbers of characters on the page in her own playful and distinctive style. At the very least can we petition Marvel to enact a company wide initiative, like Jim Lee's redesigns at DC, only with Henderson revamping the whole universes street wear? Seriously, off action superheroes and their friends have never looked so fashionable. In early issues her artwork focused mainly on the characters, some panels left with just solid coloured backgrounds.
While this worked give the book a fresh and bold feel to it, this time around she draws drawing some of her most complex pages so far including a stunning Asgard resplendent in it's mix of futuristic cityscape and Norse flourishes. Let's not forget the character design for new adversary Ratatoskr. Angular and menacing she has been a great villain and a seamless way to link The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Thors together. Coincidentally, Ratatoskr's Wiki page has already been updated as predicted in the issue, but unfortunately not to inform us of what a big baby she is.
An amazing finish to the first arc of Squirrel Girl's adventures, Marvel's decision to keep the same creative team in the wake of its company wide shake up means we will get to see more rodentine stories when she returns in October in both this title and taking on a bigger role in the going on the newly reformed Marvel Universe.
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his origins are wholly fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self-deprecating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf and rambles on at marfedblog.wordpress.com.