The Superpower That Makes Squirrel Girl Truly Unbeatable [Kids’ Comics]
It's Kids' Week at ComicsAlliance! As the summer draws to a close and young comics fans get ready to go back to school, we're presenting a week of articles focused on great kids' comics.
Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the best superhero comics being published today, but it’s also one of the best that fall loosely under an all-ages banner and is enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Everyone can enjoy Doreen Green’s adventures and her positive outlook on life, and the comic itself is spreading a positive message through Squirrel Girl’s empathy and how she approaches and interacts with the supposed super villains of the comic.
One of the most famous scenes in superhero comic books over the last decade is the moment in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman #10 where Superman takes the time to make sure a young woman in distress knows that there are people who care about her and that she isn’t alone. It’s a rare moment of empathy and understanding in a genre full of fist-fights and explosions, and it’s an approach that Squirrel Girl takes with every single person she encounters.
Before the ongoing series launched, the running-joke was that Squirrel Girl was inexplicably able to defeat villains like Doctor Doom, Terrax and Thanos --- but the challenge for North, Henderson and Renzi was to understand and communicate how Squirrel Girl was unbeatable. The solution they reached was genius, as Squirrel Girl wins the majority of her fights not by being the best at punching, or by outsmarting her enemies, but by getting through to them on a personal level, with compassion and empathy.
The creative team demonstrates the comic’s mission statement beautifully in the first arc, when Squirrel Girl is the only person in the way of the coming threat of Galactus. After making it into space and being rebuffed by the World Eater once, she sneaks aboard his ship and confronts him with a harsh truth. He doesn’t want to actually devour Earth; whenever he comes to Earth, someone always finds him a better planet to eat. As Doreen puts it, it’s his equivalent of ordering take-out. Squirrel Girl, Tippy Toe and Galctus then find a planet rich in nuts and gorge themselves while bonding over how much of a tool Thanos is. Galactus leaves Doreen with a present, and calls her a friend before departing back into space.
It’s not just Galactus either; she convinced Hippo The Hippo to abandon bank robberies and go into demolition, she helped Brain Drain fix his archaic parts and enroll in Empire State University, and in her very first issue, she helped Kraven The Hunter address the lack of direction in life that he wasn’t even aware he had.
Squirrel Girl isn’t just beating supervillains; she’s actively rehabilitating them to be productive members of society.
However, that doesn’t mean that she won’t kick butts when necessary. (It is part of her theme song, after all.) While trapped in the '60s with several of her classmates and faced with a future ruled by Doctor Doom, Squirrel Girl approached the despot and tried to talk to him. She actively sought common ground with the baddest villain in the Marvel Universe. Even when Doom tries to kill her and her friends, she still tries to talk to him. It’s only when she’s absolutely sure there’s no other option but to kick butts that butts get kicked.
This brings us to her most recent foe, The Mole Man. Mole Man first set his sights on Squirrel Girl because she told Kraven to hunt and fight Marvel monsters, and that led him to beating up Moloids on the reg. Mole Man isn’t happy about that. He finds Squirrel Girl, expecting a fight, but instead she does something Mole Man has never experienced from a hero in his tenure as a supervillain. She apologizes.
The phrase “I accept the truth of your lived experiences” stood out to me as incredibly poignant, and a motto we could all apply to our day-to-day lives.
I could write a whole other article about how the comics industry could learn a thing or two from Squirrel Girl here, especially pertaining to the recent Captain America controversy, but the phrase goes beyond that. Mole Man isn’t necessarily right, and he isn’t necessarily wrong, but Squirrel Girl believes the truth of his lived experience, which is a different matter altogether.
Ultimately, Mole Man turns out to be an MRA creep that needs his butt kicked, but like Doom and like every other villain Squirrel Girl encountered, she reached out and listened first.
The best thing is that Squirrel Girl is still learning. In the first issue, she attacks Kraven almost immediately and later even tries to kick Galactus before realizing that won't work. As the series progresses, Doreen has learned that talking seems to resolve conflicts more than fighting, and is applying it to her superhero style. In a medium and genre that strives for the illusion of change, that's actually character development over the course of eighteen issues.
Taking it back to Superman, he's a character that I love because he represents the potential of humanity and everything we could be. Squirrel Girl represents everything we should be. Kind, compassionate and understanding, while also being ready to fight for what’s right when absolutely necessary.
While the rest of the Marvel Universe is in the middle of its latest hero v hero dust-up and Captain Marvel is illegally detaining civilians, Squirrel Girl is here to help, and helping usually involves an outstretched arm more than a closed fist.