Welcome to Not Just Dudes in Tights, a column about our fave comics starring, well, not just dudes in tights. This week: Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!
I have always been interested in comics – I like superhero movies and always secretly wanted to go to ComicCon. But I was too nervous to walk into a comic book store, where I imagined a bunch of impossibly cool nerds would judge me for not knowing what I was looking for. There’s so much to choose from, and I didn’t even know where to start – how do you pick an issue of Wonder Woman when it’s been rebooted about a dozen times since it started almost 60 years ago? Part of my hesitation was also due to the fact that I’d only seen the comics that were extremely mainstream, which tends to translate into women with bodies that look like they were drawn by an alien who had heard about but never seen a human woman. I wanted to see women that looked like me and my friends, drawn by regular women.
Women in Comics
So I continued thinking about but not reading comics until one day I saw an issue with a bright, bubbly girl on the cover. She had a big smile and a big, bushy tail sticking up out of the back of her leotard. As soon as I opened the issue, I fell in love with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, aka Doreen Green, a college student with the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel. That sounds silly, you might think. Rest assured: it is.
Squirrel Girl made her first appearance in the early 90s in an issue of Marvel Super-Heros, then wasn’t seen again until the mid-2000’s, when she made guest appearances on and off over the next several years, including as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ nanny in New Avengers, but she never had her own series. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl gave her her own run for the first time, let the us explore her world and meet her friends in a tone appropriate for a superhero who mostly talks to squirrels (upbeat and hilarious).
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ran from 2015-2020, written by Ryan North and initially drawn by Erica Henderson – the writing is amazing, but the art is what drew me to it in the first place. In addition to her other squirrel-related superpowers, Doreen can talk to squirrels, including her squirrel sidekick, Tippy Toe. Tippy Toe is sassy and often shows up with an army of squirrels at the last minute to save the day. The first issue shows Doreen moving to college and all the hijinks that go along with hiding a secret identity as we meet Nancy, her roommate who eventually learns Doreen’s secret and becomes her partner in superheroics. Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk eventually show up to complete the gang.
Fans of Marvel’s canon will have plenty to love here. Familiar villains like Dr. Doom and Galactus make appearances, and every once in a while Doreen takes a break from her mostly independent, relatively low stakes crime fighting to team up with Iron Man or Thor to save the world. An ongoing rivalry with Kraven the Hunter is both absurd and hilarious. Plenty of it is tongue in cheek, like the standalone graphic novel The Incredible Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, a play on the more dour Punisher (then Deadpool) Kills the Marvel Universe.
There are hundreds of reasons to love this version of Squirrel Girl, not least is that she’s so nice. Squirrel Girl never beats someone up when she can win them over with friendship (but sometimes beating up is in order, and then it’s always with an excellent pun). We see healthy relationships of every type – friends, romantic partners, enemies, classmates, lab partners. Doreen values her friendship with Nancy, leading to one of the best issues of the run, a beautiful and nearly silent ode to their relationship. There’s no jealousy or competition in their friendship (unless it’s a literal science competition) and they don’t fight over romantic partners. When they do argue, they resolve it in a healthy way. They set a great example for friendship that we could all follow.
Women in STEM
Then there’s the emphasis on intelligence and promotion of girls in STEM. The whole gang is computer science engineers, and we often see Doreen, Nancy, & crew (one of whom is a literal brain named Brain Drain) in class, doing science experiments, going on field trips to do more science, and using their brains to outsmart the bad guys. Nancy, the only one without powers, is just as involved (though often from a safer distance) in the conflict, usually behind a computer doing research or using science to figure out a solution. They often talk about topics that go right over this English major’s head, but they sound so cool doing it.
A Diverse Cast
One of my favorite things about Squirrel Girl is the diverse cast. The crew is diverse in race, gender and sexual identity, and body type – they look like a group of young people you’d actually see in New York City, superpowers notwithstanding. Erica Henderson did a wonderful job of creating a superhero who looks like a friend you might remember fondly from your college days, and Ryan North gives her an attitude to match. All in all, it’s refreshing, funny, and full of heart, and I personally am waiting for her to show up in the next generation of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, either in a show with a bunch of other cool young women or as Spider-Man’s buddy. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest local comics shop (or their website to be socially distanced) – don’t be intimidated, they’re usually very friendly – and check out The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com and find pictures of Daisy on Twitter.