There is always an adjustment period when an artist changes on a comic, especially when the previous artist has a unique style. Some comics ignore the change, some embrace it. Squirrel Girl tweets about it.
In Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 9, artist of adorable things, Derek Charm, has taken the pencils of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from the iconic Erica Henderson. With writer Ryan North still on board, there is consistency, but, of course, there is change. Charm’s cartoony style works very, very well with Doreen and Friends, and he has set himself apart positively and immediately from his predecessor. The best initial examples of this are Kraven’s airbrushed van (the Kra-van) and the ¾ page reveal that Squirrel Girl is, in fact, the mild-mannered computer scientist, Doreen Green! FYI: Kraven is not surprised by this in any way.
Two things in particular stand out at the beginning of this mini-arc. The first is the ease at which Charm’s art fits in with North’s writing (and the Squirrel Girl ethos) in such a seamless fashion. Where other creative changes are jarring, this one feels smooth as silk. The second is discovering that Doreen tucks that giant tail of hers into her skinny jeans. Kraven, of course, is used to wearing his lion vest under civvies, so he gets it. It is just one of those unanswered questions that no one knew needed asking.
Charm’s art has worked seamlessly with Squirrel Girl and North’s writing, bringing a completely different take than Henderson, but not losing any of the, forgive me, charm of the characters or setting. As for North, having Kraven the Hunter join up with SG and her crew to run an escape room in an attempt to convince him that fun and togetherness could keep him from being such a super-villain all the time is a very low-key way to solve the problems caused by several super-criminals. Not sure it would work on everyone, but I’ll bet Doc Ock could rock an adventure game.
Unlike other comics that have recently changed artists and broke my heart, Squirrel Girl is rocking the transition. Never afraid to tackle some big issues, writer Ryan North steps full on into the divide between herodom and villainy in the second arc of the trade. With Doreen, Nancy, Kraven, and the rest in police custody after escaping Mojo II: Electric Bugaloo’s Escape Room of Doom, the question of what makes someone heroic and how much one’s past affects one’s future is front and center in this funny, but strong comic.
One of the best things about North’s run on USG is Doreen’s ability to not only see the best in everyone, but to make them want to see that side as well. He spends a great deal of this issue collecting Doreen’s thoughts on the nature of villainy and heroism, finding the common ground between Spider-Man’s more black and white take and Kraven’s innate Russian pessimism about his own fate in life. This is a deep philosophical dive in a medium that often steers head-on into punch first, examine the ethical side of vigilante justice never. North finds the path through admirably, giving a supervillain a much deeper future potential than many have earned. Also, Ryan North should be writing a Spider-Man comic as soon as possible. Also, he should be working on NBC’s The Good Place, TV’s smartest-dumbest show. Hire Ryan North for everything smart and quirky.
Charm crafts a compelling story throughout, elevating North’s script as all good artists should. I will admit to being curious about how his style will play out in, let’s say, cosmic space battles, but for these intimate, team-driven issues, he is knocking it out of the park. I’ve spent many months talking about the joy I get from reading The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the brilliant optimism of the entire comic. They have done galactic story arcs, tight, local stories, all charming, all supportive of a team that works together for the greater good. The button on this volume is the completely silent one-shot involving a ghostly librarian. For good measure, North’s script for part of the issue is included.
I’m honestly impressed at how cleverly this issue was done. It brought back memories of “Hush,” the entirely silent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look, the comic is great. You know that. North had Squirrel and the whole crew down perfectly and Charm captures the cartoonish nature of superheroes while dealing with real issues that affect people on the margins of society. After Charm’s first full story arc wrapping up successfully, a one-shot with a unique concept is a perfect buffer issue. Leave it to North and Charm to not treat it as a buffer issue.
North and Charm are a force for giving Marvel comics a different take, tackling subjects that will never appear between the cover of other books. With free reign to explore stories with this level of awareness and understanding, USG has a long life ahead of it. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to learn something from Doreen and her crew.
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