Across the last year and a half, I have attempted to read Unbeatable Squirrel Girl at least three times. Each time, I’ve picked up where I left off, and gotten about 10 issues further into it before quitting again. This new collection seems to have been my newest excuse to pick it up again. For this review, however, I wanted to gather opinions other than just my own, especially ones from non-white dudes.
First was my niece, who is very new to reading, and still isn’t very confident in it. I’ve given her a few comics in the past, but none have really clicked for her in a tangible way. There’s no real reason I expected this to work for her, but Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has a vibe and level of popularity that I have a weird level of confidence in, even if it’s never really grabbed me in the way I’ve wanted it to.
I’m still not sure this will be something she’ll love, or even actually read, but she seems much more interested in it than I’ve seen her before.
She spent some time with it, flipped through and looked at the majority of the pages, and declared it her “new homework,” which maybe isn’t the word I’d think of, but is probably fine, right? I asked her why she wanted to read it, and she flipped to a page, and said, “she’s cute, her tail’s cute,” which yeah, fair.
She took two of the digest sized volumes home with her (along with Jonna, the superior comic) and I guess I’ll see if “cute tail” is enough to propel her through ~400 pages.
I also recruited my wife’s opinion on this comic, though in a differently limited fashion, as she only read one issue (the Mew one).
It isn’t likely that she’ll read more of the series, which didn’t totally take me by surprise, but it lends a perspective that I think that the comics industry has tried to court, one that Squirrel Girl in particular seems to be target toward: a person new(er) to comics.
My wife has read four comic series over the last six years; Hawkeye (2012-15), Sex Criminals, Captain Marvel (2014-2015), and Alex+Ada. The first three were largely based on my recommendation and enjoyment, the last based on a friend’s, with me reading it after my wife had. All this is just to explain that she has enough familiarity with comics that she isn’t totally new, but is far from being a “comic fan” or anything like that. For this reason, I’m fairly surprised, since, as I stated above, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl feels like it’s designed, not just to be new reader friendly, but to be new reader appealing.
Now, credit where it’s due, my wife had no problems following the story, and understood it without feeling the need to go back and read previous issues, so it’s definitely well designed for new readers! Unfortunately, she didn’t care much for anything about the book that wasn’t animals just doing stuff.
The disconnect was mostly the tone of the comic, which doesn’t surprise me so much, but is interesting because of her genuine love of non-comics superhero media, including more goofy shows like Legends of Tomorrow. For some reason, “silly” tones that may work for her in film and television don’t translate well to comics for her, and to be honest, they don’t quite work for me either, or at least, it doesn’t really work for me here.
You know who it totally did work for though? My friend Reagan (@rhymeswpicard), who counts Unbeatable Squirrel Girl as one of their favorite comics, with issues #12-15 in this collection being a series highlight.
I asked them a few questions, mostly about the almost-digest-size and how cool it is as a format, but reading their answers, especially after finishing the book, was the following:
“Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the first comic I ever owned. I have every issue of it. It’s a story that takes this character that started as a joke and goes “ok. but what if we took her seriously?” From her creation Squirrel Girl was supposed to be a joke but Ryan North and Erica Henderson saw her and decided that she deserved to be taken seriously. So she was. And there’s a beauty to both that and the fact that all of her victories are because she sits down and empathizes with people.”
Sitting down with Squirrel Girl, I always want the experience to be…not perfect, but nearly so. I want to fall completely and totally in love with the series. But I don’t. I love the art, and the situations that Doreen has to solve are great, but the humor only lands about 50% of the time, and individual issues are more dense than I like. This isn’t a comic that I love reading. It’s not for me at all.
What Reagan’s words above reminded me of is that that’s okay! I don’t have to force the series to work for me, it can just not be for me, and for the people who it’s for.
I love that this book is so widely heralded, both commercially and critically, to the point where it’s basically a flagship part of this new(ish) format. I love that it has touched people, including Reagan, in important ways, and I hope my niece responds in a similar way.
I may not love Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but I don’t have to love it to know that it’s perfect. It’s not for me, and that’s fine.
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