Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Ryan North & Erica Henderson The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015)
I sometimes forget that my comic habit, such as it is, is largely restricted to that which I recall having read as a kid, or which I missed first time around, or which I once had but got rid of during one of my infrequent purges; so in all honesty, my impression of the current state of the art is vague at best, garnered either from news items posted on facebook, or the occasional bewildering stumble around Android's Dungeon in search of something old and familiar. My local comic shop isn't really called Android's Dungeon, but I feel strongly that it should be because it would be preferable to Heroes & Fantasies, which is the actual name.

Modern comics, at least the mainstream stuff, seem to be mostly self-referential superheroes drawn by people who grew up reading either manga or things drawn by Rob Liefeld; and they appear to be aimed squarely at comic book obsessives far more than they were when I was buying the things, back in the old days when everything was better than it is now. I've read a few that were okay, if nothing amazing, and a few that were fucking horrible; and I browsed Before Watchmen in the store and just couldn't see the point at all, but then what do I know?

On the other hand, there's Squirrel Girl, formerly best known as star of all those twenty shit superheroes lists which could once be found simply by randomly lobbing a brick at the internet - you probably know the deal: Arm Fall Off Boy, Matter Eater Lad, all those other guys. As it happens, Squirrel Girl's debut - written and drawn by the talented but undeniably cranky Steve Ditko and handily included in this collection - is indeed a bit on the crap side, truth be told; or if not crap than there's something very difficult to love about it, a faintly unpleasant tone stemming from the ambiguity as to whether we're laughing at or with our patently ludicrous not-quite-a-heroine.

Girls and squirrels - dude, that's so gay etc. etc.

In context, the revived Squirrel Girl feels like both a revelation and a stroke of genius, territory clawed back from the grimacing ninjas with the Japanese swords, throwing stars and the one-liners which actually aren't that funny. It's a reminder that comics can still be for kids, seeing as we've apparently lost sight of that detail. She's still ridiculous of course - with her squirrel powers and a theme song patently nicked from Spiderman; but she's ridiculous by the same terms as the rest of us, because we're all ridiculous to one extent or another and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Naturally, it's a funny book because it wouldn't work otherwise, but at least it's on our side in a way I'm not convinced that the Ditko version ever really was. The humour will be familiar from all of those Buffy episodes and more or less everything that presently comes out of my thirteen-year old stepson's mouth, but it's warm and well-intentioned; and of course, being Marvel, it's also kind of square - lame observations qualified as humour with a suffix of right, guys? and that sort of thing - but not in a bad way, and not everything has to be Johnny Ryan's Retard Hitler. Personally I take it as a very encouraging sign regarding the collective soul of the human race that a comic such as this can still get published.

Please, Marvel, don't let Grant Morrison anywhere near it.

No comments:

Post a Comment