Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Tag: Marvel

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

30 Days of Reviews: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel UniverseTitle: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe
Author: Ryan North
Illustrator: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Marvel
Format: Print
Rating: 4 out of 5

Squirrel Girl is no stranger to this blog. It’s a witty series! It’s funny! It’s got heart! It’s meta! It scratches a lot of my itches.

What I wasn’t expecting, in this world where we suddenly find ourselves contending with the reality of Trump having won the election, is that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is a surprisingly timely and relevant story about the perils of autocracy and the value of community and togetherness.

Quick summary: After inadvertently coming into contact with some alien technology that Iron Man has jury-rigged together, Doreen Green, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now has a clone, Allene. Things are hunky-dory at first, but go south quickly when Allene feels that the only way to really keep the world safe is by getting rid of the true source of its problems — other people — and instituting a squirrel-ocracy in its place.

I mean, “She alone can fix it”, right?

Thus Allene concocts a surprisingly successful plan to defeat every single Marvel superhero and villain, progressively working her way up the ladder by treating it like an RPG with loot drops and boss fights. It’s only when Doreen and her mascot, Tippy-Toe, sacrifice themselves for the greater good that Allene has a change of heart.

I’ve been heartsick for the past few days. Scared, overwhelmed, tired. Reviewing books and tea feels  like fiddling while Rome burns. So imagine my surprise when I read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe and genuinely laughed and forgot our political situation for a few minutes — up until I saw its parallels to the current state of world politics and got unhappy and uncomfortable all over again.

It’s really interesting having a see-sawing reaction like that. So while I liked the book, I’m still guarded about it.

Captain America: The Truth – Red, Black, and White

captain_america_truth_coverTitle: Captain America: The Truth
Author: Robert Morales
Illustrator: Kyle Baker
Publisher: Marvel
Format: Print
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: Borrowed a copy from the library

Almost everyone knows the story of Captain America: how the good-hearted, patriotic, but scrawny Steve Rogers gained super strength by taking part in a secret military project and being injected with a secret serum. For nearly 70 years, that was the only part of the story of Cap’s origin that Marvel readers got to see. But Captain America: The Truth, a seven-part comic series by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, looks at the story behind the story.

It looks at the people who were used as unwilling, uninformed test subjects to perfect the formula for the serum that Steve Rogers received: black American soldiers. If you’re thinking that this sounds like it’s got shades of the Tuskeegee experiment or Henrietta Lacks behind it, you’re right. Robert Morales did extensive research on the topic of medical experimentation in the past, and it shows.

In Captain America: The Truth, of the hundreds that were forcibly injected with the test serum, only about a dozen survived beyond the initial testing phase. And of those, only one survived to do raids in Germany: the protagonist, Isaiah Bradley.

Bradley’s story forms the spine of the series, starting with his happy marriage to Faith, his conscription to the war effort, his capture (and escape) from Nazi soldiers, and his eventual return to the US, where he was by turns punished and ignored by the government for his role in the war. Things eventually turn full circle when Captain America himself comes calling, seeking information about his own origins. In the series moving final pages, we see how Bradley, who faced the worst depredations of the American government, eventually became an underground, counterculture figure of hope to the black community.

I want to note something interesting about the fact that Bradley is the one who survives being injected with the serum long enough to go behind enemy lines: he’s the only one that appears to enter the war for altruistic reasons. A fellow soldier, Canfield, joined the army to avoid going to jail. Another joined because, it’s implied, it was a delayed form of suicide. A third joined only because he figured that being part of the army was a legitimate way to kill white men. Isaiah Bradley, on the other hand? He goes willingly. The sun shines on his face as he dons his uniform and kisses his wife goodbye.

He’s the only one in the entire story, aside from Captain America himself, to act with such noble intentions. I think it’s interesting that there’s that implied effect of who the serum works on — like it’s somehow consciously choosing only people with a virtuous or courageous mindset.

That’s a minor point, though, among all the other threads woven into this story. Bradley actually enters a death camp and sees firsthand the experiments being done on Jewish people there. The rows upon rows of dead and mutilated bodies fill him with horror. And when he inadvertently enters a gas chamber, the panels show hallucinatory images of tattoo numbers rising from the flesh of concentration camp prisoners into the air, eventually raining down to form bars of gold being collected and hoarded away by the Nazis.

This greed manifests in the Americans just as much as it does among the Germans. When Cap reaches the present day and starts learning of Bradley’s origins, he also learns that the whole Super Soldier program originally started out as a eugenics experiment, and that the German pharmaceutical company responsible for such research became thoroughly Americanized after the war. So not only do we have explicit references to historical events like the American Immigration Act of 1924, which aimed to “preserve American homogeneity”, but also implicit references to how American companies benefited from having German ties during World War 2.

Heavy stuff. Seriously heavy stuff.

And that’s not all. In the present day, when Captain America searches for his origins, he meets both Faith, now an old woman, and Isaiah himself. And oh man, what a character Faith is! In the story’s modern day, she practices Islam and has changed her surname to Shabazz. On top of that, she also became a professor of comparative religion, raised her and Isaiah’s daughter single-handedly, and now has a house filled with grandchildren. She had a tough life even after Isaiah’s return, and persevered. (I seriously want more comics about her.)

In a way, Faith’s role in the story reminds me of Eliza’s role in the musical Hamilton. Faith, like Eliza, preserves her husband’s legacy, and her role in the story is seen as sort of a secret history. The poignancy lies in that Faith is old, and Isaiah’s super serum treatment means that he’s still young, although  he’s lost his mental faculties. As we see Isaiah’s studio walls covered in photographs of him taken with important historical figures like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Richard Pryor, and Nelson Mandela, we understand just how hard both she and her community have worked to keep his name from being omitted from the official history book.

There’s so much to say about this story, and I’m sure that someone with more historical awareness than I possess would be able to give it the context and analysis it deserves. I’m only scratching the surface of everything on offer here. But Captain America: The Truth is willing to engage with history, to ask uncomfortable questions and point to uncomfortable answers, that’s rare in a mainstream graphic novel.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson: Squirrel!

unbeatable_squirrel_girl_vol1_coverTitle: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1 (Issues 1–4)
Author: Ryan North
Illustrator: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Rating: 5 out of 5
Format: Print
How I got it: I borrowed a copy from the library

Rare is the book that can make me howl with laughter from the first page, but Ryan North and Erica Henderson are just the right people for this sort of thing. North, of Dinosaur Comics and To Be or Not to Be fame (trust me, having a choose-your-own-adventure-story based on Hamlet is so worth it), and Henderson have created something so rich and funny and utterly joyous that I can’t stay uncharmed.

Doreen Green is Squirrel Girl, a mutant with the powers of both squirrel and girl. Although she’s spent her formative years in a secret hideout in the attic of the Avengers Mansion (where else would a squirrel girl go?), she’s off to start university with her pet and sidekick, the squirrel Tippy-Toe. University is weird but fun, and Doreen and her roommate worry about classes, getting falafel, and finding clubs to join. (I myself would want to be part of the Get Together and Eat Cookies Once a Week Club, as well as Small Fighting Staff Club.)

But wait! Squirrel Girl also has to deal with things like bank robbers! And Kraven the Hunter! And Whiplash! And Galactus, Devourer of Worlds and Wielder of the Power Cosmic, who is less than two hours away on a course headed straight for Earth! (Squirrel Girl is the only one who knows that Galactus is coming because Tippy-Toe is in touch with all of the secret squirrel observatories around the world. Of course.)

Can Squirrel Girl rescue her roommate, defeat Kraven, find an Iron Man suit, defeat Whiplash, and prevent the Earth from being eaten by Galactus in two hours?

Of course! She’s unbeatable! And, oh yeah, she’s got her wits, her set of “Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains” collectible cards, and a huge army of squirrels (and one confused chipmunk) at her beck and call.

Fans of Dinosaur Comics will see North’s brand of meta humour at work here in spades, from the snarky text on the Deadpool cards to the running captions in the footer of most of the pages from issue 2 onwards. Hell, there’s even a fake Twitter feed in some of the issues showing her Twitter conversations with Kraven and Iron Man.

Erica Henderson’s lines are smooth, fluid, and distinctive, and I love her decision to draw Doreen Green/Squirrel Girl as a short, chunky girl with powerful thighs. Also, I am stupidly happy at the fact that Squirrel Girl disguises her tail when she’s in “human” form by making it look like her butt is super big. Doreen’s got junk in her trunk, and she’s damn proud of it! I like this way better than the stick-thin, D-cup bombshells you see in most mainstream comics.

I love, love, love this series so far for its humour, its wit, and its steadfast refusal to indulge in any of the fate-of-the-cosmos, grim-and-gritty histrionics that other comic series do. I can’t wait to see what the next few issues will be like.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén