I’ve been a fan of the Marvel movies for some time now; they’re usually, at worst, a great visual spectacle. But for me, this never really translated into reading the comics. Superhero comics don’t exactly jump out at me visually, and even when socially inclusive, they typically have borderline impenetrable lore. So when I heard there was a standalone graphic novel for Squirrel Girl, I knew I had to pick it up: even though my knowledge of the character is very limited, I did know she is one of the funnier heroes and has a far above average success rate at defeating the universe’s villains. I had been interested in Squirrel Girl for a while, but wasn’t sure where a good jumping on point would be. Additionally, who wouldn’t want to see one character (other than Thanos) beat up the whole Marvel Universe? I was not let down.
Minor/early story spoilers for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe ahead.
The book opens with a scenario of Squirrel Girl (Doreen) preventing a train from going off the rails; fairly standard superhero stuff. From what I could tell, it mostly just existed to show what her powers were to an unfamiliar audience, as well as outline the series’ light and humorous tone to these new fans. Shortly thereafter, the scene switches to her college during lunch and the proper plot is kicked off. Tony Stark has recovered a device from a previous conflict and he wants to test it, although he isn’t sure what it does. Naturally, he contacts Doreen and her friends to try to figure it out, or rather, test it for him using the animals they have connections to with their powers. While Squirrel Girl and her animal-themed buddies don’t want to have their animals involved either, bad guys bust in to attack Stark for their machine back. The villains initially have the upper hand, but it turns out the machine is a cloning device. Unfortunately for them, while you might be able to get a jump on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, you simply cannot defeat two Unbeatable Squirrel Girls. So after a bit of fighting, Doreen and company send the bad guys packing.
What follows next is a fairly straightforward “clone gone wrong” mashed up with “well-intentioned extremist” plot. Without spoiling too much, during a study/project session, the Doreens are working on an efficient solution to a problem for one of their computer science classes. Through some (frankly understandable) logical beliefs, the clone Doreen decides that squirrels would be a better leader of Earth than humans, and the disagreements begin. In order to achieve this, she must “Beat Up the Marvel Universe” through a series of strategic battles. Her plan really is quite elegant if I do say so myself. Saying much more would ruin some of the better jokes and twists, so I’ll leave it at that.Going back to my earlier point about complex plots, Squirrel Girl benefits from not having a plot bloated with too many threads. All you really need to follow is what Doreen is up to and what the clone is up to. Humor helps keep the pace up. Along the bottom of (almost) every page are quips from the writer about something on the page. These minor jokes don’t make the story itself funny, so luckily the script has many humorous moments. There’s meta humor, clone jokes, and plenty of Marvel brand banter. In a similar way, there is the inherent humor of Squirrel Girl being able to take down far more powerful characters with only cunning and rationale. (Some of her solutions make so much sense, and dispatch a character so quickly, you almost wonder why someone else just doesn’t always use that method.) There’s a consistent air of levity even when Clone Doreen is literally trying to kill everyone.
It would feel wrong to at least not touch on social issues: #RepresentationMatters, after all. One of the hallmarks about Squirrel Girl is that she isn’t drawn to be a sex symbol. According to the introduction from Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, “But it’s also so awesome to get to see this girl—a short-haired, thick-thighed, computer science major with no va-va-voom about her—just step up and kick butt.” She isn’t supposed to be traditionally attractive, and her appearance isn’t brought up by the other characters or the narrative. Furthermore, she has agency over what is going on. Other than the accidental cloning, which didn’t seem to be anyone’s intention, things rarely happen to her; she’s proactive. Even while the clone is fighting everyone, she is only attacked towards the end: she is usually the initiator. As for racial diversity, the book does all right. Doreen’s inner circle is multi-ethnic, and while her best friend Nancy is Black, I am a little disappointed that she’s the only one without powers. Nevertheless, it is really awesome to see women, people of color, and especially women of color in a STEM field. Lastly, it’s nice to have a story where these things just kind of exist, rather than being a preaching point. I’m all about discussing representation in stories, but it’s nice to occasionally just have diversity exist rather than being an issue.
Overall, I really liked Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe! Humor and action are totally my cup of tea, and Squirrel Girl delivered. Additionally, it’s nice to be able to spend money once to get one product that tells a complete story. (Plus, the book has a beautiful hardcover.) The story doesn’t have any real plotholes and moves swiftly. The length feels spot on, without dragging or hustling. I heavily recommend you check this book out! I know I’ll be trying to see more from Squirrel Girl in the future! 9/10, would read again.