In “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, Squirrel Girl starts college but her first-day adventures are interrupted by news that Galactus is on his way to Earth again.
North combines two traditional plotlines here: the first-day-of-college story and the saving-the-world-from-evil plotline, linking them together with the secret identity device.
After the first page featuring Galactus, the first scene of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #2 is all college stuff, and it’s particularly cute to see Doreen worrying about fitting in and crushing on Tomas. The school story is a classic one, but North manages to make it fresh with Doreen’s dialogue and his take on her character. She is adorably earnest and energetic, and her grouchier, less-easily-fazed roommate Nancy Whitehead is a great foil.
North’s captions at the bottom of every page are a great idea. They add a layer of meta-humor to the story, but they are so small and placed so unobtrusively that they don’t interfere at all with the narrative flow. Similarly, Erica Henderson places some visual jokes in the backgrounds, like “Ditko Blvd” or the names of some of the college clubs. Her storytelling is fluid, peppy and clear, and her skill with facial expressions is well-suited to North’s exaggerated, zany humor. The design choices feel right for the tone, too. Doreen’s buck teeth and costume fit this new take on the character.
North’s sense of humor works as well in “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” as it did for “Dinosaur Comics” and his run on “Adventure Time.” The puns, like Squirrel Girl’s claws “getting to the point” are groan-worthy, but enjoyably so. The quick cameo appearance for the Squirrel-a-Gig is hilarious.
If there are any flaws, they are in the pacing or in the timing of the switch from civilian to superhero. Is it too early to worry about Doreen’s work/life balance? Doreen’s college plans and new social ties feel promising but they are sidelined abruptly for Galactus. In addition to trying to destroy worlds, it’s a bummer that the Wielder of the Power Cosmic is disrupting Doreen’s social and romantic progress. Of course, it’s an understandable priority for Doreen to put Galactus first, but it also feels like a shame that Doreen’s life isn’t as important as Squirrel Girl’s adventures, especially because North makes Nancy and Tomas feel like they could become fully-rounded characters instead of just props for the “normal” side of Doreen’s life.
The most endearing and realistic parts of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #2 are when Doreen wants to die of embarrassment when Nancy catches her staring at Tomas. North accurately taps into the school-age mindset, where often self-consciousness makes romantic missteps loom larger. One embarrassing moment is like the end of the world. Doreen’s metaphorical “death” by embarrassment, enhanced with a ridiculously funny joke about her “new identity,” is stronger and more profound than the “real” end of the world that Galactus is bringing. This is because the kind of death that Galactus represents isn’t visceral and everyone knows that Galactus will not end up destroying the world permanently, not in superhero comics and especially not in a comic like “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” where the entire premise is not to be taken seriously.
The action lags a little for an overlong joke about Squirrel Girl breaking into Avengers Tower, but North grabs the reader’s attention again with Squirrel Girl’s successful theft of some Iron Man armor. The final result is great and gets readers more invested in seeing Squirrel Girl use the armor right before the cliffhanger ending. Much of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” is transitional action to maneuver Squirrel Girl out of college and into space, but North and Henderson make both her superhero life and her regular college life worth following.