The best parts about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 are that it never takes itself seriously and always goes for the weird, quirky take on the superhero genre. Writer Ryan North structures the comic like a great Saturday morning cartoon with a dark, seemingly ominous intro and then kicking in the action, comedy, and friendly banter between Doreen Green aka Squirrel Girl and her fellow superhero pals Chipmunk and Koi Boi and her ever faithful squirrel sidekick Tippytoe. Like a cartoon, there are great visual gags from artist Erica Henderson, like Squirrel Girl struggling to carry her roommate Nancy Whitehead and mom Maureen Green (Seriously.) over a rooftop, and the comic tells a complete self-contained story. However, North and Henderson go a little deeper and give the villain of the week Brain Drain, a character who is literally a brain in a jar and first appeared in Roy Thomas WWII-set Invaders, a personality beyond being evil and nihilistic. Add the relatable situation of your roommate meeting your weird parents (Parent in this case because Dor Green is away on business.), and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 is a bold return for the funniest comic in Marvel’s stable.
Between awkward family meals and bantering about why buildings are made of wood, North and Henderson also take gentle potshots at Marvel Comics themselves in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1. They poke fun at everything from the “perks” of joining the New Avengers (Teleporters and food courts, heck yes.) to supervillain backstories and Squirrel Girl not technically being a mutant. And these gags come organically without the Family Guy style cut-away gags of certain cartoons and comics featuring a male character, who wears red and talks a lot. (Hint: there are two answers.) The whole deal about Squirrel Girl not being a mutant comes from Nancy and Maureen bonding over Doreen’s adorable, bushy tailed baby pictures, and Nancy making a joke about mutant powers, which leads to a huge, hilarious spiel about her non-mutant status with some great eye rolls from Henderson. Maureen’s dialogue sounds a lot like legalese from something Marvel might write to keep some of their characters away from Fox, like Quicksilver, who wasn’t legally allowed to be called a mutant or have any connection to Magneto in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s a great conversation and doesn’t feel shoehorned in one bit.
The breakout character (and new supporting cast member) in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 is Brain Drain of all people or robots. At first, he seems like another D-list villain, such as Whiplash in the last volume, for Squirrel Girl, Koi Boi, and Chipmunk to makes joke about, but Henderson creates sympathy for him by making him look super fragile with wires everywhere. He’s no Galactus or Thanos and super easy to defeat, but Maureen turns the tables and asks Squirrel Girl if he really did anything wrong or is just acting out of self-defense against her and Tippy Toe earlier when he came through the teleporter. This leads a blank stare reaction panel from Erica Henderson, and she shows off her funny eyes skills and Squirrel Girl actually hearing Brain Drain out.
Brain Drain’s back story is super tragic. Who wouldn’t go evil if the first thing they read after coming into consciousness was the Red Skull’s philosophical treatise being a the perfect HYDRA member? But in the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl tradition, North and Henderson don’t linger in the dumps for long and make him a part of Squirrel Girl’s wacky supporting cast through their shared interest in computer science. The scenes with Brain Drain and Maureen show that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 isn’t just a superhero sketch comedy book, but is invested in character relationships and themes like friendship and redemption in its own uniquely quirky way. And Maureen arguing with the registrar about the hoodie sporting Brain Drain enrolling in Empire State University is laugh out loud hilarious. Awkwardness aside, she’s an amazing mom and creates a real friendship with Nancy.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 is a rollicking example of visual comedy through facial reactions and beat panels from Erica Henderson, and she continues to draw the cast of the book with real human proportions even if they live in essentially a cartoon physics world where Dorreen tucking her tail in her pants to give herself a “rad badonk” is enough to conceal her secret identity. She and Ryan North continues to make jokes at the expense of the Marvel Universe while developing and expanding Squirrel Girl’s supporting cast while continuing to make Unbeatable Squirrel Girl the bright center of fun in the Marvel Universe.