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Preview: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #47

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #47

(W) Ryan North (A) Derek Charm (CA) Erica Henderson
Rated T+
In Shops: Aug 14, 2019
SRP: $3.99

BRAIN DRAIN IS MISSING!

• Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
• Let’s do the good news: It’s the start of a new Squirrel Girl arc! BRAIN DRAIN is missing! A sinister face from the past returns! And the hitherto UNBEATABLE Squirrel Girl will have to face CERTAIN DEFEAT to save him!
• Now the bad news: While this is the start of a new Squirrel Girl arc, it’s the start of our LAST Squirrel Girl arc! We’re going out on a high note. You have been amazing, and making this book has been amazing, but sadly in four months, THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL will end with issue #50. I KNOW.
• Now the good news again: Because it’s our last story ever we’re making it COMPLETELY HUGE AND AMAZING and it is going to BLOW YOUR MIND!
• It’s the start of the most nuts Squirrel Girl story ever as lives hang in the balance, narrative threads are resolved, and shocking reveals are made!
• <3

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #47

Messages from Midgard Finale: The Good and Bad of War of the Realms

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of me, here’s another installment of “Messages from Midgard“. This isn’t a column length analysis of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #46, which was the final “War of the Realms” tie-in to come out although I will mention Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi‘s hilarious and clever work with Doreen Green and the Norse squirrel god of chaos Ratatoskr later. No, I have come to survey the wreckage of “War of the Realms” and sift out what worked and what didn’t as well as the memorable moments and the comics that will gather dust in the quarter/dollar/whatever currency inflates to bin at the comic cons and stores of the future.

Without further ado, here’s “War of the Realms: The Good and the Bad“.


The Good

1. Thor’s Character Arc

The core War of the Realms series was at its finest when Jason Aaron remembers that he and Thor have been on a seven year journey together, and this event is the climax. Sure, the montages of Fire Goblin and Frost Giant destruction, superheroes making inane Tolkien and DnD quips, and Punisher shooting Elves are fun. However, the series clicks when it focuses on Thor feeling guilt for the death of the Valkyries and Loki, going on a berserker rage, returning with one arm, and then making sacrifices to not just become a hero, but the All-Father of Asgard. Tom Taylor does a good job enhancing this main narrative in his Land of the Giants tie-in where Wolverine tells his teammates to let Thor let his berserker rage burn out and kill Giants before he is ready begin the next step of his journey.

Despite the continent and realm spanning tie-ins and some issues in the middle, which feel like trailers for more interesting comics with cool battles, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman craft a robust arc for Thor. They also make a great one for Jane Foster too as she evacuates New York, takes on the role of All-Mother in Freyja’s absence, wields War Thor’s helmet, and finally becomes the new Valkyrie. Superhero comics are all about the illusion of change, but it’s cool to look back and see a damsel-in-distress nurse battle cancer, become the goddess of Thunder, revoke that mantle, and find new ways to be heroic in War of the Realms. Basically, people who started reading comics in the 2010s will only see Jane Foster as a hero thanks to the work of Aaron, Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson.


Image result for russell dauterman war of the realms

2. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s Visuals

All my high-falutin’ words about responsibility, heroic journeys, and mythology aside, at its core, War of the Realms is a no holds barred good guys vs bad guys superhero throwdown except with fantasy baddies instead of the usual costumed villains. And this is all thanks to the art of Russell Dauterman and the colors of Matthew Wilson. Dauterman is like a modern day Art Adams (Who did the covers for War of the Realms) or George Perez and possesses a singular gift for splash pages with multiple characters and making them compositions that tell a story instead of glorified pinups. He excels at both layouts and character designs using the newly omniscient Daredevil as the reader’s POV on the action of the War of the Realms while coming up with cool riffs on characters like Odin’s Iron Man armor, Malekith becoming engorged by the Venom symbiote, or Freyja going full Vanir witch on Malekith and his minions.

Matthew Wilson really is the secret weapon throughout the “War of the Realms” event with his work on the core miniseries as well as issues of Thor and the Daredevil serial in War Scrolls. His colors are the ingredient that put the Frost in Frost Giants, the Fire in Fire Goblins, and the effects he uses in War of the Realms #6 make the storm caused by the four Thors truly cataclysmic. But his work isn’t all chaos and Kirby krackle, and there’s delightful minimalism to the big scenes like the reforging of Mjolnir or Daredevil gazing from above that cause one’s eye to linger on the panel and reread the issues that he has colored and that Russell Dauterman has drawn again.


3. Humor-Driven Tie-Ins

The “War of the Realms” tie-ins aren’t at their best when they’re trying to make serious points about the effects of war, like Dennis Hallum and Kim Jacinto did in War of the Realms Strikeforce: The War Avengers. They do work when they lean into the fun and lore of superhero comics and events. For example, in Superior Spider-Man, Gwenpool comments on the well-worn structure of event comics and how a B-Lister like Doc Ock doesn’t get to strike the final blow against Malekith, and in Skottie Young and Nic Klein’s Deadpool, the titular character fights trolls with the help of Australian stereotypes and the event’s single funny Lord of the Rings joke. There is also a great short story in War Scrolls #2 by Anthony Oliveira and Nick Robles where Loki (in disguise as Kate Bishop) and Wiccan go to drag brunch.

However, the two tie-ins that take the cake in the comedy department and are also fun road stories are The McElroys and Andre Araujo‘s Journey into Mystery and the aforementioned Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Most of the humor in Journey into Mystery comes from character idiosyncrasies, like Miles Morales not knowing what to do in a casino because he’s never left Brooklyn or Death Locket’s obsession with Westerns because those were the only movies her Life Model Decoy “uncle” had programmed. The jokes also come out of the wacky situations that the ensemble cast finds them in from a Skrull trailer park to a literal Western ghost town and a henchman convention.

In Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi send the titular character on a mission from Loki to take out the Frost Giants’ secret base in Canada. On the way, she gets a cute new costume from her mom, sees two Frost Giants make out, reads Robert Frost poetry on her own, and builds an unlikely friendship and alliance with Ratatoskr, a Norse squirrel deity that is tricksy even for Loki. North’s script continues to be joke-dense and full of fun facts about science and the world around us while insightfully showing Squirrel Girl at her conflict-avoiding and problem-solving finest. Her actions even have an effect on the larger event, and Derek Charm’s art continues to be heckin’ cute.


4. Standalone Character Studies

Jason Aaron plays some good 3D chess by using War of the Realms to tell the big, loud story of Malekith’s invasion and Thor finding confidence in himself again and his other titles Thor and Avengers to tell quieter (Sometimes) character studies and hint at big plans after the War. So, we get stories like Loki being visited by his past and future selves while being digested in his father’s stomach, a tale of Gorilla-Man’s day to day role at the Avengers HQ during a crisis situation, and She-Hulk dealing with people’s (and by extension readers’) perceptions of her and how she really wants to be. They provide a fresh outlook on the events of the War of the Realms that isn’t just omniscient narration or Thor’s quest.

Avengers #18-#20 end up pulling double duty by introducing the Squadron Supreme of America as well as fleshing out the aforementioned Gorilla-Man and She-Hulk and setting up future plans for Aaron’s works in the Marvel Universe. The Squadron is a great satire of nationalism with a bit of trolling towards the DC Universe, and Aaron wisely puts them in an ancillary book to not detract from “War of the Realms”. The same goes with Gorilla-Man, who is in cahoots with the imprisoned Dracula meaning that the King of the Damned still has a role to play in this book’s events. And none of this is mentioned in the core War of the Realms mini, who only spends a solitary panel setting up Marvel’s next event “Absolute Carnage” as Venom slithers away from Malekith’s Necrosword. It’s nice to enjoy the ride/event you’re on before thinking about the next one.


The Bad

5. Mediocre Minis

Most Big Two events have three to six issue miniseries to add depth to major supporting characters, give B-list heroes a showcase, or just to make money. Sadly, most of “War of the Realms'” minis were more miss than hit with the exception of Journey into Mystery and the anthology series War Scrolls. I also personally liked the end of War of the Realms: Punisher and its portrayal of Frank Castle as a defender of innocents and unrelenting executioner of criminals even if it didn’t connect to his portrayal in the event possible.

However, the rest of “War of the Realms'” minis were either untapped potential or just plain stinkers. New Agents of Atlas introduced a new team of Pan-Asian superheroes, but became overwhelmed by its ensemble cast and its intriguing character designs didn’t translate well to its interior art. Giant-Man had a madcap concept of Marvel’s size-changing heroes taking out the “source” of the Frost Giants, Ymir. But it went off the rails by its third issue with a villain who was shoehorned in and an artist that was really bad at staging and establishing scenes.

Spider-Man and the League of Realms had a cool concept of Spider-Man leading representatives from the other nine realms into battle, but it constantly changed settings, switched bad guy/threat on the fly, and like New Agents of Atlas, didn’t make me care enough about its ensemble cast. The worst tie-in of all was War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men which had a decent premise of the X-Men defending New York, but shoehorned in awkward connections to Norse mythology, killed off Sunspot for no reason and had no focus even though Sabretooth would have made a great villain. Thankfully, it will probably be all retconned when Jonathan Hickman begins his X-Men run.

If you stick to the core miniseries plus the Thor, Avengers, War Scrolls, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Journey into Mystery tie-ins (I can also vouch for Cullen Bunn’s work on Asgardians of the Galaxy and Venom.), “War of the Realms” is a good time. First and foremost, it works as an event because it’s a culmination of seven years of work that Jason Aaron has done with Thor, Jane Foster, Odin, Freyja, Asgard, and the non-Midgard Realms instead of trying to tie into an MCU movie. In fact, much of the current MCU Thor’s arc seems inspired by the work that Aaron has done throughout his run.

Messages from Midgard #11 – Thank You, Frost

Endings seem to be a recurring theme for this week’s “War of the Realms” books with Giant-Man being the first tie-in miniseries to reach the finish line thanks to some incredible weirdness and a wonderful father/daughter team-up from Leah Williams, Marco Castiello, and Rachelle Rosenberg. There’s also the bittersweet end to Cullen Bunn’s work on the Asgardians of the Galaxy series even after it was name-dropped in the second highest grossing movie of all time. Thankfully, Tini Howard and German Peralta’s recently announced Strikeforce will continue Angela’s journey.

In addition to these titles, Bunn and Iban Coello’s short Venom arc wraps up just in time for “Absolute Carnage”, Superior Spider-Man is way too funny and meta, Champions seems determined to feature every teen Marvel hero, and Ryan North and Derek Charm’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is still a wonderful gift with Ariana Grande karaoke and Frost Giants talking shop about, well, frost.


Giant-Man #3

My feelings on the conclusion of Leah Williams, Marco Castiello, and Rachelle Rosenberg’s Giant-Man are definitely mixed. What has been a fairly straightforward adventure yarn set in Florida and featuring Marvel’s size changing heroes gets pretty freaking weird. Apparently, former Thunderbolt/Master of Evil Moonstone has been enslaving the women of Florida to forcibly harvest ice from Ymir to make Ice Giants. It’s definitely a twist and throws a wrench into the whole Ymir assassination mission. The scene where Cassie Lang rescues the slaves and teams up with her dad are heartwarming as well as Raz’s empathy for Ymir, who is in pain and being held against his will. Ymir being a victim and more of a primal force of nature than a baddie is more nuanced and memorable than the team punching him to death.

However, Williams and Castiello do less of a good job introducing and telling the story of Moonstone, the miniseries’ Big Bad. Her powers and motivation fluctuate depending on this scene as she goes from slave master to force of nature and even a redemptive figure depending on the scene. It’s like Williams and Castiello reached the end of miniseries and realized they needed a final boss that wasn’t Ymir and used her past connection with Atlas as a shorthand reason to feature her. Throw in visuals that are hard to follow when the characters change size, and unfortunately, Giant-Man #3 earns an Overall Verdict of Pass.


Asgardians of the Galaxy #10

Asgardians of the Galaxy #10 is a bittersweet comic for many reasons. It features the quirky cast of this book kicking ass together one last time as well as Angela using the MacGuffin from the book’s first arc to get revenge on the Angels of Heven, who abused and tortured her. Writer Cullen Bunn and sharp artists Luca Maresca and Federico Blee give each character a couple of fantastic moments before signing off on a series that had an interesting cast of characters, a fun morally ambiguous space-faring tone, fantastic LGBTQ representation, and was mostly forced to be an event tie-in.

But the fact that it’s a tie-in doesn’t negate Skurge earning redemption as a hero in Valhalla, Angela saving Nairobi, Kenya and finding revenge by beheading her evil adoptive mother, and Ren and Annabelle Riggs being cute while getting cool weapons from the dwarf Urzuul. Maresca’s art has a cartoonish lyricism to him with slash shaped panels when Angela and an army of undead gods lay waste to Heven, or when Okoye gives Annabelle tips on using a Valkyrie spear. He and Bunn do an excellent job wrapping up Angela, Skurge, and Annabelle’s arc while letting this team kick ass in various and sundry ways. Asgardians of the Galaxy #10 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy, and hopefully, it’ll get a revival once Chris Hemsworth signs a deal to be in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.


Champions #6

Jim Zub, Juanan Ramirez, and Marco Menyz bust out the Disir, the cursed ghosts of Odin’s father Bor’s Valkyries, in their Champions “War of the Realms” tie-in. First appearing in Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery, they’re a formidable foe for this team of teen heroes that almost seems to double in membership each issue. Zub and Ramirez are constantly cutting from character to character throughout this issue in different action scenes. However, a few beats land like Power Man realizing the full potential of his “chi”-based powers and basically hulking out and save the team’s asses when he is stabbed in the heart by a magical, undead Asgardian artifact. There is also Kamala Khan, who gets a vision of her dead in a parallel universe and starts to realize that leadership of the Champions may be too much for her.

These two strong character moments stand out in what is mostly a loud, action-driven issue where the Champions are driven up a wall, and it’s hard to get a read on any character personalities between the explosions. Zub does hit on a few cool concepts like Hummingbird joining the team because she saw a distress call on a message board and using her empathy-driven, telepathic abilities to calm the team down. With the exception of the loose cartooning and cool moment where Power Man gets to wreak havoc, Champions #6 pales in comparison to the previous issue’s Cyclops and Kamala-centric tale and reduces powerful enemies to “monster of the week” status. Therefore, it earns an Overall Verdict of Pass.


Superior Spider-Man #7

I haven’t read the previous issues of Superior Spider-Man, but Christos Gage, Lan Medina, Cam Smith, and Andy Troy’s work on this story definitely made me want to pick up the previous six issues. The series has a similar premise to Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, but without the weird mind swap plot devices and is more about a bad guy trying to do good and use the power of science and his intellect to be a better hero than Spider-Man. The first half of this issue is filled with precise storytelling and illustrations from Medina and Smith as Spider-Ock evacuates San Francisco and turns his brain to the cause of Frost Giants invading North America and not just the symptom. As Gwenpool later states, he’s a core miniseries hero stuck in a tie-in.

Oh yeah, and to pile awesomeness on more awesomeness, Gage, and Medina pair Spider-Ock with the West Coast Avengers because he wants to use America’s star portal abilities to shut down the one letting Frost Giants onto Earth. This plan doesn’t work out, but we get fun team-up fights, Gwenpool doing running commentary on event comic structure, and Spider-Ock and Quentin Quire bonding over their shared interest in arrogance. I love how the other characters think she’s raving mad, but the always curious Spider-Ock is out here asking questions about “legacy characters”. For its strong visuals, heavy dose of meta-humor, fun guest stars, and interesting characterization of Spider-Ock, Superior Spider-Man earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.


Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45

The search for the Frost Giants’ secret base continues in Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45, but due to irreconcilable ethical differences, Squirrel Girl and Ratatoskr break up as teammates fairly early in the story. The split-up and reunion leads to great comedy, pathos, and later, adventure using the power of Frost Giant-induced fast travel. Ratatoskr doesn’t want to save the world; she only wants to create chaos and use her mind control abilities to get whatever the heck she wants. This includes go-kart video games, on command Frost Giant-friendly performances of “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande, and even psychological therapy.

However, the therapy part (Done by a mind-controlled Frost Giant.) named Daisy reveals that Squirrel Girl’s words about Ratatoskr never creating and only destroying have gotten under her skin. (Charm and Renzi draw moment of truth Ratatoskr quite adorable.) This leads to forgiveness and working together to stop the Frost Giant in an ethical, non-mind controlling way. But, there’s one last pit stop before the HQ as Charm and Renzi capture the beauty of snowfall and nature with the help of the (Newly in the public domain) poems of Robert Frost. (Also, North can’t help himself with puns.) It’s a singular moment in a very silly comic with a tongue in cheek ending. For showing that beauty and humor can co-exist with sneaking around a Frost Giant camp, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.


Venom #15

In the conclusion to their Venom “War of the Realms” arc, Cullen Bunn, Iban Coello, Alberto Albuquerque, Roberto Poggi, and Andres Mossa realize that Jack’o’Lantern is kind of a lame villain and pivot to Eddie Brock battling his own anger with a side of Dreamstone magic. The interplay between Bunn’s narration and the chaotic line art of Coello and Albuquerque creates heavy metal alchemy as Eddie wanders around New York and channels his anger again to remember that he is a “lethal” protector of the innocent, especially his son Dylan. He genuinely cares about the regular people who are caught in the crossfire of the War of the Realms and comes up with a new spin on “We are Venom” to protect them in a fist-bumping moment.

Venom #15, and Bunn and Coello’s overall work on this storyline has been a fantastic marriage of deep emotional turmoil and fun symbiote-meet-dark magic action. This issue is no exception as Eddie has his big moment and the returns to the bunker to protect Dylan and continue their journey to survive. What could have been filler while Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman were prepping “Absolute Carnage” end up telling a tale about Eddie and his son trying to survive in a world without his symbiote and featured memorable visual mash-ups of Asgardian and symbiote iconography. Because of this, Venom #15 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.

This was truly “War of the Realms'” week of the underdog as characters, like Skurge the Executioner, Squirrel Girl, Gwenpool, Spider-Ock, Annabelle Riggs, and the West Coast Avengers, who get their books canceled or a relegated to second stringers lit up the comics pages thanks to the passion of creators like Cullen Bunn, Ryan North, Christos Gage, Luca Maresca, Derek Charm, and Lan Medina. In particular, Bunn’s letter at the end of Asgardians of the Galaxy #10 about how he wanted to do a story with these characters back in 2015 and then had to shoehorn them into two events shows the pitfalls of having an original spirit in corporate comics. But, hey, we’ll have those ten majestic issues than honestly work whether or not you read “Infinity Wars” or “War of the Realms”.


Panel of the Week

I really hope someone in the Ariana Grande camp reads comics. (From Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45, Art by Derek Charm and Rico Renzi)

Messages from Midgard #6: Cute Baby Laussa

The “War of the Realms” takes a break this week from the main heroes and blockbuster trappings to tell smaller, quirky stories that are varying degrees of fun. The McElroys bring the road trip banter in War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #2, and Andre Araujo gets to take a break from advanced technology and gory fight scenes to be a humor cartoonist. War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1 is one of the first tie-ins to remember that this event has a global scope, and Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk-Lim introduce Marvel’s first Filipina hero, Wave, although the story comes apart at the seams sometimes. I tip my hat to Pak and Lim for introducing more Asian heroes to the main Marvel Universe, and hopefully we get to hear for them after three issues. And Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be a sweet cinnamon roll of a comic that I hope Marvel never cancels. (Thank you Scholastic book club marketing!)

War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #2

With the boring team assembling part out of the way, the McElroys, Andre Araujo, and colorist Chris O’Halloran are free to write and draw road trip hijinks after a quick prelude showing why Ares is working for Sindr and after Thor’s baby sister, Laussa. The McElroys settle into writing this truly odd assortment of characters in Journey into Mystery #2, and honestly, I could read a whole ongoing series of them traipsing through the Marvel Universe and arguing about personal space, the fact that no one on the team can drive except Kate Bishop (Kudos to Miles Morales for doing driver’s ed next semester though.), and Thori being fierce.

The McElroys and Araujo don’t force a fight with Ares just yet and have the team stop at “Bide-A-Wee” trailer park because, again, no one except Kate Bishop can drive. Araujo draws the denizens of the trailer park in a stiff manner like they’re pretending to be human. This makes sense because they are actually Skrulls. (Of course, the McElroys use this fact to get in some licks at Secret Invasion.) And, then, there’s the requisite action scene that Araujo and O’Halloran make fun with some creative shapeshifting and pink arrows for Kate. However, the sequence is resolved in a very un-War of the Realms way. But what do you expect from a creative team that made changing a dirty diaper both hilarious and suspenseful.

If we had to fight a War of the Realms to get this fun buddy road trip story from the McElroys and Andre Araujo, it will have been worth it. This comic definitely feels like it was written by a bunch of guys who have probably been in enclosed spaces with each other for a long time whether that’s childhood road trips or doing live podcast shows for rabid fans. Throw in a sense of wonder, humor, and love for cute babies interacting with Helhounds, and Journey into Mystery #2 an overall verdict of Buy.

War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1

Through his elevation of Amadeus Cho to the Hulk and especially a four issue arc of Totally Awesome Hulk where Cho teams up with other Asian-American superheroes, Greg Pak has used his clout as a writer to push for more Asian and Asian-American superheroes in Marvel Comics. He and artist Gang Hyuk Lim turn that up to eleven in War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1, which features appearances from Marvel’s first Filipina hero Wave, the Chinese hero Aero, and Korean heroes Crescent and Io and Luna Snow, who were popular in the Marvel Future Fight mobile game and make their first comic appearance here. It’s cool to see these characters and their unique abilities get the spotlight, but Pak struggles to juggle such a large ensemble cast in one issue. Lim’s art is also fairly pedestrian even though there are pops of color from Federico Blee like when Crescent sics his magic bear Io on some Fire Goblins.

In New Agents of Atlas #1’s back matter, Pak says that he wanted to use the book to explore the “diversity within diversity” having Asian and Asian-American from different countries and backgrounds interact while defending the continent from Sindr and Fire Goblins. And he pulls this off in one fantastic scene where Jimmy Woo, the leader of Agents of Atlas, asks Amadeus Cho, Kamala Khan, Silk, and Shang Chi what kind of pear he’s holding. Depending on their background, they say it’s a Korean, Chinese, or Japanese pear because Kamala has only seen that kind of pear at the Japanese grocery.

However, the lesson is that the kind of pear doesn’t matter, and Woo says that the important thing is that they work together as a team. They proceed to not do this with Kamala and Amadeus constantly bickering about some Champions business, which leads to their plane crashing outside Seoul and a fight against the Korean superheroes, not Sindr’s forces. Pak and Lim nail Amadeus Cho’s egotism as he flexes his muscles and showboats throughout the comic and impetuously launches himself into battle without regard for his teammates. However, the scene where the newly minted Agents of Atlas fight the Korean superheroes is very rushed as White Fox immediately assumes that Amadeus Cho is bad because he had a Hulk incident a while back. It’s a good illustration of the pointless drama that gets in the way of teamwork, but with an emphasis on the “pointless” part.

Luna Snow, who Silk fangirls over because she’s a hero and a K-Pop star, Crescent and Io, and a cool surprise character have visually distinct abilities, but Gang Hyuk Lim is too married to the Marvel house style to really let them shine. This is a book that could have used the stylized touch of a Takeshi Miyazawa, who collaborate with Greg Pak on his creator owned comic Mech Cadet Yu, or David Lafuente. With its introduction of new heroes and soapy team dynamic, New Agents of Atlas has tantalizing potential even if this first issue doesn’t completely deliver so it earns the Overall Verdict of Read.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44

Arguably, the best “War of the Realms” tie-in continues as writer Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, and colorist Rico Renzi have Squirrel Girl team up with Ratatoskr, the Norse squirrel god of chaos against Frost Giants and then frighten the citizens of rural Alberta. North and Charm do a good job laying out Ratatoskr’s motivation as she sees that Malekith ruling all ten realms would lead to conformity and boredom, which is the opposite of chaos. So, she’s fighting Frost Giants although in a flashback, she did give a thumbs up to Mangog, the destroyer of Asgard. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 is really an exercise in ethics as Ratatoskr tries to cross lines, but Squirrel Girl holds her back and tries to keep everything even kneeled. However, this backfires.

Like every issue in this series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 is a dense comic filled with jokes, extended riffs, footnote jokes, and kick-ass fight scenes. What could have been just a simple fight between Squirrel Girl and two Frost Giants ends up with Ratatoskr giving an update on what she has been up to over the past 30 issues or so while imprisoned in Asgard as well as some jokes about how Frost Giants see humans as action figures and superhumans as rare ones. They’re still looking for the rare action figures with kung fu grips though.

Once the Giants go down, North and Charm go into full fish out of water mode with Ratatoskr, who is trying to blend in with the locals, but ends up as a femme fatale in rural Canada and does not pass for human. She has great fashion sense, and North and Charm get to sneak in jokes about video game palette swaps, Sailor Moon, and draw a squirrel ear wearing Spider-Man costume while she picks her look. Also, in her interactions with the regular folks of Alberta, she chooses the chaotic option over the safe one and ends up getting in random guys’ faces. This scene also illustrates the classic principles that humans hate and fear what they don’t understand as the Albertans turn on Squirrel Girl and Ratatoskr, once they realize that “they’re not from around here”.

Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi seem to be having a hell of time combining Squirrel Girl’s morality and empathy with Ratatoskr’s penchant for chaos and manipulation. It’s an instant source of drama and mischief and gives Charm the chance to draw “resting evil face”. Also, for its dedication to fun, good comedy, complex baddies, adorable art, and expressive, flat colors, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 gets an overall verdict of Buy.


Although the quality of this week’s three comics does fluctuate, Journey into Mystery, New Agents of Atlas, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl use the backdrop of “War of the Realms” not as a crutch, but as a freedom to tell road trip, Asian superhero team-up, and odd couple stories. Frost Giants are coming through portals so why not bring back the entertaining villain Ratatoskr from a few years back to mess with Squirrel Girl and use her divine abilities to troll mere mortals. A book like New Agents of Atlas could use its own series to build up the new characters, but Journey into Mystery and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl uses the events of “War of the Realms” as jumping on points for comedic misadventures. This week is a breath of fresh air after all the melodrama, gore, and Frank Castleness of previous “War of the Realms” tie-ins.

Panel of the Week

I don’t know what beef Malekith has with Shakespearean English. (Art by Derek Charm and Rico Renzi from Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44.)

Messages from Midgard #2: Frog Thor Feelings

The “War of the Realms” settles into its second week with a trio of tie-ins that seem utterly unrelated: War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1, Asgardians of the Galaxy #8, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43. However, the first two comics are a shining example of how difficult doing ensemble casts are, and the third is a proof that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a beautiful gift even when it’s an event tie-in. It even moves “War of the Realms'” narrative forward by showing how Malekith and his allies divvied up the different continents of the Earth. Stereotypically, the Frost Giants got Canada.

War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1

The McElroys (Father Clint and sons Justin, Travis, and Griffin, but those names aren’t in the comic.) are big time podcasters known for their work on the advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me and the Dungeon and Dragons show The Adventure Zone, which I’ve listened to a couple episodes of and was a best-selling graphic novel for First Second. At first, I thought they were comic neophytes, but apparently, Clint McElroy worked on licensed comics like Universal Soldier and Green Hornet in the early 1990s. They team up with artist Andre Araujo and colorist Chris O’Halloran to tell the buddy road trip story of Balder teaming up with Miles Morales, Kate Bishop, Thori, Becca aka Deathlok 2.0, Sebastian Druid, and Wonder Man to protect Thor’s baby sister, Laussa.

Journey into Mystery #1 has a fun premise that is only a little bit related to the main “War of the Realms” narrative and pokes fun at continuity changes as well as certain character being “off limits” because of events. See, Balder wanted Peter Parker, Clint Barton, Dr. Strange, and the original Deathlok, but he ended up with the legacy versions. The McElroys and Araujo introduce the cast in a typical flash forward, flash back, flash forward, and big cliffhanger fashion. Each road trip member gets a humorous origin and is then thrown into the fray by the Norn, Skuld. The level of funny varies from Matt Fraction/Kieron Gillen cover band while writing Kate Bishop and Thori respectively to the genuinely clever situation of having Miles rescue Times Square cosplayers and a teen Deathlok making a fake graduation party with Life Model Decoys to feel less alone and more human.

The story should have hit its stride in its third part when the team is assembled and being chased in a truck by Sindr, the daughter of Surtr, and her fire troll/demon/generic being army. Araujo cuts to the right moments in the chase to build tension and gets to do real storytelling instead of just the funny faces of the flashback. However, The McElroys kind of lose track of their team in the chaos with Miles and Dr. Druid especially suffering. They do manage to write around Wonder Man’s superhero story sapping pacifism to give him a great moment. Journey into Mystery has its clever moments, but in chemistry terms, it’s more of a heterogenous mixture than an a homogenous one so, for now, it gets an Overall Verdict of Read.

Asgardians of the Galaxy #8

Even though 75% of its run has either been a tie-in to “Infinity Wars” or “War of the Realms”, Cullen Bunn, Matteo Lolli, and Federico Blee’s space faring, Asgard-connected team book has been one of Marvel’s hidden gems. It’s the spiritual successor of Bunn’s Fearless Defenders or even Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy. The current team lineup is Angela, Valkyrie who sometimes swaps places with archaeologist Annabelle Riggs, Skurge the Executioner, Thunderstrike (The son of the one from the late 80s and 90s), Throg aka Frog Thor, and the dwarf Urzuul. They’re protecting a beacon that summons an army of undead gods, but Heimdall divests them of this and sends them to fight for Earth in the War of the Realms.

While Journey into Mystery gets to have its own plot, Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 takes place during the big battle for New York in War of the Realms #1. So, there’s not much plot once the book gets earthbound, and Lolli and Blee end up riffing off Russell Dauterman’s double page spreads, and well, they’re not Dauterman with a long lead time. But, even though, he’s stuck in the constraints of the event’s plot, Cullen Bunn has a one great trick up his sleeve: characterization.

Unlike Journey into Mystery where many characters are lost in the shuffle or are catchphrase shouters, Bunn gives each member of the Asgardians of the Galaxy at least one small showcase moment. Executioner and Punisher get to compare guns, and Black Panther compliments Urzuul’s weapon craftsmanship. (Wow, that came out wrong.) Cap tells Thunderstrike that his dad was a great hero, and Angela gets to be very angry at the Angels of Heven for siding with Malekith. However, the characters who come across the best are Throg and Annabelle Riggs/Valkyrie.

Throg made his first appearance way back in Walter Simonson’s run on Thor and was an ordinary Central Park frog named Puddlegulp, who was worthy to lift a sliver of Mjolnir and become the Frog of Thunder. Bunn and Lolli give him a moment of great tragedy when he returns to Central Park and sees all his old frog friends being burned up. He feels a lot of guilt for adventuring in space instead of protecting his people and gets a great action sequence that also riffs on Jason Aaron’s concept of Thor Odinson being unworthy.

But Annabelle is the center of Bunn and Lolli’s narrative in Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 as she continues to struggle with her Nova powers and the magic that Kid Loki gave her in the last arc. They keep shorting out, and she subs out with Valkyrie. Or does she. In a big moment, Annabelle rides Valkyrie’s flying horse to look for her girlfriend Ren in the middle of the carnage. They share a beautiful reunion before being literally ripped apart by the plot of War of the Realms. Bunn does a great job writing the only non-powered character and gives her a strong romantic and heroic arc despite this issue being an event tie-in. The emotional moments with her and Throg plus great individual action moments with the rest of the team makes Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 worth an overall verdict of Read.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43

The final “War of the Realms” tie-in and the unlikeliest even though Squirrel Girl has connections with Thor, Loki, and the Norse squirrel god Ratatoskr is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 from Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi. This used to be one of my favorite Marvel titles, but then I fell behind. However, North’s ability to couch exposition in jokes and Tony Stark/Squirrel Girl Twitter thread recaps caught me, the lapsed reader, up to speed as well as anyone who didn’t pick up War of the Realms #1. Basically, the event is an excuse for Loki to send Squirrel Girl on a mission to take out a secret Frost Giant base in Canada, and there’s lots of mysteries to be unbundled from this, including Loki’s alignment, which North hides in ambiguous and purposefully misleading dialogue.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 is cute, funny, and the only one of these three comics to have a complete plot while having joke, riffs, clever action sequences, and some sweet interactions between Doreen and her parents, who live in Canada and sadly got rid of her Arctic variant costume. Derek Charm is one of my favorite current artists and is really the full package, including animated facial expressions, gesture cartooning, clever layouts, and above all, humor that is helped by North’s great footnote jokes. (His inspiration for the fight between Squirrel Girl and the Frost Giant made me cackle.) He even nails the mandatory superhero group shot splash page that should instantly get him a slot drawing the X-Men, Avengers, or Justice League. Renzi’s colors, especially for the Frost Giants, really pop and have an attitude to them. And his shadowy work with the Ratatoskr gives him the right level of menace.

North, Charm, and Renzi are a clever bunch of creators, and a linewide crossover offers them more opportunities to roast mainstream heroes, like Iron Man and Captain America while giving Doreen a new adventure and new bad guys plus family time. It’s not every day you get a comic that makes a running gag of the Asgardian spelling of “Hek”, but today is this day. For this, a physics defying Frost Giant battle, a joke about Jim Davis’ Silver Surfer/Galactus short story in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26, and Loki’s unlikely friendship with Nancy Whitehead, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 gets an Overall Verdict of Buy.

The real heroes of this week’s “War of the Realms” tie-in were a hero that eats nuts, kicks butts, and tries to reason with her enemies before punching them and a heroic frog that despite his unworthiness still fights to avenge the people he loves. Also, writing a cast of ensemble characters in the middle of a summer crossover is like trying to walk and chew bubblegum. Jokes and emotional character arcs help smooth things over though.


Panel of the Week

The end result of messing with Throg from Asgardians of the Galaxy #8. (Art by Matteo Lolli and Federico Blee)

I want to make this column more interactive. Email me questions at ldalton626@gmail.com or tweet me at MidnighterBae, and I will answer them in an upcoming installment of Messages from Midgard.

Preview: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #39

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #39

(W) Ryan North (A) Derek Charm (CA) Erica Henderson
Rated T+
In Shops: Dec 12, 2018
SRP: $3.99

• Last issue ended with Squirrel Girl and someone CLAIMING to be Iron Man getting into a fight! Will this issue show you how that fight goes and who wins and why? THE ANSWER: yes!
• But with an Iron Man imposter on the scene, that means the real Tony Stark is missing! It’s up to Squirrel Girl and her friends to find Tony before it’s too late: for him AND the world.
• Unfortunately for Squirrel Girl-as this comic is within the super-hero genre of sequential art, one that relies on high-stakes narrative storytelling filled with twists and turns that result in the world never being the same-what she finds is not what she expects and the world will never be the same!
• All this-plus: let’s say underwater adventure too awaits you in this issue of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

Preview: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #32

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #32

(W) Ryan North (A/CA) Erica Henderson
Rated T
In Shops: May 09, 2018
SRP: $3.99

• Doreen Green (A.K.A. the super hero Squirrel Girl) and her friend Nancy Whitehead (an unrelated civilian) have had a great idea: Let’s get some friends together and play an escape room! Escape rooms are those real-life games where you get locked in a room and have an hour to escape before you die!
• In the game, I mean. It’s not like if you die in the game you die in real life! Hah hah.
• They gather KOI BOI, CHIPMUNK HUNK, BRAIN DRAIN and, as a special guest…their good friend KRAVEN THE HUNTER.
• BUT WHEN THEY ENTER THE ROOM IT TURNS OUT THAT IF YOU DIE IN THE GAME YOU DIE IN REAL LIFE!! TWIST!!
• It’s everything you crave: friendship, adventure and a room full of death traps that you can only find in SQUIRREL GIRL!

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #29

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Where we last left Squirrel Girl and company, Nancy had been finally rescued thanks to the combined efforts of Squirrel Girl herself, Loki, Tippy Toe and Drax after Squirrel Girl had been conned by space hunks especially one who claimed to be the Silver Surfer himself. However upon confronting the perps, the real Silver Surfer arrives and Squirrel Girl assumed he’s the con artist and it’s up to the others to stop her from making a horrible mistake.

Compared to other Marvel books, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is definitely the most cartoonish of the bunch and that is saying something given superhero books are technically absurd but this is book takes things up to eleven but that’s not a bad thing though.

What the book does well is establishing its sense of humor, it’s kind of like a comic strip except not structured like one, actually I take that back, it’s like a fun webcomic to be more accurate. It is drawn like one, like, it’s just that that’s what it feels like but again, that’s not a slight against it. The book’s writing and art do make it a distinct Marvel book from the rest and reading it, it’s very easy to see why this book has caught on for so many people especially given she’s now going to get a shot being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the upcoming New Warriors series. While she has gained popularity over the years, the book by Ryan North and Erica Henderson may have been the very book to soar her into popularity full time.

And yes, I am among this book’s fans. There is something endearing about Squirrel Girl in general whether it’d be her optimism or absurd power set where she can take down the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe. And the book really keeps that spirit but also cranks it up to eleven as I mentioned beforehand.

This arc is no exception. She’s taken on Galactus already so she might as well meet the Silver Surfer but if it’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, there’s bound to be something absurd to make it all happen. And it’s a hilarious read from here to kingdom come really such as the efforts to stop Squirrel Girl from fighting the Surfer himself to essentially the climax of the issue (this arc isn’t done yet actually).

The jokes do land for the most part, some wouldn’t land quite as much but the book does have an absurd sense of humor that I can get into, kind of like say for a random example, The Pink Panther Strikes Again where both rely on high concept absurdist humor to maximum but great effect. Ryan North has a knack for writing good characterization especially given the friendship between her and Nancy and how to make a joke work. It’s not just the Squirrel Girl show, he knew to include somebody as a counteract to Squirrel Girl herself and Nancy is effective as something of a straight man to the book’s insanity. There are small details like random comments pertaining to anything underneath the pages like “I don’t want to sound too serious but I will go on a limb and say that, yes, friendship is eventually worth it.” As if North had envisioned Ron Howard saying that.

The art style definitely fits the proceedings. Erica Henderson’s art may not be for everyone but I quite like it. Again, it fits the book’s tone. If it’s going to act like a cartoon, then have it look like a cartoon to boot. It’s yet another Marvel book where it feels like the writer and artist are in sync with each other and it’s very effective in that regard. And I do like that the next issue is apparently going to be the punchline to the this entire arc. The space hunks or spacebros as I call them have been caught yes but their punishment still needs to be decided. So I imagine that will be fun.

If you like this book and the Squirrel Girl character in general or just like very cartoonish stuff, this book is for you. If not, I’m sure there’s something else but this book is very endearing, check it out.

 

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26

SquirrelGirlCoverUnbeatable Squirrel Girl takes a little break in issue 26 for a special in-universe zine comic written and drawn by various heroes, villains, and denizens of the Marvel Universe. In real life, they are all written by Ryan North with Erica Henderson switching roles with her Jughead collaborator Chip Zdarsky to pen a surprisingly sultry Howard the Duck story. It’s a fun sampler that mostly hit and very little miss from the much vaunted series of three panel Galactus gag strips by Garfield‘s Jim Davis to Anders Nilsen and Soren Iverson’s poignant story of Wolverine befriending a Sentinel and shotgunning a beer with his adamantium claws. The series Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has a lot of fantastic action, jokes, and the occasional superhero parody, but it’s a book where Doreen listens to both her opponents and allies and tries to work things out with eating nuts and kicking butts. S

So, it’s fitting, we get this comic that is written by a wacky range of POVs beginning with Squirrel Girl herself who stutters through the intro about his being a fundraiser zine. We get to listen to Kraven, hear Spider-Man’s retort, and see the world through Tippytoe’s eyes, which is drawn and colored in an adorable manner  Madeline McGrane’s art and colors make this frame story definitely look like a zine you might pick up at the local coffee shop or one of those fancy schmancy zine stores in bigger stories. It’s followed up by Chip Zdarsky going the closest he’ll ever get to his work on Sex Criminals in a mainstream comic with Erica Henderson doubling as a film noir director, but more awkward. They use close-ups and small panels of Howard the Duck and his femme fatale/client like they’re egging Marvel editorial to linger on this scene more while adding a funny caption. Zdarsky doing Big Two interiors is a big treat, and he barely holds back.

Tom Fowler’s Brain Drain story is a nice showcase of the underrated Unbeatable Squirrel Girl supporting character and hews the closest to Henderson’s usual style on the book. His take on Brain Drain is philosophical, adorable, and structured like the computer science programs that the character loves. It’s oddly motivational too and worth a reread thanks to its erudite writing style. Speaking of rereads, Carla Speed McNeil draws a Loki comic that only makes sense forwards and backwards and is a great example of how the comics medium allows for flexibility of meaning using Loki as a litmus test. It’s a wonderful double page spread, and the best Loki story since Journey into Mystery.

After this, Michael Cho draws a Kraven the Hunter comic/Spider-Man diss story, which is a pretty fun riff off “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and features dead presidents. His art has a light hearted old school vibe while having a subversive take on superhero/supervillain relationships kind of like the main Unbeatable Squirrel Girl title, but from the bad guy’s perspective. It’s followed up by a one page retort from Spider-Man with some gorgeous, yet still funny digital painting work from Rahzzah, who teams up later in the book to do Nancy Whitehead’s photo collage comic with the help of North, who channels Dinosaur Comics in the strip. It’s a well-designed remix story that will make the non-artists reading this comic smile and the kind of mash-up that you would find in a real zine.

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But the heavy hitter of the bunch is Anders Nilsen and Soren Iverson’s Wolverine story that is fitting for an artist who had done a comic called Poetry is Useless. Anders Nilsen has a minimalist Euro style perfect for a comic about Wolverine getting talked out of killing a Sentinel, who challenges him to look past his shiny mutant killing exterior and team up with him to beat up some kaiju. (Sadly, this part of the story is off panel.) Wolverine gets a big epiphany moment when he realizes that he’s “hating and fearing” the Sentinel just like the X-Men have been treated for most of their career. This story is proof that more Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly guys should draw superhero comics.

Following this weighty, yet fun story is a couple of candy confections. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl colorist Rico Renzi draws an adorable and faux edgy Batman parody starring the one and only Tippytoe. It pokes fun at Batman’s angsty backstory as well as the fact that Tippytoe always plays second banana. Renzi’s art style is similar to the cartoon The Amazing World of Gumball with lush digital backgrounds and colors. Finally, Jim Davis, whose work I was familiar with eons before I ever opened a Marvel comic, transposes the classic Garfield and Jon relationship to Galactus and the Silver Surfer. It’s the same dad-ish, three panel punchline jokes, but told in a more cosmic key, and Davis has a lot of fun showing Galactus doing his planet devouring, face stuffing thing. His literal eye popping Silver Surfer has a similar manic energy to Robin Williams’ Genie in Disney’s Aladdin.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26 is a real treat as independent cartoonists, the creator of Garfield, and even the book’s colorist get to take a stab at some of the more familiar faces in the Marvel Universe while also giving Squirrel Girl’s supporting cast a moment in the sun. It’s sometimes poignant and always funny.

Story: Ryan North, Erica Henderson Art: Madeline McGrane, Chip Zdarsky, Tom Fowler, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Anders Nilsen, Rico Renzi, Jim Davis Colors: Madeline McGrane, Chip Zdarsky, Rico Renzi, Rahzzah,Soren Iverson
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.0 Overall:9.2 Recommendation: Read

Review: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #13

detailIn Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #13, Doreen Green, her mom, best friend Nancy, and an army of squirrels fight back against the living Gulliver’s Travel riff, Enigmo as he multiplies at an exponential rate and takes over both the United States and Canada. Writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson, and colorist Rico Renzi embrace the silliness of this premise and the seeming tranquility of the Ontario wilderness as Squirrel Girl with some assistance from the nihilistic robot Brain Drain and a very tired and pissed off Ant-Man of the Scott Lang variety use their minds, superpowers, and random pointless knowledge about various animals to defeat this crazy threat.

Add Scott Lang to the pantheon of popular characters that Erica Henderson has executed an epic riff on. She doesn’t draw him in Paul Rudd heartthrob mode, but in full anger mode with side of dad jokes about his “Ant Van” in his utility belt. He is constantly making fun of Canada, which kind of gets exasperating after a while, but luckily North balances his world-weariness with the high-level enthusiasm of Squirrel Girl and Nancy plus Brain Drain’s non-sequitur routine. (Basically, everything that comes out of this character’s mouth is super hilarious.) The plot of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #13 is very much a middle chapter as Squirrel Girl and her team regroups to take out Enigmo. But this regroup includes a size changing van, canoes, and way too much information about ant colonies so the comic is still pretty entertaining.

Rico Renzi should be commended for his deep blue and black backgrounds for the Ontario scenes, which make it seem like Squirrel Girl and her company are really in the middle of nowhere and not in New York City lite or a Vancouver backlot. This kind of detail in locations is one of the strengths of the comics medium, and it pays off in a big way as the team dodges traffic on the expressway between Ontario and the United States, which turns into a fight scene against cops that all look like Enigmo. The fight choreography is super jumbled, but North and Henderson hit on a genius idea in the final pages that turns the arc from superhero versus multiplying supervillains fight to a heist movie complete with cool (imaginary) costumes. This totally makes sense because both Brain Drain and Scott Lang are former criminals. Plus Ant-Man’s movie was more of a heist flick with a third act that parodied Marvel superhero films so this turn in the plot is totally logical.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #13 tells the same joke about Canadians over and over and the fight against Enigmo is underwhelming, but for the most part Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi turn in another wacky installment of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl complete with Doreen revealing that she treats the squirrels she controls as friends unlike Scott Lang and his ants, Maureen Green playing the overly proud parent, and the set up for next month’s heist issue. Plus there is the Marvel Comics debut of the talented Spider-Man fanzine artist Hannah Blumenreich on the reliably hilarious Deadpool trading cards that Brain Drain uses to pick a hero to help them against Enigmo

Story: Ryan North Art: Erica Henderson Colors: Rico Renzi
Story: 7.5 Art: 8 Overall: 7.7 Verdict: Read

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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