Maybe the coolest thing that the big two comic companies do is create continuity across a large comic book world. In the DC universe, for example, if Superman picks up and moves a car while fighting Lex Luthor, it’s possible that later that day Bruce Wayne might get stuck in the traffic created by the misplaced car. Dozens of stories drawn and written by a diverse but unified group of authors make for a huge, densely populated world.
And, while some of the main roads of the DC and Marvel universes would be familiar to all moviegoers and children’s Halloween party attendees, cul-de-sacs are inevitable. Less popular characters attract their own devotees. Weird heroes and villains like Dazzler or Stiltman never need to be retired in a world where Batman has been in prime fighting shape for 80 years.
One such weirdo is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a confident, optimistic squirrel-human-mutant-chimera with an army of squirrel friends/assistants/mentors. If that sounds to you like a slight or goofy idea for a comic, I agree. The character was introduced in 1991 – and, while that is a long time ago for us, what with Michael Jordan then battling the Lakers for his first championship, in comics, the landscape was set and most of the “good” superhero animals were already taken: Spiderman, Catwoman, Batman, even, deeper cuts like Wolverine had been taken 18 years earlier.
In the story, written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, the creators lean into The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s goofiness. The character design lacks the clichés common to Superheroes. Squirrel Girl is not overly muscled or part of a creepy sex fantasy (cough, Wonder Woman, cough) she’s a normal looking teen aside from the tail and squirrel teeth. Henderson’s round cartoony style sets the tone for a breezier more fun book.*
The story for this Trade is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a superhero who talks to squirrels, crossed with the traditional supervillain-of-the-week. The superhero is in her first weeks of college. The bad guys are always vaguely insulted at the idea of having to fight a C-list hero. For her own part, Squirrel Girl doesn’t think she’s C-list. She’s a strong female protagonist, not in the boring sense of a bland over-achiever or sensible straight woman. She’s interesting and lovable precisely because she’s not nearly qualified enough to take on the challenges she jumps into headfirst.
But best of all, this comic makes you laugh. In continuity, Squirrel-related heroics lend themselves to wacky adventures – and the jokes play. This is the perfect book for a comic fan to read to a kid, but I’d also recommend this to anyone who wants a funny superhero book with a light tone.
*So many comics are horribly overwrought, it’s enough to drive you to review kids comics.
The Private Eye is a book about anonymity. It’s a future noir that centers on a paparazzo instead of a detective. The story takes place in a post-internet world where one generation ago, all of everyone’s personal info was made public causing the world to give up the social media and web browsing to protect their personal lives. People take their privacy so seriously that they wear strange masks to hide their faces.
Marcos Martin draws a beautiful, deeply strange world with creature-like characters and vehicles. Martin who did such great work on Daredevil creating the backgrounds and cityscapes of hell’s kitchen, is beautifully suited to the project. The future L.A. the story imagines is colored in saturated brilliant shades from Munsta Vicente. But the reason I picked this book up is Brian K Vaughn. His book Saga is probably the best on-going comic book in print.
I want to say as little as possible about this book, not because it’s easy to spoil, but because it’s impossible to recreating a beautiful comic like this in prose is. It might be better to say it’s as good of an LA noir as has been written in decades, even if it is half dystopian SciFi. It reads clear and fast like a potboiler, but what sticks with you after the book is done is the world. I’d recommend this book to anyone.
The physical version of this book just became available in December. The work was originally published online at panel syndicate via the pay as you go model. It’s a lovely execution with long landscape pages, thick paper, that give the art the room it needs to breathe.
This post should be the first in a string of Trade Waiter posts. Look for a post on another of the great Brian K. Vaughn books next week.