I wrote last year about how much I enjoyed the first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It’s a lighthearted book that advocates nonviolent solutions to conflicts whenever possible but also (as I’m beginning to learn as we move into a prolonged period of ideological fighting in America) acknowledges the need for physical strength in moments of unreasonable opposition. Squirrel Girl tries to figure out what her opponents really want when they get into fights with her, and she does her best to point them in the direction of non-harmful ways to achieve those goals. Failing that, as is the case with the second volume’s main villain, she kicks butt until butts no longer need to be kicked.
When I first got volume two, titled Squirrel You Know It’s True, I was delighted by a panel that appears in the first issue of the collection where a group of hostages waiting inside the Statue of Liberty for the group of superheroes outside to free them exchange stories about Squirrel Girl (whom none of them, save Doreen’s roommate Nancy, have actually heard of before). The first story is a pastiche of Silver Age wackiness with Steve Rogers as Captain America, and it bears a panel where Cap, in the throes of absurd mind control, declares that “I love dictatorships!” Anyone who’s been paying attention to my general mood regarding the state of America can see how this would resonate with me; I have a penchant for appreciating darkly ironic meta-moments.
The sequence in question was written back in 2015, well before any of us had an inkling of the direction the country was going to take, so it simultaneously called back to a less jaded moment in our history and served up some hopeful commentary on the current state of affairs. White Americans have largely been ignorant of the problems our country has built into it, like the fact that racism would be a powerful enough force to lead us to collectively flirt with honest-to-God fascism. It’s a naive construction to assume that Captain America, if we’re going to treat this like a bit of metonymy for the country as a whole, normally doesn’t truck with oppressive ideology unless somehow coerced, but it’s also eminently hopeful that when we push for America to be a better country, those horrible impulses do become genuinely alien.
Besides that first issue (which is wonderful, but clearly meant as a standalone that doesn’t have much bearing on the rest of the arc collected here), what’s really interesting about this second arc is how it explores both Doreen’s process of learning about having normal friendships and also her process of learning how to identify bad actors. Doreen saved the planet from Galactus through the power of open and honest communication, but she finds that just won’t work with Ratatoskr, whom Odinson (that’s male, Mjollnir-less Thor for anyone who doesn’t know) rightly calls “the ultimate troll.” Ratatoskr thrives on turning people against one another, and her powers are summed up as being an incredibly insidious and effective trash-talker. She just makes people angry because she can, and then she sits back to watch the chaos unfold. That the ultimate solution to defeating her involves literally refusing to talk with her anymore is a well-taken point about learning when to end discussion and move on to full-blown opposition (you can’t overlook the fact that once Doreen realizes that there’s no reasoning with Ratatoskr she redoubles her efforts to beat up the menace that’s making her friends hurt one another).
All of these remarkably relevant life lessons are safely nestled in a book that at its core wants to make the reader laugh and smile. Jokes come frequently, and they vary in complexity from an extended riff on esoteric knowledge about computer databases to Loki making himself look like a cat version of Thor to annoy his brother. It all works incredibly well, and remains positive on top of that despite telling a story built on the idea that our insecurities lead us to turn against one another. I’m looking forward to continuing to read about Squirrel Girl’s adventures.