The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is back (but her solo title has been consistently published for years.) This week AJ Frost is turning his attention towards the beloved Marvel ongoing series while Alexander Jones looks at how the time-displaced Jean Grey is battling the Phoenix, just make sure to hold onto those Phoenix eggs in this week’s Marvel Rundown!

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #27

Written by Ryan North
Illustrated by Erica Henderson
Colored by Rico Renzi
Lettered by Travis Lanham
Reviewed by AJ Frost

I have a confession to make: I love Squirrel Girl comics. In a world where every day is a barrage of horrible and maddening news, retreating into the wonderfully weird world of Doreen Green and her fetish for rodent-based adventures in super-heroics is a great distraction. It’s not enough that the stories are already quite silly (which they are), but that they also have a distinctive sense of heart and a keen eye for wonder. There’s definitely a unique whimsy with Squirrel Girl that works to show that all-ages comics live up to that moniker.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #27—part of Marvel’s Legacy line—is the first part of an arc that literally reaches for the stars. The plot is simple enough. What begins as an ordinary day for Doreen, her sidekick Tippy-Toe (a squirrel, obviously), and her roommate Nancy begins to a take turn for the strange. Several arcs ago, Squirrel Girl defeated Galactus in a battle of wits, and now it seems everyone on the planet is obsessed with this epic battle of mental derring-do, including Squirrel Girl. And I mean this in a literal way: random people approach Nancy asking how Squirrel Girl did it. For Nancy and Tippy-Toe—who had to escape the constant pestering too—this fixation is disconcerting to say the least. Through a series of events, it turns out that there is a perfectly logical reason for everyone wanting to know the secret to defeating Galactus: extraterrestrial squirrels from the planet Chitt-crrt have been foretold that they will all be destroyed lest they find the means to stave off an attack from the planet-eating cosmic demiurge. Makes perfect sense, right? Thought so…

For my money, there’s no better deconstruction of the Marvel mythos than what comes out of the imaginations of writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson. Besides being incredibly nimble and inventive with their interpretation of Squirrel Girl, they are not afraid to poke a little fun at their publisher with a lightheartedness that is incredibly endearing. No character is spared from a little ribbing, and that’s perfectly acceptable. The meta-commentary that runs at the bottom of each page is akin to being in on a huge joke, but one where the punchline is a more nuanced read of the plot.

In the meantime, there are run-ins with Sorcerer Supreme Loki, overzealous physics professors, and sentient brains in jars. Ya know, just another regular day in the life of Squirrel Girl and pals.

As always, Henderson’s art is endearingly welcoming, while North’s script is packed to the gills with laffs. While the plot itself is nothing complicated, it does branch out in interesting directions that I’m sure readers will want to follow in upcoming issues. The visual humor quotient is also off the chart, with lots of great cameos and background gags that make the issue worth re-reading. Indeed, with North and Henderson at the helm of Squirrel Girl, there’s no descent into madness, no violent conflict, no existential quandaries (lookin’ at you, Logan). There is only fun and excitement. The characterization is basically all jokes, all the time, and it works so well.

Make no mistake. Readers will not walk educated by reading Squirrel Girl nor will they find much intellectual depth. On the other hand, what readers will find is another fine addition to the growing body of Squirrel Girl lore, one that finds our horizons expanding farther than ever before (Hey, that rhymes!)

Verdict: Buy. This is another fine entry in the Squirrel Girl canon and a treat from beginning to end.


Jean Grey #10

Written by Dennis Hopeless
Pencilled by Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque
Colored by David Yardin
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Alexander Jones

A couple months ago when I first opened the pages of Jean Grey #1 in this column with AJ Frost I wasn’t particularly hopeful about the book aside from the fascinating promise of the Phoenix and all the power and fury the bird symbolized in the Marvel Universe. To talk about the X-Men is a long and dreary story which is hard to summarize but Jean Grey made a big promise and this week seemed to finally deliver on the promise. Over the past couple months, the book has been making lots of great publicity. However, with the comic of X-Men: Red and adult Jean Grey, I wasn’t exactly sure just where in the Marvel Universe we would see Grey. With recent developments packaged from Astonishing X-Men and the Marvel Legacy one-shot, there finally seems to be some forward momentum with the franchise. I hope this really is a sign of a different group of X-Books and as insane and selfish as it may sound, it would be great for the publisher to relaunch the line soon and keep the books going forward

Jean Grey has balanced this line nicely, reintroducing classic characters and settings with a different veneer. We have retro X-Men psychic characters like Emma Frost, but the added continuity really gives the heroes an interesting and different perspective on the title. The stakes in the comic also feel absurdly high and I hope Hopeless (pun intended) will not reverse any of the huge, climactic moments which transpire here in the penultimate issue of the series. While seeing the reintroduction of the Phoenix is a harrowing event to bring to the X-Men, there still needs to be a story behind the issue. Thankfully, the threat of the Phoenix is felt by each and every psychic character filling out the cast. Members of the X-Men like Quentin Quire, the Stepford Cuckoos and Hope Summers have only been bit players and appear more rarely than they should despite the strong characterization and great cast. X-Men: Red also seems to be going in a different direction with the cast so it appears some of these members are going to be splintering off towards other books.

From the opening pages of the issue, the stakes are high–that’s a remark which cannot be made with every issue concerning the Phoenix over the past couple years from Marvel. Watching the younger Jean able to battle the legendary X-Men villain is an interesting tightrope Hopeless walks here carefully. Psychic damage inflicted by the cast members can be hard to properly depict in a comic book but thankfully the vision for the issue is executed very well by Albuquerque who shows off the battle between Jean and the rest of the monster in an engaging, otherworldly manner. Hopeless also stays true to the Marvel Universe acknowledging stories have come before starring this character by keeping true to the idea the Phoenix has limitless power and cannot be stopped. This is one of the most powerful forces in Marvel as death and destruction will always follow the character.

Albuquerque’s frenetic, fast-moving characters bring a great ensemble to the cast. He frequently shows characters in movement and delivers interiors matching the high-stakes nature of the script while showing individuals who don’t always look stoic and beautiful. The recent X-Men costumes for each member of the cast reflect the individuals of the book very well. Towards the end of this installment, there’s a huge bombshell in the comic eliciting a powerful emotional response from me thanks to the impeccable timing from Albuquerque and the final pages depicting an unwieldy and creative element to the book. While each member of the cast has an incredibly complicated costume, they don’t seem to stand in the way of the storytelling or make the colors clash too harshly.

I want to see the X-Men move forward at a more accelerated pace. With the time-displaced X-Men still stranded on Earth nearly five years after their debut, Marvel would be best suited to send them home and move back to the classic team signifying some progression going forward. I say this knowing all the progress made on this issue could be undone in the next installment but still cross my fingers here, but this latest issue of Jean Grey seems to symbolize some sort of change. While my complaints of the initial series being that Grey does not bear a distinctive personality despite coming from a different time is still intact–I do enjoy the writing, art, and story enough to overlook some of these aspects. Jean Grey #10 could be a start of a new direction for a franchise still bursting with potential.

Verdict: Buy. Jean Grey #10 sure does feel important for the future of the X-Men.

Next week Marvel Two-In-One is back–celebrate 1/2 the Fantastic Four with us!