Open Mike Night: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1/Adventure Comics #306


Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Written by: Ryan North
Art by: Mark Wicks
Colored by: Rico Renzi
Lettered by: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by: Erica Henderson

Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Maillaro:  Okay, let’s start with a bit of a “fun” trivia question:  What do Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the current Thor series, the current Elektra series, the current Black Widow series, the current She-Hulk series and Fearless Defenders all have in common?

Weaver:  They’ll be lucky to last a year?  Or is it more about having female leads?  Or both?

Maillaro:  Nah, you notice how I left Ms Marvel (and Captain Marvel for that matter) off the list.  All the books I mentioned are all written by dudes.  Pretty sure they are basically all drawn by men too.   At least Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel are written by women.  I had made some comments a while back that I was glad to see much more diversity among comic characters lately, but we can’t seem to get that same diversity in the actual creators.  One of the many reasons I miss Milestone.  Diverse characters by diverse creators.

Weaver: I think that we need to worry about getting diverse people into comics first before we have diversity in our writing and artistic staff.  Yes, I know, obviously there are plenty of people who are not white males who read comics, but white males are the strong majority.  I think trying to make titles that appeal to more diverse audiences is the first step towards getting there.  X-Men used to be a comic that reached out to non-traditional audiences, but I feel like it’s not really like that anymore.  Anyway.

I really don’t know what I think of this issue.  Did Squirrel Girl really need her own comic?  Does anybody really need their own comic?  I like comics that are played for laughs, I used to adore Ambush Bug back in the day.  I’m trying to figure out, though, how much of this comic is straight up laughs and how much is intending to build into the larger Marvel Universe.  Because you know when a crossover comes, they’ll be obligated to join in.  I’m also trying to decide if, of all the characters in Marvel that you could play for laughs, Squirrel Girl was the right one to choose.

Maillaro:  My biggest problem with this book is that Marvel might be creating a glut in this very market.  Rocket Raccoon is already played for laughs.  I imagine Howard the Duck will be the same in a few months.   At least those characters have marketing because of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Squirrel Girl did start appearing in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series recently though.

For the most part, I did enjoy this issue, even if it was not at all formatted for digital readers.  I didn’t even notice Squirrel Girl’s tiny little commentary at the bottom of page until I was almost done with the issue.

Weaver: I actually didn’t notice that at all.  Honestly, I don’t think it adds much to the comic, but…it does really show up a bit too small to really read it on an e-reader.

I mean, Squirrel Girl has always had a following, but it’s a following that exists in order to make reference to her incredible off-panel feats.  I feel like there’s no way to center a comic around off-panel feats, and on-panel feats kind of water down the mystique and humor of the character.  It’s funny that Squirrel Girl beats MODOK off panel because there’s no way to imagine that actually happening.  I feel like this book is going to have to show her battles actually happening, and I think that’ll make it lose something.

But.  I like the writing in here.  Doreen and her roommate read pretty well.  Kraven and random college kids too.  Everyone seems to have personality, and that’s a good start for a book.  I’m very torn on the art, though.  I know Squirrel Girl has never been mistaken for hot, but I feel like they went way over the top to make her look not hot here.

Maillaro:  Yeah, I was thinking a lot about the changes to Squirrel Girl’s look when I read this book.  She has never been a hot character, which is a good thing.  DIVERSITY.  But, I did think that most of the time she was drawn to be cute.  The changes in her look were a huge departure, and I’m not sure it was any real benefit.

Weaver: That’s where I was going.  I like having some comic characters that aren’t ultra hot, just like real life.  That’s why the “Disney princess Marrow” phase bothered me, when she started out looking all hardcore and suddenly became this pretty girl because the artist changed.  Squirrel Girl always looked different, but now she looks almost like a caricature, and that’s not just an expression of the art’s cartoony style.

Maillaro: Right, because all the other characters in the book looked kind of normal.  Actually, I thought Kraven looked real bad ass in this one.  I did laugh when they were trying to figure out what was up with the lion head on Kraven’s vest.

I did think a lot of the jokes in this one fell a little short.  I did get quite  some laughs but the Kraven vest is the only one that really sticks with me later on.

That said, there was still a good story here, and I thought the way she defeated Kraven was kind of clever.   “You want to prove yourself to be a hunter, stop chasing spiders and squirrels.  There are giant whale-men under the ocean.  Go fight them instead.”

Hey, did they ever explain why Kraven was there in the first place?  I did think that was a little odd.

Weaver: Nope.  Kraven was just there to be there.  Which is fine in limited doses, I didn’t have a big problem with it.  New York has eleventy billion supervillains, sometimes one of them must just be swinging around somewhere random.

Maillaro: I was just thinking that maybe he had been looking for Spider-Man, who was also an Empire State University student…a long time ago.   Poor Kraven.

Weaver: There were other jokes that stuck with me, particularly Doreen’s attempts to tell people that she wasn’t a superhero (who had no idea she might be a superhero), but the lion head is the best.  Because I’ve always wondered that too.

The story is fine for what it is, it sets up the cast and the situations, and throws in a combat sequence with a wandering monster for spice.  But there wasn’t much about this book that would make me recommend it over any other jokey comic.

Maillaro:  I am not even sure how to rate the art on this book.  It really deserves two different scores.   I thought everyone else looked really cool, a nice semi-cartoonish style.  BUT, the main character was a little too far slanted into ridiculousness.  Since she’s featured heavily in the comic, I think that means I have to weigh my score down some.

And I still think the tiny yellow letting for the commentary was a horrible design choice.

Weaver: The tiny yellow lettering was a bad idea.  I quickly found it not really worth it, also.  If you’re going to do something like that, make it worth my effort.

It’s a tough comic to grade, for sure.  You can look at a lot of things it does right…but the things it does wrong are pretty off-putting.  In the balance, does it do more right than wrong?  I’ll say yes on the story, with a 3 of 5, and a no on the art, with a 2 of 5.

Maillaro: I can’t bring myself to quite go that low on the art.  I actually did enjoy the style through most of the book.  Even if Squirrel Girl’s “new” look still bugs me.   I think I would give it a pair of 3’s.

That said, I don’t see myself picking up the next issue.  There just wasn’t enough here to really grab me as a reader.   That is actually the biggest problem with a done-in-one story.   It’s real easy for me to move on if the comic didn’t totally grab me.  I actually probably enjoyed this better than Spider-Man and the X-Men’s first issue, but I am willing to pick up the second issue there to see the whole story.


Adventure Comics #306

Written by: Otto Binder, Henry Boltinoff, Edmond Hamilton
Art by:  Henry Boltinoff, John Forte,  George Papp
Cover by:  Curt Swan

Published by: DC
Cover Price: 12 cents ($1.99 on Comixology)

Maillaro: Quick note, there were no credits inside this issue, so I am taking Comixology’s word on who wrote and drew this comic.  There were two stories in this one, I have no idea who wrote or drew which part.

Weaver: If only we had the wealth of mankind’s information at our fingertips.  Binder and Papp did the Superboy lead, Hamilton and Forte did the Legion back-up.  Boltinoff apparently did small humor strips as filler in DC comics of this era, and his strip isn’t presented in Comixology’s reprint.

Maillaro: Perfect, thanks!

Weaver:  So let’s start with the lead, which hilariously…Superboy was Adventure’s lead story, but when it gets reprinted, people are much more interested in the Legion back-ups.  They don’t even bother to recolor Superboy’s story.

I think a main reason for these becoming the secondary story in our view is that they’re very formulaic.  Introduce problem.  Have Lana almost figure out Clark is Superboy.  Superboy solves problem.  Story over.

Maillaro: One thing I have always loved about DC comics from the 60’s is that they usually start with one big splash page summarizing what’s going to happen in the comic you are about to read.

These pages are always really fun for me to read.  In fact, like some covers from the time period, I tend to think they are the best part of the story.  The stories rarely are quite as cool as the covers and teaser page promise they will be.   Like you said, Superboy stories at the time were real formulaic.

I did like the idea that Mxyzptlk was messing with Supes because it was part of his school’s curriculum. Peter David would later do a similar story in an early issue of Young Justice which I have always liked.

Weaver:  It wasn’t exclusive to DC, although DC tended to make the most hay with it.  It’s interesting to think about how covers kind of devolved from this point…it went from over explaining to showing a scene in situ with a few words (or word balloons) to showing a scene in situ with little to no explanation to just being pin up shots of the characters.  We joke about the teasers for teasers for trailers in the movie industry, but comics does basically the same.  They know there’s an audience already interested in laying money down, there’s not a big need to convince people to buy any one particular issue.

I liked that it was part of the 5th dimension high school’s curriculum, but what I liked even more is that when Superboy ended up over there, he totally wrecked the curve for everyone.  Also, just as an aside, who asks someone to read a dedication to a cake for themselves?  Congratulations, me!

Maillaro: To be fair, they seem to have no problem putting lead covers on the cakes, so there could be some brain damage…

Also, Superboy has a real weak grasp on the scientific method.   He sees one car talking and immediately says, “All machines in Smallville are talking.”  Sure, he’s right…of course he is…he is Superboy after all.  But he had no way of knowing that from just the one example.

I am mostly teasing.  I actually really enjoyed this story.  It was campy and ridiculous, but it was also a lot of fun.

Weaver: Super hearing, duh!  But yeah, I feel the same way.  This was Silver Age DC at its standard levels of camp, and while I don’t always enjoy the 5th dimension imp stuff, it was played well here.  The art was easy to follow, the story made enough sense in a 1960’s sort of way, and it was fun.  I like when comics don’t have to have a lot of brooding for the sake of brooding.

It is what it is, and a great example of what it is.  I’d give it a 3 in story and 4 in art, because what it is isn’t the Mona Lisa or anything, but it handles what it handles.

Maillaro: I’m going to be a lot more generous.  It has 12 pages to tell a complete story, and I think it did it very well.   4 for story.   The art was nothing special, but like you said, it did it’s job.   4 is very reasonable there.

Weaver: I’ll be honest.  I had 4 written for story for the longest time, then decided that I really felt more 3, but that’s more from a modern perspective, and if I was reading this in 1968, it would be a 4 if not a 5.

So the back-up is what brought this comic to us, the Legion of Substitute Heroes.  One of my favorite auxiliary teams of all time…I actually like them more than the Legion of Super Heroes.  We see right from the get go that the Legion of Super Heroes are so popular and famous that they have a whole street dedicated to housing giant statues of them.

Enter: a number of people with powers that, actually, are similar to powers that have worked decent enough for other comic characters, but aren’t to Legion standards.  However, led by Polar Boy, they form their own subgroup in the hopes of still doing some good.  I love this.

Maillaro: I’ve been a Legion fan for a long time.  What always amazed me about Legion stories are that they are always real far ahead of their time.  While Superboy is telling goofy stories about extra-dimensional imps, Legion is focusing a lot on what it means to be a hero.

Like you said, for the most part, the Legion of Subs really do have powers that wouldn’t really make them out of place in the core Legion.  Hell, I want Polar Boy on my team way above Bouncing Boy, Matter Eater Lad, or Triplicate Girl…even if the last one does provide some great fantasy fodder.

How powerful or not powerful these guys are is not the point of this story.  They are truly heroes in every sense of the word, willing to sacrifice their own safety and well-being to help out, even if they won’t get much recognition for it.

Weaver: To me, it feels kind of like the main Legion is sort of a fraternity, and I think part of whether someone’s accepted or rejected depends on how the other Legionaires feel about them more than their power level or anything.  Plus, you’ve got Sun Boy voting down three characters that either couldn’t work well in combination with him personally or overlap slightly with his powers.  Sun Boy’s just in it for his own glory.  Jerk.

It’s a very good and well thought out story, and even though it doesn’t run long, it encompasses basically every step of the process.  Everyone gets at least one box where they talk about their origin, we manage to walk through the main recruitment process with Polar Boy, they build their base, they start to feel like it’s not worth it because the Legion will never need help, their despair is heightened by being beaten to two threats by the Legion, and then finally they get their big moment, kick its ass, then deliberately don’t make a big deal of it because they’re fine not getting credit.

I also liked that while Stone Boy is almost always played for laughs and even the other Substitutes are all, “What the heck good will that ever be?” and then he gets his big hero moment.  Great stuff.

Can you imagine getting this much story in these few pages now?  Never happen.

Maillaro: You’re forgetting, we also got an individual origin story for each member of the team.  By the end of the story, you know these characters very well, who they are, what they do, and why they matter.  And the team is fully assembled and moving forward on their goals.  Hell, these guys even built their own ship because of how determined Polar Boy was as a leader.

AND, this was all in just half the length of a normal comic story!

The real sad part?  The Legion weren’t even on the cover of this book, but they got the longer and far better story.

Weaver: Well, to be fair, the Legion themselves hadn’t been around real long yet.  At least as far as having their own stories.  Adventure #300 was the first specific Legion story, as opposed to being guest stars in Superboy stories.  Superboy is still the draw in 1968.

But on the strength of these early Legion stories, it’s easy to see why they became a draw on their own. Never a huge draw, but a draw nonetheless.  The style of this comic wouldn’t be out of place in the 80’s or 90’s, although in the 90’s Polar Boy would have tattoos and Night Girl would have a bunch of pouches and have half her ass hanging out of her costume.  Also, Polar Boy would probably tell the Legion where they could stuff their rejection notice.

This has the awareness of a Bronze or Modern Age comic, and the positivity of a Silver Age comic.  I really can’t say enough how great this story is.  And the opposite of decompression.  Some characters are detailed more than others, with Polar Boy and Night Girl getting the main spotlight, but you’re right, we know who they all are and why they’re doing what they’re doing right away.  Further Substitute stories would shed even more light on them, my favorite being a story where Night Girl is offered a position on the main Legion, and ends up rejecting it because she believes so much in what Polar Boy and the others are doing and doesn’t want to abandon her friends.

Maillaro: It’s been a real long time since I read this story, but it is definitely one of my favorites.  Sadly, DC has been real slow about doing more digital Legion books.  And trades are even harder to come by.  I had been buying the Archive editions, but even if you got a good deal on them back in the day, you were still paying at least $30 a book…usually closer to $50.   When you asked if this was available digitally, I really had no idea.   I am glad to see they are finally doing more and more Legion stories.  Though, they should charge 99 cents, not 2 bucks.  It’s still a pretty niche title.

Weaver: Back in my day…ugh, back in my day.  Anyway.  When I was a kid, I got these stories as part of DC’s digests.  Adventure Comics became a digest comic that contained a bunch of stories assembled from various old DC comics, mainly Adventure itself, but other stuff too.  It was cheap, it had multiple stories, it was great bang for your buck.  Actually, back then, “reprint comics” were a big deal, and sold pretty well.

Maillaro: Makes sense.  It was a very different market.  No trade paperbacks, No comic shops, no real consistency in being able to get your comics month to month, and people rarely saved their comics like they do now.  So, if you wanted to read again, a cheap digest edition was the way to go.  Hell, Archie is still using that retail model now to some success.

Scores?

Weaver: You know I have to give the story a 5.  It was phenomenal.  These characters got more development in half a comic than, say, any individual member in Captain America and the Adjective Avengers that we reviewed a while back.  The art…I’ll say 4.  Did what it needed to do, but wasn’t particularly distinguished, and I felt like the alien worlds could look a little more alien.  And the Legion statues creep me out, but that’s not the artist’s fault.

Maillaro: I actually think the statues being creepy was kind of intentional.  I loved the tree aliens, especially watching dozens of them trying to pile on Stone Boy.  But yeah, there wasn’t a lot here to make anything really stand out as alien.  Granted, they were working with small panels and a limited page count, but I am not sure that is a legitimate excuse.   In the first story, they did a great job showing how alien the 5th Dimension was, down to the housing and the clothing.  I thought that was a real nice touch.

The story could not have been better.  I will go with your scores on this.  5 for the writing, 4 for the art.


Maillaro: So…next time.  I have a really fun idea that you will appreciate.  A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Weaver: A period of civil war in the galaxy?

Maillaro: Next week Marvel is launching their new Star Wars line with Star Wars #1.  How about we review the new Star Wars #1 and the original Star Wars #1 from Marvel many, many moons ago?  I actually have the original as a PDF from Humble Bundle.

Weaver:  Sold.  I liked the old Star Wars comic.  And yay, Star Wars mania again.

Maillaro: I had random issues of the original, but oddly enough, never issue 1.  See you all next time!


Final Scores

Maillaro – Story (out of 5) Weaver – Story (out of 5) Maillaro – Art (out of 5) Weaver – Art (out of 5)
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 3 3 3 2
Adventure Comics #306 – Superboy Vs Myx 4 3 4 4
Adventure Comics #306 – Legion of Substitute Heroes 5 5 4 4

 

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