Friday, October 2, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl)

Guys. Guys. It has come to my attention that Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl, has never been the subject of a Strong Female Character Friday.* What's up with that? She's totally amazing and awesome and worth talking about! So we're going to fix that right now.

If the names "Doreen Green" and "Squirrel Girl" conjure up nothing for you but a general sense that maybe something has gone horribly wrong down at animal control,  I have news for you. Not only is Squirrel Girl one of Marvel's best-selling and best-reviewed comics of the past year, the title character will also be getting a massive promotion this fall to being a full-fledged Avenger. That's right, the Avengers is about to have a pint-sized squirrel dynamo on their team. And there are very few things that make me happier.

You would, however, be forgiven for not really getting why this is so wonderful. Up until the past year or so, Squirrel Girl was considered a D-level superhero at best. Making her first appearance in The Marvel Superheroes Winter Special in 1992, Doreen Green is a mutant who happens to have the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, as well as a big bushy squirrel tail. 

It seems she was created mostly as an in-joke in the Marvel universe, but she eventually came to be a member of a superhero group called "The Great Lakes Avengers" and later moved to New York to be a nanny to Jessica Jones' and Luke Cage's daughter.

The funny bit about Squirrel Girl, the part that's always made her sort of a footnote and kind of always a punchline, is that she's secretly one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. Between her heightened strength and speed and her ability to communicate with squirrels and rally them into a giant squirrel army, Squirrel Girl has actually taken down more big-league bad guys than pretty much anyone else. She has also beaten up all of the Avengers multiple times.

And this is a storyline that continues into her current incarnation. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl saw Doreen fighting such heavies as Whiplash and Kraven the Hunter and Galactus, all with an impeccable success rate. As in she defeated all of them. She defeated Galactus. Tell me again how Squirrel Girl isn't one of the most powerful superheroes in the world.

But what makes Doreen such a cool character is actually that while she can physically defeat most of these guys on her own or with the help of her squirrel army, she doesn't actually want to. Most of the time Squirrel Girl prefers to defeat her enemies with, well, logic. 

Like she explains to one of the low-level bad guys robbing a bank in New York that he could actually get a lot farther finding a way to harness his superpowers with a regular job. She even gives him a referral to get work with a construction crew downtown. Or how she defeats Kraven the Hunter by giving him something scarier (and more evil) to hunt than just her or Spiderman.

I mean, she takes down Galactus by figuring out that he's actually just really hungry and that what he needs is a lot of protein. So Squirrel Girl and her sidekick, the squirrel Tippy-Toe, take Galactus to a recently discovered planet of nuts, where they all gorge on delicious nuts and then take a nap.

Obviously the Squirrel Girl stories are a lot more lighthearted than your usual superhero stories. Even the plots where Doreen has to go up against her friends, like when they've been brainwashed by an evil Asguardian chaos squirrel (not kidding, actual plot), she does it with good cheer and an unfailing sense of humor. She's not afraid to tell people when they're being jerks, but she also doesn't let it get to her.

There's something so commendable about Doreen's whole attitude in life. Like, she has a giant bushy tail that she has to hide so she can go to college, right? So she stuffs it in her pants and realizes that it makes her look like she has a giant butt. Awesome! Or she realizes that the angle she's posing in makes her thighs look huge. Right on! Someone says that she's really weird for talking to squirrels. They don't know what they're missing, squirrels are amazing!

Doreen is so sure of who she is, so comfortable in her own skin, that it's honestly inspiring. She's not chipper to the point of being obnoxious, or maybe she is, but she's genuinely good-natured and warm-hearted because she loves herself and is therefore capable of really loving other people.

She collects friends and allies like other people collect bad reputations, and the general consensus in the Marvel world is that Doreen Green might be over-enthusiastic and kind of crazy, but she's an amazing person to have on your side.

That doesn't mean she's perfect, though. Doreen's still kind of a dork with a lot of strange habits and foibles. She's terrible at remembering to ask for permission and she can't pick up a hint to save her life. The start of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl finds her living in the attic of Avengers Tower, leading to the interesting realization that Avengers Tower apparently has an attic, but also that there's a random teenage girl squatting there. She didn't ask for permission to stay, she just kind of made sure she never got caught and then didn't leave.

Later in the series she actually breaks back into Avengers Tower and steals some of Tony's Iron Man suits so she can fly to the moon - it's not a horrible heinous crime and she does give them back, but it shows that Doreen can be kind of single-minded when she's trying to save the world. She assumes that everyone is as dedicated and energetic and happy as she is, and so you can see how she might rub some people the wrong way.

But not me. I love her. 

I love her because here is this woman who is so unapologetically herself, who is so comfortable in who she is, that she very literally changes the world. People have commented that it really feels like Squirrel Girl, more than any other Marvel comic, feels like it exists in its own little pocket universe. Like the events of the stories there, the sun-soaked streets of New York, the way everyone deserves a second chance and most villains can be reasoned with, doesn't fit with the rest of comics. It must be another world entirely.

The thing is, it's not. We know that from Marvel on high, but also because that way of thinking, the assumption that any universe where Squirrel Girl is one of the most powerful people in the world must be a very strange place, is kind of insulting. The more accurate interpretation, I feel, is that Doreen's positivity and belief in the inherent goodness of people actually changes the world around her.

I also really adore how she is able to help villains because she comes in with the assumption that they don't want to be evil, they just aren't sure how to get what they actually want or need. Now, even in her own comic this doesn't always end up being true, but it's such an attitude shift from the way that even really great heroes like Thor and Captain America view their villains that it's worth commenting on. 

In a lot of ways Squirrel Girl reminds me of the Flash in the 1990s Justice League cartoon. His villains were always kind of good-natured about being caught because they respected and liked Flash, and Flash in turn was always gentle and good to them and tried to figure out how to help them as people.

I like this approach because it makes clear the understanding that crime isn't something that happens in a vacuum. For most people, criminal action is the last resort. It's something you do when you have no other option. Doreen Green gets that. She believes that most people want to make the right choices, so when she fights crime it's with the idea of making it easier for people to do the right thing. I think we could all use a little more Doreen in our lives, don't you?

The title of her series, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, refers to a lot more than just Doreen's fighting prowess and habit of taking down ridiculously powerful supervillains. I think it's more about her attitude. Like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Squirrel Girl is defined by her attitude. You cannot beat Doreen. You cannot beat her down or make her feel bad about herself or make her give up on her friends. You cannot beat her. 

And it's just so wonderful to see a character like that who is also just a young woman going about her regular life. She's a college student, studying database management in computer studies. She has friends and a crush on a cute boy she met at the student fair and she likes looking pretty and having fun. But she's also a superhero who wants to save the world and more importantly can. Those things are not mutually exclusive. 

Squirrel Girl's attitude and life send the message that it is possible to live a life completely in harmony with itself. Not every superhero has to be tortured and traumatized inside. Not everyone needs a dark and gritty backstory. Sometimes there are just good people. Sometimes those good people are a little kooky and wear acorns for earrings and talk to squirrels out on the quad, but you know what? Good for them.

Squirrel Girl is one of those comics I really want any future children I have to grow up reading. Both for her confidence and for her belief that everyone deserves another chance, I want my kids (if I have any) to be like her. Doreen Green is a wonderful human being. She's strong inside and out, but more importantly she's kind. I can't think of any superhero I'd rather have save me.

I love you. Never change.
*As the main writer of this website, I'm aware that I should probably actually know these things off the top of my head and not need other people to tell me, but in my defense, there are over 800 articles on here and it's been running for four years. I lose track, okay?