A few weeks ago, word broke that Marvel had finally cast their Squirrel Girl for Freeform’s upcoming 2018 TV series New Warriors. Never a part of the team (to my knowledge) in the comics, Squirrel Girl will join Night Thrasher, Speedball, Microbe, Debrii, and Mister Immortal in this “live action scripted comedy” about “young people learning to cope with their abilities in a world where bad guys can be as terrifying as bad dates.” As someone who loves The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I’ve been chatting with family and friends about what I hope will carry over from the comics to the live action version of Doreen Green. Then I thought, Hey Michael! You should write this down and turn it into a post too! So here are those very hopes and dreams for Milana Vayntrub’s Squirrel Girl!
First, I should say I loved the New Warriors as a kid! Honestly, after the Fantastic Four, they were my favorite superhero team, hands down. There was no contest. I had and read every New Warriors comic from issue #1 until issue #75 which came out in September of 1996. I also read the Nova solo series from 1993-94. Everything about the comic felt fresh, fun, and exciting to me. So the idea of this series, merging two comics I’ve loved, is pretty exciting to me! With that being said, the only members of the team I recognize from the show’s lineup (with the obvious exception of Squirrel Girl (who I never knew to be a New Warrior (but has been a Great Lakes Avenger (and a New Avenger (and a U.S.Avenger))))) are Night Thrasher and Speedball. I have no idea who Mister Immortal, Debrii, and Microbe are. Sure, I could go read some comics to figure it out and see how they all fit into the New Warriors but I think I’d rather just wait for the show. And really, my main concern is the series’ depiction of Squirrel Girl anyway. She’s the one who’s the most important to me here!
Since my return to reading comic books The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has become the one comic I can’t imagine living without. She wasn’t even on my radar when I went back into my local comic shop in the fall of 2015. At the time I was most interested in exploring Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and Jane Foster as Thor (both comics I still love!). However, it wasn’t long until Squirrel Girl had stolen my heart and earned my respect. Even if I was to abandon comic collecting all together again, as long as Ryan North and Erica Henderson were creating it, I’d still read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Across all genres, in everything I’ve ever read – from novels to short stories to plays to comics – I’ve never found anything else that feels remotely like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It’s one-of-a-kind. Nothing I read is more enjoyable or more important to me than this comic. It radiates joy, champions intelligence, and encourages empathy, compassion, and friendship. All that and it’s laugh-out-loud funny too! So, I’m naturally kinda invested in how they’ll depict her on this show.
I’ll admit, given how deeply I love Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, there’s a chance I won’t be able to watch New Warriors. I want to! But…I don’t know. No matter how many people tell me how incredible the show is, I can’t watch Outlander on Starz because Diana Gabaldon’s novels mean too much to me. I know no show could ever capture what I feel in my heart when I read them so I’d only be disappointed. The same is true whenever I hear of a possible film version of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Should that come to pass, I can say with absolute certainty I will never, ever see it. No other book is as important to my life, my heart, and my soul as The Alchemist. No film can ever come close to approximating what I experience when I read the novel. Knowing this, I won’t see a film that can only cheapen what moves through me when I read Coelho’s words again and again and again. I know the book is always better but, in some cases, the book is the only option for me.
So maybe I’ll never watch New Warriors, happy to experience Doreen Green as Ryan North and Erica Henderson have given her to me. BUT, should I give it a try, what do I want to see? Getting our Unbeatable Squirrel Girl right is a tricky thing. She is utterly unique to our popular culture in the combination of her tone, values, appearance, humor, and heart. As Shannon and Dean Hale write in their introduction to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe (her first original graphic novel!), “Now, while it’s true that Squirrel Girl is fun, it’s also true that she matters. She matters not only because she has the powers of a squirrel, but because she has the powers of a girl. We love heroes who can thwack and klock their way out of any battle – big muscly men with hammers and shields and body armor who can destroy spaceships and stop alien invasions. But it’s also so awesome to get to see this girl – a short-haired, thick-thighed, computer science major with no va-va voom about her – just step up and kick butt. When she’s not simply talking the criminals out of committing their crimes in the first place.”
I’m pleased with the casting of Milana Vayntrub as the actress to play Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. She certainly has talent to do the job right! She also has the heart and compassionate awareness to present the most central parts of Doreen’s character authentically onscreen too. On 19th of July she published an essay for In Style about her experience fleeing the Soviet Union as a child with her family to escape Anti-Semitic persecution in the 80’s. She wrote not just of her own personal experience but connected the piece to what’s going on in Syria, being a voice for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our world and calling her readers to open their eyes and help others in need. It’s an informed and moving piece which I highly recommend you read. Her compassionate awareness of the world around her echoes the spirit of Squirrel Girl. So I think Milana Vayntrub could be our girl!
Ultimately, however, it all comes down to the direction they want to go with her character. I am confident that Milana Vayntrub can give us a faithful version of Squirrel Girl on our TVs…but will the show runners give her a faithful version of Squirrel Girl to play?? This is the real question.
Let’s start with the look. In Doreen Green, Erica Henderson has created a female character who is cute and attractive without being a shallow male sex fantasy. Her style – from her hair to her clothes, civilian and super suit alike – all show us a woman who’s confident, cute, fun, and feminine without being presented in an overtly and intentionally sexualized and objectifying way – a lesson as important for her male readers as it is for her female readers. To state the obvious, Hollywood likes to sexualize their female characters. So how will New Warriors approach Doreen’s style? Will they honor the character we all know and love? Or will they try to sexualize her in costume, clothes, or attitude? I hope they have the courage to buck cultural trends and give us the Doreen Green we see in her comic as that’s an important part of what makes her so special.
More important than her physical appearance though is the heart and tone of her character. Let’s start with her spirit. Squirrel Girl has pluck. I know that’s a word you don’t hear often anymore but it just seems the best way to put it. I’m sure if you’re a regular reader of the Squirrel Girl series (or at least if you’re a regular reader of Squirrel Girl who experience art in the same way I do) you’ll agree. Squirrel Girl has pluck. In addition to her pluck, she has “sweet punching skills.” While she rarely uses them to solve her problems, she’s “unbeatable” for a reason. Squirrel Girl’s also a very acrobatic hero, leaping from trees to buildings and the like – think Spider-Man but with a fluffy tale. In this show, I want to see her bounding and bouncing courageously (or dare I say…pluckily?) through her adventures!
Even more important than her pluck and/or fighting skills though is her intelligence. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is uncompromisingly intelligent. In addition to discussing all manner of programming and computer science concepts, the comic has explored Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ennui, the Social Contract Theory, counting on your hands in binary, the principles of nihilism, and even Physics concepts like Galileo’s Square-Cube Law. And all of these things are presented accurately and with detail. A Doreen Green without her education isn’t Doreen Green. It’s not just casual conversation or classroom scenes where her intelligence is on display either. Every time she finds herself fighting an opponent she can’t help, befriend, or talk out of doing crimes, she beats them with her mind. Knowledge of biology, zoology, electrical current, and physics are employed to defeat her foes as opposed to simply punching them until they don’t get back up. We, as a culture, often shy away from the academic in our entertainment so this worries me. Will New Warriors challenge its viewers to embrace the academic as the comic does? Yes, Doreen has a lot of rapid-fire witty banter and an excited zest for life that comes out in her dialogue but if she isn’t showcasing her brilliance too then it’s not her.
Most important of all though is the fact that Doreen Green rarely solves her conflicts with her enemies by fighting. As I wrote in my 100th post – Squirrel Girl’s Subversive Genius – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the only comic out there that has a bold, fast, fun, funny, hero who regularly subverts the myth of redemptive violence. There’s no pretense that we can solve the world’s problems with our fists in this comic. Rather Doreen empathizes. She listens. She legitimately cares about whoever she’s fighting from Hippo the Hippo to the Mole Man to Kraven the Hunter to “friggin’ Galactus.” She talks with people. Most of all, she’s always excited to make new friends! If New Warriors is a run-of-the-mill monster-a-week sort of show they’ll have completely missed the point. To honestly capture Squirrel Girl, she needs to be befriending and helping the “villains” on this show far more than she’s fighting them. I’d say, off the top of my head, I’d like to see a 4:1 ratio for helping over hitting. That seems workable right? If I’m being honest, this is probably the facet of her character I’m most concerned about. I just can’t imagine a superhero TV show that’s bold enough to show superheroes regularly engaging in real, compassionate, empathetic conflict resolution as opposed to punching and kicking a bunch of bad guys. I hope, hope, hope I’m wrong! But I don’t know…
Lastly, if they’ve captured Doreen Green right, watching the show should be a joyful experience! It is 100% guaranteed that reading The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl every month will make me happy. The smile spreads, the gut-laughs commence, and my mood brightens. To have something in life that you know will always make you laugh and pick you up while also warming your heart is a special sort of gift. It’s not a straight comedy. It’s not a Hallmark-sap fest. But The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is consistently the funniest, most intelligent, most compassionate comic book I read. If I’m not turning off New Warriors every week feeling joy radiate through my being then something’s gone wrong.
I grant this is a lot to ask of a TV show. I’m thirty-five years old and I’ve only ever found this combination of awesomeness in the pages of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. As I said above, this comic book and this character – as understood and presented by Ryan North and Erica Henderson – is unique in our popular culture. I don’t know if New Warriors can authentically capture all she is but I hope they at least try to do her justice. We are all better for having Doreen Green and what she represents in our culture. We’d be even better off if more books/shows/movies sought to emulate her vision and her message! As to New Warriors, even if they fail (or don’t even try), we can still take solace in knowing we have Doreen Green – with all her empathy, intelligence, wit, and joy – there for us each month in the pages of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to show us a better way to live and make us better people for the joy we share. TV show or not, that’s pretty much the greatest thing ever in time.