What on Infinite Earths are: Hellcat and Squirrel Girl?
The two comics that I am discussing this month have a few connecting themes. Both of them are ostensibly superhero stories, both of them have writers who established themselves working in the more free-form waters of the internet, both of them have a different focus from the mainstream and both of them have some of the strongest grass-roots fandoms that I have ever come across.
I have been giving Marvel a bit of a hard time this last month, both for their decision to make Captain America into a neo-nazi and their choice to lead into a second Civil War event in the same way that they escalated the first one, by murdering a black superhero. But one of the things that they have been doing right is the new Ms Marvel. A book about a teenage Muslim girl living in New Jersey and coping with both her personal life and the new powers that allow her to pursue a career as a super hero. It is taking Marvel back to its Spiderman/everyman roots and throws just enough silly twists into the mix to keep the whole thing fun instead of laden with heavy handed drama like so many of their other ongoing series. I am not here to talk about Ms Marvel, but picking up the first couple of trade paperbacks may make you fall back in love with the whole genre.
Further across the spectrum from Ms Marvel, moving rapidly away grim seriousness, we find Squirrel Girl and Hellcat aka Patsy Walker.
Of the two my heart firmly belongs to Kate Leth’s pun loving feline heroine, it cleanly incorporates the tricky past of the character as both an Archie-style teen romance comic and her adult life as a magically themed superhero while finding a perfect balance between her heroics and her personal life. There is drama as well as humour in Hellcat but there is never the pretense of any danger to the characters. There is no heavy handed threat of violence and death because that is not the kind of story we are reading. The majority of the villains that Patsy encounters become her friends and allies by the end of their arc. She met her new room-mate when she stopped him from robbing an armoured truck and she starts up a temp agency for people with powers staffed almost entirely by her rogues gallery. Most of the drama comes from tension in her private life rather than any death-ray wielding super villain and even when elements of risk appear they are treated with brevity.
Further over still into the realm of absurdity we find Pete North’s Squirrel Girl. Another relatively minor superhero who nonetheless uses her powers of slightly enhanced strength, agility and the ability to speak to squirrels to take on some of the most powerful villains in the universe, tackling foes all the way up to the planet devouring Galactus. As a slightly more bombastic character she is willing to use violence to resolve her problems but more often than not much of the heavy lifting is left to her rodent allies. The fact that the character has an adorably excitable yet slightly off-kilter personality thanks to her time as a superhero only helps to seal the deal.
This new wave of superhero comics that understand that they do not need to take themselves or their genre seriously to still be serious entertainment are a joy when compared to the grim darkness that other lines are pushing as the new normalcy. Squirrel Girl, Hellcat and even Ms Marvel are dragging superhero stories back into the middle ground between gritty realism and farcical fantasy and I could not be more excited to be here in the midst of it reading them.