This week saw the debut of what we’ll surely remember as two of the best #1 issues of the year, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 by writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson and Ant-Man #1 by writer Nick Spencer and artist Ramon Rosanas. These two books are responsible for selling pint-sized heroes to a larger audience in time for an upcoming movie in Ant-Man’s case and for the first time in the case of Squirrel Girl. Though they play up wildly different elements, both books make a case for why caring, their heroes’ greatest power, makes them unbeatable. Spoilers for both issues follow.
Squirrel Girl’s popularity has largely been centered around her main shtick of being a silly character that defeats everyone’s favorite bad guys in fights. There’s something joyous about getting to throw it in a fanboy’s face that his favorite villains, Doctor Doom and Thanos, lost to a character with the proportionate strength and speed of a squirrel (it’s canon no matter what anyone says). As we’re introduced to her in the first issue of her very first ongoing, Squirrel Girl is ready to give college the ol’, well, college try. She’s great at being a superhero but now it’s time for her to try something else that might not come so easily to her: computer science. And living an ordinary life in her secret identity as Doreen Green.
Doreen is met with two main challenges, only one of which she can punch without crossing over the moral even horizon: meeting her new roommate and fighting Kraven the Hunter. Her roommate is a little strange (read: quirky) and is moving her pet cat into their dorm room against the schools rules in addition to being a little standoffish. And Kraven… well, as you could say about must guys in leopard print capri pants, he’s made some poor life decisions that put him into conflict with our hero. As Squirrel Girl, Doreen gets into a fight with Kraven and, under her secret identity, she finds a way to make her living situation work but she manages to come out on top of both situations by using the same ability: her ability to care.
As she discovers from her handy-dandy trading cards, Squirrel Girl knows that Kraven’s big hang-up is on killing Spider-Man in order to prove that he can take down the most dangerous game and, through some unfortunate magical trickery, Kraven has been rendered functionally immortal. After initially fighting it out with their fists, Doreen stops the fight in order to attack the heart of the problem which is Kraven’s own feelings of inadequacy. Squirrel Girl is able to reason with Kraven that, although Spider-Man may have previously been the most dangerous game, there’s a whole new cadre of prey opened up to Kraven through his immortality. He can now start chasing after the sort of monstrous prey that live at the bottom of the ocean. It’s a cue taken from the ‘90s Spider-Man: The Animated Series in which the title character, ruled unable to punch his villains, often had to resort to talking out their problems.
Doreen also solves whatever roommate problems she may have had by leveling with her and admitting some of the things that might make her seem weird (namely her pet squirrel). In the end, the two resolve to get along and show signs of becoming friends. This shows readers why Doreen can’t be beaten: she knows when not to fight and to just let the caring side of her personality shine through.
Scott Lang, also known as Ant-Man, is a different story. He’s been beaten a lot in life and mostly by life. He’s been thrown in jail, killed, and lost his daughter. But each time Scott loses it’s like he’s really being given a chance to prove himself. When his career as a thief comes to an end, Scott leaps at the chance to become a superhero and do right by both his family and the world. When he was brought back from the dead, Scott went on to lead the FF in a time of need and became one of the few heroes able to say that he brought Doctor Doom to his knees. And when he lost his daughter… Well, he got her back. Sometimes life gives you second chances. Now, as detailed in the first issue of Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas’ ongoing series, Scott is ready to seize that second chance and make it count.
Given the opportunity to audition for the job of Tony Stark’s head of security, a position that would earn him an absolute fortune, Scott jumps at it because of what it can give him (mainly security and a sense of worth). His competition is stiff but Scott knows that this job means a better future for his daughter Cassie, one that he couldn’t possibly afford for her without it. Obtaining the job, though, requires Scott to fall back on his old skills as a master thief while utilizing his abilities as
the one and only one of various Ant-Men. It’s an enjoyable riff on Scott’s past and present coming together for a common goal and it creates a sort of smokescreen dilemma for the reader to observe: is Scott going to come down on the side of thief or superhero? Ultimately, he rejects both.
After winning Tony Stark’s competition and the job in New York, a surprise twist reveals that Scott’s ex-wife and his daughter Cassie will be moving to Florida in order to avoid the superhero lifestyle that had previously claimed the lives of both father and daughter. Scott’s new dilemma is simple: take the job and provide for his daughter and risk not being there for the most important moments of her life or give up the opportunity of a lifetime. Which does Scott choose? It’s not even a question which one he’s choosing. Scott may not have been the world’s greatest thief or even the world’s greatest Ant-Man as this issue argues but the one thing he’s always been the best at is being Cassie’s father. That’s who he’s choosing to be.
The issue ends with Scott ditching the job and flying off to Florida to be with his daughter, choosing to live in poverty while looking for other ways to provide for her. It doesn’t matter if Scott Lang wins a fight against a supervillain or impresses some rich jerk into giving him a job so long as at the end of the day he can shrink down and enjoy a movie with his daughter. It’s that singular intent, that purity of motive, that makes Scott Lang undefeated.
As far as I’m concerned, these are the two books to beat this year. They’re going to serve as a yard stick for all those that read them when it comes to a new superhero comic trying to impress readers. If I had to put money on it, I’d say nothing is going to come close to toppling these two exceptional heroes.