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Squirrel Girl and Me

Came across a passing reference today that reminded me of one of those odd coincidences in life and, because I have a ton of work to be getting on with and absolutely shouldn't be doing a whimsical blog entry, here's a whimsical blog entry about it.

Way back in about 1990, I was going to run a superhero RPG session and so was planning it out. It was going to be set in Manchester where I lived at the time, with an eye to immediacy and familiarity -- when the heroes punched a villain through a shop window, it would be possible to name the street and and the shop, and the players would know exactly where it was and how it looked. I was using the Golden Heroes ruleset from Games Workshop, dating from their pre-Warhammer niche marketing days. Awful name for a system (it's currently available under the name Squadron UK), but a good, playable game that does a good job with super powers as long as they don't get too cosmically scaled. My big bone of contention with the system was character generation was randomised with no balanced option for designing a character. Having something really unexpected landed upon you can be fun to play, but if a player desperately wants to run a Batman analogue and instead ends up with Ambush Bug, that's not ideal. Thus, I asked the players beforehand what they'd like to play and hand built the characters with an eye to them being more-or-less balanced. One player when I asked her, however, said "surprise me."

I tried the random system and didn't like it at all, so instead I decided to come up with an unlikely concept. It would be somebody animal-themed, and I decided to make it an animal that's actually pretty cool, yet somewhat underwhelming. Very quickly, "Squirrel Girl" started to come together. She was a scientist working on artificial limbs and neural interfaces, had come up with a compact exoskeleton for legs to assist those with muscular conditions, and -- as a side project -- a robotic prehensile tail that was actuated by impulses from the nerves we once used to control our own tails before we evolved out of them. She's invited to a fancy dress party, and decides to combine the two as a joke to create a deliberately unimpressive superhero. Naturally, she never gets to the party but ends up thwarting a crime en route, an unconscious echo of what I later realised was the '60s origin story of the Batgirl.

I liked her a lot as a character and a few years later when between jobs, I pitched a comic book series based on her and the team of which she is a member to Malibu Comics. They were interested and told me to resubmit when they were deciding their next round of titles in a few months. Unhappily, it never happened as by then I was working for a company that was a (non-comics) rival to Malibu. Malibu never really got any wind into its sales (Yes, that's a pun, not a misspelling. Shut up), and ended up being bought out by Marvel. Shame, as it had some good titles ("Firearm" in particular). Still, Squirrel Girl and her team stayed in my memory and I occasionally thought about pitching them to another company.

Then a two or three years ago, I was flicking through a magazine in the dentist's waiting room and came across an article about underwhelming superheroes. Lo and behold, there was Squirrel Girl. I think I may have stood up in consternation. I was certainly surprised enough to.

There wasn't much information about her, and the article was predictably snide, so I did a bit of research. It turns out that she turned up as a one-off in a Marvel adventure involving Iron Man and Doctor Doom, plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko, no less. In it, Squirrel Girl surprises Iron Man and asks to be his sidekick. He dismisses her as ridiculous, but then is promptly captured by Doom along with Squirrel. Doctor Doom disregards Squirrel Girl as no threat, which turns out to be a big mistake because she then uses her squirrel powers (she's a mutant as opposed to my technological variant) to summon a zillion squirrels that mob Doom and chew the wiring of his aircraft to pieces. Doom retreats in confusion. Oh, yes. She defeats Doctor Doom, one of the biggest bads of the Marvel universe.

She was then forgotten about for ten years or so before returning and proceeding to hand the arses of many more of Marvel's baddest of bads to them on silver platters. The Mandarin, MODOK, even Thanos, the mega-villain lurking in the wings of The Avengers movie and, one assumes, the sequel. She even beat the Wolverine in a fair fight.

Spookily enough, as far as I can make out, my submission to Malibu was with them at about the time Squirrel Girl first appeared in a Marvel title. There's no possibility of plagiarism, I hasten to add; her Marvel appearance will have been in the pipeline for months before she appeared, so there's no chance Ditko could possibly have heard about it in some staggeringly unlikely sequence of events, incestuous as the comics industry is (a trait common throughout creative jobs).

The long and the short of it is that it's simply a coincidence, albeit a very lovely one. I always liked my version of Squirrel Girl, and the thought that there's an alternative dimension version of her out there, leaping from tree to tree and fighting crime, is pleasing. I especially like that her persona seems to be a little like the benched Stephanie Brown Batgirl, one of my favourite comic book heroes of all time.

If you'd like to know more about the Marvel Squirrel Girl, there's a Wiki entry for her here, and some nice blog stuff with lots of images here.

And, yes, I still want to do my odd superheroes comic. Publishers, you know where to find me.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
16th Aug, 2013 15:18 (UTC)
You and Ditko were probably BOTH influenced by the Duran Duran video "Squirrels on Film"
16th Nov, 2016 03:06 (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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Jonathan L Howard

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