Meet Squirrel Girl, The Marvel Hero on Everyone's Lips

Now Shannon Purser is up against Anna Kendrick to play the hero who eats nuts, kicks butts.
Erica Henderson/Marvel Entertainment
Now Shannon Purser is up against Anna Kendrick to play the hero who eats nuts, kicks butts.

First it was Anna Kendrick who wanted to take on the role. Now it's Stranger Things Star Shannon Purser. Marvel's Squirrel Girl is apparently the new hot superhero in Hollywood, despite the fact that the studio hasn't announced any live-action production featuring the character. For the uninitiated, even the name "Squirrel Girl" might sound like a joke, so clearly it's worth answering the question: Who is the unbeatable hero who eats nuts and kicks butts?

The simple facts, first: Squirrel Girl debuted in 1992's Marvel Super-Heroes No. 8 as the comic foil for Iron Man in a short story plotted and illustrated by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Will Murray provided the script and created the character ahead of time, basing her on an ex-girlfriend who was "into critters." It was an impressive debut; although she irritated and confused Iron Man — "I can do anything a real squirrel can do … Jump. Climb. Hop," she explained — she also managed to defeat the Fantastic Four's arch-nemesis Doctor Doom with the help of an army of squirrels. Not many heroes could make that claim.

After that debut appearance, however, she faded into limbo until Dan Slott and Paul Pelletier revived the character as part of their G.L.A. miniseries in 2005. G.L.A. stood for "Great Lakes Avengers"; the series, which spawned a number of spinoffs and guest appearances in other comics, was a superhero parody that delighted in skewing tropes and conventions of the genre, and proved to be a successful spotlight for Squirrel Girl. Soon enough — in 2011 — she was added to the cast of the New Avengers series, where she became the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby daughter.

It wasn't until the launch of 2014's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, however, that the character really came into her own. Under the guidance of writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson, Squirrel Girl has become a genuine rarity in contemporary superhero comics: a positive, optimistic hero who embraces all the goofiness and silliness about the fantastic reality in which she exists (When faced with a new threat, she checks her trading card collection to learn about them), and emerges victorious because she'd rather think her way through a problem — and befriend a potential enemy — than get into a needless fight.

The combination of North and Henderson brought a newfound sincerity not only to Squirrel Girl, but to the greater Marvel Universe. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is unmistakably a funny comic book — even if plots that include time travel rewriting reality when someone invents an iPod in the 1960s didn't mark it as such, North's footnotes at the bottom of each page definitely would: "How much greater would the world be if Doctor Doom had stuck with his original name, 'Doctor Crazy Genius Science Wizard'?" he asks at one point. "I estimate: 5,000 percent, minimum" — but the humor doesn't come from snark about the character or what she represents, nor making fun of other comic books.

If the charm and wholeheartedness of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl could be brought to the big screen, it would be a superhero movie unlike any other live-action effort to date — imagine the irreverence of Deadpool with the heart of Big Hero 6, and you'd be halfway there. In many ways, it feels like a no-brainer for Marvel Studios to tackle as it tries to expand its brand beyond the self-aware adventure it currently offers, which might explain why the idea continues to come up. Marvel, the nut — I mean ball — is in your court.