Aside from a brief phase in my early teens when I read the British Punisher reprints (backed with a black-and-white adaptation of the original Robocop movie), I’ve never been much of a “Marvel man”… but the slew of live-action blockbusters (on screens big and small), coupled with the glowing eulogies paid to Stan Lee in the wake of his passing, have made me wonder what I’ve been missing out on all these, er, decades. As an aspiring feminist, and established Dove Cameron fan, I figured the recently-released Marvel Rising cartoons might be the best way for me to get an overview of some of the company’s more popular female headliners… and, to cut straight to my road-to-Damascus-moment, I am now crushing super-hard on “Squirrel Girl”!
The franchise kicked-off with Initiation, a six-part short-form-series focussing on “Ghost-Spider” (Cameron), a web-slinging teen-superhero (wrongly) accused of murdering her civilian-alter-ego’s best-friend! Hot on her trail are two youthful S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, “Patriot” (Kamil McFadden) and “Quake” (Chloe Bennet, reprising her role from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as well as two amateur wanna-do-gooders, “Ms. Marvel” (Kathreen Khavari) and the aforementioned SG (Milana Vayntrub). While the first two Spider-centric episodes are engaging/amusing enough, the series really kicked into comedy-high-gear when SG entered the fray, with her nut-themed catchphrases, plucky squirrel sidekick (“Tippy-Toe”), and irrepressible energy. She’s pretty much the funnest, funniest, feistiest crime-fighter I’ve seen since The Powerpuff Girls… and when she calls in a scurry of bushy-tailed “friends” to intimidate her enemies, it’s undoubtedly the most adorable thing that has ever happened in the history of superheroing!
The story ended on a literal anti-climax, which I assumed was a set-up for the feature-length Secret Warriors TV-movie that followed, but… uh… it wasn’t. A couple plot threads and characters do crossover, but Ghost-Spider’s fate is left entirely unresolved/unmentioned, as a new cast of antagonists unleash havoc on the city (including Ming-Na Wen as “Hala the Accuser”, an alien warlord intent on trashing the Earth), and new allies enter the fray, in the form of ‘America Chavez‘ (Cierra Ramirez) and “Captain Marvel” (Kim Raver). Although this flick scores top-marks for diversity, I found the whole thing slightly disjointed and over-stuffed, as the script rushed through the exposition of some characters’ origins/abilities, while leaving others entirely unexplained, and lassoing everyone into a team-up at a rather reckless rate… but I guess that’s often the way with “pilots”, and I got so many laughs out of SG’s antics that I’d still buy the DVD in a hot-second if one actually existed. The Barbie-fied “fashion doll” line, not so much…
Oh, and shout-out to the ubiquitous Tara Strong, who voiced ‘Mary Jane Watson’ in a couple episodes of Initiation. That gal really gets around!
Fun fact: SG was created by Will Murray and the late/legendary Steve Ditko, debuting in Marvel Super-Heroes #8 (a.k.a. “Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special”) (1991), and has since gone on to appear in her own series of comics and YA prose novels… all of which have now leapt to the top of my must-read list, priority-number-one!