Thursday Comics Hangover: An alternative to the alternative

The newest issue of Marvel's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is billed as a "special 'zine' issue," which immediately grabbed my attention. I've always been a fan of alternative sensibilities applied to superhero comics — the Coober Skeber "Marvel Benefit Issue" is one of my all-time favorites, and DC's Bizarro Comics trade paperback is a lot of fun, too — and while I haven't read that many Squirrel Girl comics, the character is an appealing meta-take on the superhero genre, and I'd been wanting to read more.

The premise of this issue, laid out in a series of framing pages at the beginning and end of the comic, is that a library was destroyed in a superhero battle, and Squirrel Girl has assembled a benefit zine to raise funds to rebuild it. The comics are supposedly by Marvel heroes and villains, though it's really an anthology of one-and-two-page comics by a variety of cartoonists.

The concept is fine, but the execution is a little disappointing. There's nothing really zine-y about the comic. The creators are, for the most part, mainstream. Hell, Garfield creator Jim Davis is listed as a contributor, and you can't get any more mainstream than Garfield. (Davis's contribution is a series of strips replacing Garfield with Galactus and replacing Garfield's owner Jon with the Silver Surfer. That's it. That's the joke.)

A few of the strips in the issue are very good, particularly a self-help book narrated by a brain in a jar and a short little tone poem from the perspective of Thor's trickster brother Loki. And one strip drawn by Anders Nilson, involving Wolverine and a giant robot, gets the alternative spirit of the enterprise just right.

But I wonder what this issue of Squirrel Girl would have looked like if instead of summoning a fairly well-known ensemble of talent, the editors had gotten the contributors to the newest issue of Seattle free comics newspaper Thick as Thieves, instead?

Marie Hausauer's contribution to Thieves, a bar scene featuring a few trashy patrons hitting on each other, is creepy and true-to-life and beautifully rendered. On the next page, Travis Rommereim contributes a little gag strip about a man who abuses a talking severed head on a chain that taunts him with bad jokes and dares. ("Are you gonna shoot some arrows at me or what?")

Most of the strips in this issue of Thieves seem fairly well grounded in realism. There's a conversation between two young women, and a kid who plays with guns. Gil Rhodes tips things over into absurdity with a fantastic strip about a grandmother who repeatedly gives the worst advice ever, but even that strip doesn't beat you over the head with its surrealism. It's relatively quiet, and it's comfortable with the quiet.

I'm willing to bet that none of the contributors to this issue of Thick as Thieves are dying to work on a mainstream superhero comic. But that's part of the reason why they should have been asked to contribute. Marie Hausauer's Squirrel Girl really would have been an alternative comic to behold.