“The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”: The comic book that tips its hat to computer science

the unbeatable squirrel girl cover

Marvel Comics are doing some interesting things with characters that aren’t that well-known outside comic book fandom, not just with the Guardians of the Galaxy, a (very radically altered) Big Hero 6, and Ant-Man on the big screen and Jessica Jones, Peggy Carter, and various agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on smaller ones, but even in their comic books, with Ms. Marvel and, more recently, the incredibly cute and unbeatable (it says right so in the title) Squirrel Girl.

Conceived as a throw-away character in the early ’90s when most comic book series were trying to be like The Dark Knight Returns, the 1982 Wolverine solo series, or the X-Men, Squirrel Girl has become important enough to merit her own book, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, written by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics fame.

Ryan North has a computer science background, with a bachelor’s degree from Ottawa’s Carleton University and a master’s from the University of Toronto (that’s right, he’s Canadian). That background is what drives some of Squirrel Girl’s story; when she’s not fighting criminals and supervillains, she’s Doreen Green, first-year student (that’s a Canadianism; most Americans would say freshman) of computer science at Empire State University.

Sometimes her computer science studies are the backdrop, as in this scene, where she shows up a little bit late for her class on databases…

squirrel girl database class 1

squirrel girl database class 2

squirrel girl database class 3

…and other times, it plays a key role in defeating A-list supervillains like Victor von Doom. Doom’s primary flaw is that he’s a supreme egomaniac. Although he’s a science and engineering genius, he’s too proud to have learned programming languages that weren’t of his own design.

So when Squirrel Girl sends a message in C++ to her friends backing her up…

squirrel girl programming 1

Click the comic to see it at full size.

(By the bye, here’s the code that she called out…)

string lw(int arr[], int arrsize) {
  string ret = "";
  for (int i = 0; i < arrsize; i++) {
    ret += itoa(arr[i]);
    return ret;

lw({90, 65, 80, 77, 69, 87, 84, 73, 77, 
69, 77, 65, 67, 72, 73, 78, 69, 80, 76, 
90}, 20) + "!!!!!";

…Doom doesn’t understand what she’s saying, since he only programs robots in his own “Doomsembly language” and never learned any real programming languages because it would mean learning from others…

squirrel girl programming 2

Click the comic to see it at full size.

Before you go spoiling the fun by saying “there’s no way you can formulate and yell out that code in that little time, and then have a friend do ASCII conversions in her head that quickly”, remember that all this is happening in a confrontation between a villain in a mechanical suit powered by both super-science and sorcery and a young woman with squirrel powers.

Also amusing: how the comic book often starts with Twitter conversations:

squirrel girl twitter

In case you’re wondering, the jingle she’s referring to is from the 1960’s Iron Man cartoon…

…and it gets referenced in the first Iron Man movie as his mobile phone ringtone…

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a fun read, and the computer science bits just make it even more fun for a former computer science major like myself.