By Maggie Vicknair
As a teenager, Alison Green was Mega-Girl, a member of the world’s foremost superhero team, until one day she quit dramatically on live television. After an eye-opening conversation which her former arch-nemesis She had realized that all the capes, costumes, and epic battle’s weren’t really helping anyone long term. Now, no longer a superhero but a college freshman, Alison is trying to figure out what it really means to save the world.
Strong Female Protagonist is a superhero webcomic written by Brennan Lee Mulligan with art by Molly Ostertag. Of all the superhero comics I read (and I read a lot), SFP feels the most current.
When art tries to be capital-C Current, it often fails in one of two ways. It either plasters on new lingo, peppering the dialogue with words like “hacktivist” or “vlogger,” or it only tries to capture the anger or fear of a current situation. Both of these approaches feel like someone is trying to capitalize on trends rather than engage with them. Strong Female Protagonist (despite it’s cheeky tvtropes-ish title) on the other hand, feels tuned in to the conversations happening around it right now. The main reason for that is because of its central metaphor.
Superhero stories are always metaphor laden. The X-Men can represent any oppressed group while the Hulk is a story about anger management issues. Alison’s powers are a stand in for privilege. Alison is super strong, invulnerable, white and middle class. As a teenager she didn’t question the advantages she was born with, but as she graduates into adulthood she is confronted by the unintended consequences of her actions. She is continually faced with the limitations of good intentions and has to question all her previously held beliefs. Most of the action of SFP is not building-smashing but Alison having long conversations with people grappling with the same questions she is. Some turn to extreme martyrdom, violent vigilantism, or focusing on scientific advancement. SFP is both a coming-of-age story and a deconstruction of superhero tropes. Like most good ideas, it feels amazing someone hasn’t done it before.
SFP’s metaphors vary in how ‘on the nose’ they are. For example, there’s a recent arc where a friend of Alison’s creates a support organization for those whose powers have altered their bodies dramatically. The story arc grapples with how to serve an extremely diverse group of people, and the language reflects the discussions in LGBTQ communities. Meanwhile, Patrick, a mind-reading former super villain who may or may not be reformed, is a character whose powers sometimes feel analogous to a mental disability, but are never a stand in for something concrete.
The comic starts out in black and white with gray marker, but blooms into a full color affair. Ostertag’s art starts out fine, but has greatly improved. Her color work is particularly lovely. The character designs reinforce the modern sensibility of the comic. Every character is specific and real looking, and Ostertag has a good eye for fashion.
While I want to focus on the comic itself, I feel I should mention the comments section briefly to illustrate my point of SFP being plugged into The Conversation. Most webcomics have a space for of comments, and SFP has a dedicated number of fans who respond to each page. It’s interesting to see how the commentariate reflects the main character, as they dissect each interaction and debate each decision.
If you’ve read this and think, “A superhero comic where people talk A LOT about social justice, whoo hoo!” then this is the comic for you. It’s a very contemplative comic that’s beautiful to look at, and provides a refreshing take on superhero deconstruction.
Strong Female Protagonist updates reliably Tuesdays and Fridays.