Review: Strong Female Protagonist
A lot of what you need to know about Strong Female Protagonist you can learn from its title. Alison Green, aka Mega Girl, is strong in every sense of the word, physically invincible and emotionally resilient. She’s also female, and the main character of this black and white webcomic turned graphic novel. The sense of social justice that a title like Strong Female Protagonist suggests is present too.
Written by improviser and writer Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by artist Molly Ostertag, Strong Female Protagonist bills itself as “the adventures of a young middle class American with super-strength, invincibility, and a crippling sense of social injustice” and it’s an accurate description. At 19, Alison has retired from crime fighting, choosing instead to attend college and help the world that way. It’s not easy, and Alison is constantly pulled back towards a life of punching things really hard, all the while asking questions about how much she’s really helping.
It’s not a new premise, but Strong Female Protagonist develops it well, building relatable characters from archetypes. It’s self aware but not annoyingly referential; Pintsize, a teenager with Atom-like powers, convinces Alison to use Superman as a roadmap for superherodom. It’s a map she ultimately rejects, disillusioned with fighting for “freedom, justice and the American way”, admitting she doesn’t even know what that means.
Alison and her internal conflicts act as an effective focaliser for the frustration of progressive young people, particularly teenage girls. Strong Female Protagonist raises questions about how to be moral, and how those in a position of privilege (exemplified by Alison’s super-strength here) should go about achieving justice in an unjust system. The comic occasionally feels like young adult fiction, especially at the beginning when the writing is a little more clunky, but in the space of the volume the characters and the themes grow into themselves. That’s part of the joy of webcomics – the visible improvement rate of both the art and the writing.
The story itself moves along at a tidy place. Character establishment is quick and back story is revealed subtly. Mulligan’s writing and Ostertag’s art complement each other to build a rich and diverse world. The immediate use of scientific and military interest in ‘biodynamic’ individuals is realistic and the medical examinations make for engaging plot points. There are moments that may seem a little simplistic, especially for an older audience, but Strong Female Protagonist: Book One is an easy, morally engaged read. When you get to the end you’ll be glad there’s more online.
Strong Female Protagonist: Book One is available from Diamond Book Distributors from November 25th, 2014. The webcomic updates Tuesdays and Fridays.