Strong Female Protagonist (SFP) is a very concept and dialogue driven comic. There are the odd action scenes, and each chapter of the comic is a self-contained story (for the most part), but the stories are largely platforms for setting a particular argument or discussion for the characters to participate in, react to, or to act upon.
I’m not always the biggest fan of this sort of thing; having characters bounce from one contrived situation to the next so that you can create a specific dialogue or deliver a message doesn’t always make a good story. But SFP works, for me at least, due to the genuine responses of the characters, well thought out discussion, and some really interesting real world moral quandaries and consequences. And it does still have an overarching story, which has potential, but only time will tell if it can deliver on that.
Still I can see this comic rubbing some people up the wrong way; I suspect it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of prospect. You can only give it a try and see if it’s for you.
The characters and comic concept
The comic’s concept is, on the surface, relatively stereotypical; an imagined version of our own world were people spontaneously began to mutate, some developing super powers, and the conflict that arrives with it.
Where SFP deviates from the stereotype is in how it deals with presenting these events and conflicts. It’s trying, I believe, to deliver a more “real world” based feel to its stories, as well as promote thought and discussion on particular topics.
To this end the authors have tried to ground the story with real world consequences and personalities. They’ve then used this as a platform bring upa number of real world issues, such as bigotry and discrimination, non-binary self-identification, sexual violence, human rights, sacrifice (and what it means), of wrong vs right, and the grey shades in between. It also focuses heavily on ethics based dilemmas and arguments, such as “can the end ever justify the means”?
Our lead character, Alison Green, manifested super powers at 14 years old, giving her both indestructibility and super strength. She was one of many people who suddenly gained powers in a relatively short period of time, causing vast worldwide instability as some of those who had gained powers attempted to either seize control, or simply seize whatever they wanted; in effect becoming the first super-villains.
In the USA Alison, and others, donned the tights (as it were) and became the first superheroes. Surprisingly (very mild spoiler) our comic is set after all of this has, for the most part, been resolved. The worst of the super-villains have been captured, killed, or disappeared and a period of relative stability has been brought about. We learn (another mild spoiler) that Alison has retired as a superhero and is trying to restart her life as a normal young person attending college; and find meaning in a world whose problems cannot be solved with a punch.
Alison is a very well realised and, as the story goes on, is revealed as a deeply complicated character. She is strong, flawed, fallible, talented, engaging, extremely isolated, caring, and perhaps just a little disturbed. These personality traits are convincing as the logical result of Alison’s life to date.
Coming from a relatively privileged, white American, background; she has very definite ideas about social justice, wrong and right, is highly intelligent, and sometime comes off as a little arrogant or superior. But she is earnest, works hard with what she has, has the best of intentions, and is capable of listening and taking advice from those around her. She’s a “good” person with all that entails and suggests.
I think one of the more engaging, and pivotal, aspects of Alison’s characters is that she very desperately wants to “fix” the world, the ills of society, and feels an innate responsibility to do so. You can use a lot of different words, both negative and positive, to describe a person who believes that they can succeed in such a far reaching way, that their ideas are “right” enough to want to implement them on/convert over the majority. “Crazy”, “visionary”, “arrogant”, “farsighted”; your feelings towards Alison’s world view will most likely push you to one end, or the other, of that range. But personally the one I think describes Alison best is “driven”. She seems to have no choice but to always push onwards, and pushing so hard for so long can have both positive and negative consequences, and (much to my delight) the comic demonstrates this.
The secondary cast are all well developed, but not nearly to the same level as Alison. A couple of them feel a bit simple or obvious in comparison, but others are very likeable.
I mentioned above that each chapter is a stand-alone story, and they do feel self-contained, but really the comic is a mix between episodic “adventures” and a slice of life comic. Overall the comic is telling the story of Alison’s life, and some chapters are largely given over to that and don’t have that much of a story to them. Others are a bit more focused on a particular villain, or dealing with a particular problem, but still tend to contain a significant portion of Alison dealing with her day to day, but still remarkable, life.
There are also large sections of back story exposition via the dreaded flashbacks (but actually they work well in this comic) in the chapters to date, exploring Alison’s past and how she has arrived at this point in her life.
The stories themselves tend to be simple in terms of events, not a lot of plot elements. But they are highly detailed in terms of dialogue, usually focusing on characters thoughts and reactions to the events. The characters interactions and dialogue usually explores a range of positions on a philosophical or ethical dilemma. Then quite often these are followed up by “real” events within the story on the same topic. This works quite well in that we see the impact of these abstract concepts when applied to “real life”. This has the potential to feel forced, or preachy, but to date the authors have mostly, though not always, managed to keep everything feeling like a natural course of events. Crucially not every decision Alison makes is held up as the “right” one, she’s stumbling her way through as best she can but making plenty of mistakes along the way.
It is also gives good opportunity for readers to express their own opinions on the concepts being discussed; there is a very lively comments section at the bottom of every page.
The art starts out in black and white, and a little rough around the edges. As the chapters go on the quality steadily improves and is has reached a solid standard. The comic switches over to colour at the start of chapter five.
The action scenes, which are relatively rare, sometimes seem a little awkward in their choreography of events. Conceptually you get what is going on, even if the literal representation doesn’t quite work.
Author, publishing and timeline
SFP is written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag. You can read their bios on the comic’s About page.
Book 1 of SFP is available for sale via the comic’s Shop link. It was funded initially by a Kick Starter, so they may do that again to publish the next volume in due course.
The comic has made good story progression in a relatively short number of pages. I feel like we’re in the middle act, though not that far through it. So my guess would be maybe another six or seven years till completion.