Monday, March 31, 2014

Webcomic Review: Strong Female Protagonist

Allison Green used to be a superhero, she's retired now but she still has all of her biodynamic super-abilities. Too bad you can't solve most problems in the world by punching something but she's willing to learn how to deal with problems in other ways.

When I first saw the title for this comic I got nervous and put off reading it for quite a while, while the phrase "strong female protagonist" started out with good intentions these days it's a phrase that usually means "a female character who is physically strong and NEEDS NO MAN, YEAH, well okay that's a lie since she's emotionally weak/has no emotions to speak of at all." So, a very flat character, I've seen people describe it as "writing a male character in a female shape", which in and of itself comes wit a whole slew of weird connotations, and let me say that Mulligan and Ostertag are very clearly familiar with what the phrase means and that it was a very deliberate choice for a title. SFP takes a route that you don't see as often in superhero stories (I've seen so many different superhero stories that I'm not even sure if it's a straight retelling, a deconstuction, or reconstruction) where has Allison willingly "outed" herself as Megagirl live on national television and now works to try and help save the world as a more ordinary citizen instead of simply punching people through walls (and, while the story isn't completely clear about this, she seems to be the only masked/only American superhero to have done this). One thing I really like about her character is just how honest she is, not as in she's always telling the truth but how she's very upfront that even though she's helped save the world seven times she doesn't really know that much about how it works ("I've been in the Pentagon four times and I'm not sure what they really do") and really shouldn't have gotten as much media attention as she did. I think one of the best moments of the series so far was when she has not quite a rant but a piece where she said yes, she's a violent person and it's just so easy for her to let loose and really hurt people and both how hard it's been to break those habits and how it scares her. I'm rather surprised that I haven't seen that speech in more superhero stories actually, since wrestling with yours powers and responsibility is a classic part of the superhero story, and it's part of the reason why I think both long time superhero fans and newcomers would enjoy this story.

That's not to say that every part of the story has been smoothly written, I found the story involving Allison's teacher to be so blunt and obvious with it's themes that any meaningful message it could have provided was just killed by it's execution. Sadly, yet perhaps unsurprisingly, that's one of the earlier stories in the series so I advise people to keep going if they find the details in the other, concurrent subplots interesting even if this particular subplot doesn't quite work the way it should. But by and large the story's writing is strong and fresh. I find it interesting that a large part of the reason behind Allison outing herself was from encountering the super-villain Menace since usually when a hero actually listens to a villain's schemes it's a sign that they were rather weak-willed and easily manipulated all along, in other words not a hero after all. Here it doesn't feel like the case, it does seem a little odd that Allison actually took his words to heart but here it's a sign that she's incredibly strong-willed, she very much wants to save and protect the world and once she realizes that there's a better way to do it she switches tacks (although if it turns out that this was a long-term plan by Menace I'd only be half surprised, rather interested to see how the story continues to develop his character as well).

To talk about the look of the comic, I get the impression that the art strives to be a bit more realistic than it actually is but superhero comics are one of the genres that look equally good both super-cartoony and super-realistic. The comic itself is in black and white but the cover for the latest chapter has me intrigued since instead of following the series usual predominate colors (yellow, blue, and a bit of orange) it's in magenta and cyan, it's a sign that just like everything else in the comic the art is constantly changing and evoling and, again like the rest of the story, I can't wait to see where it ends up.

And as a heads up, while you can get the first issue or two of SFP right now I believe they're going to be running a KS for the first four chapters (issues) to be collected into one tradeback sometime in April or May so if you like the comic remember to put aside a bit of your money for that if you can!