Alison Green used to be a superhero, but now she wants to save the world. As Mega Girl, she fought city-smashing robots and reptilian foes with her super strength and invulnerability. Her team, the Guardians, included other “biodynamic” teens from a small generation of superpowered kids that cropped up during a strange bout of weather. After an arch nemesis reveals a conspiracy movement to eradicate specific biodynamic people, Alison realizes that she can’t heal injustice, poverty, and discrimination by hitting bad guys really hard with her fists. Lost on her current path, she takes off her mask on national television and now lives out in the open while she tries to discover what it means to truly change the world.
Strong Female Protagonist began as a webcomic written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag. After gathering a bit of acclaim, a successful Kickstarter was launched to give Mega Girl her own graphic novel. This is a story that was driven to mass-production by the fans and comics enthusiasts who were impressed by the story’s fresh approach to what are now age-old questions (thanks mostly to Alan Moore) regarding morality and superheroes in a real world setting.
As the title implies, Alison truly is a strong female protagonist, not just because of her inhuman strength, but also because she’s a fully realized young adult. The first step she takes in her life after retiring from superheroism is to go to college in New York City. There’s something kind of incredible about a person who concludes that, in order to affect the world around her, she must further her own education. Along with the stress of keeping up her grades, Alison has to deal with a roommate that tends to exploit or forget her powers at inopportune times, and, oh yeah, she maybe has a crush on a super villain.
With the exception of some additional pages and gorgeous chapter headings, the story is told in black and white. Some artists seem to have trouble with this particular palette, but Molly Ostertag produces leagues of detail and depth in her stylized illustrations that fit right in alongside other Top Shelf titles. She captures poignant moments in splash pages sans dialogue, such as Alison leaping over the heads of New York City commuters as spectators gaze at her with a mixture of excitement and disinterest. Throughout the comic, traditional paneling is used almost exclusively until Alison falls into intense emotional states, when the panels shatter away from each other as the reader feels the burden of guilt that weighs down on the protagonist.
Alison is not the only character facing moral quandaries in a worldwide scope. Many of her biodynamic allies are attempting to tackle the same big question, traveling across the globe, witnessing countless atrocities, and coming to their own conclusions as to how to fix everything. Feral, an obvious ode to Wolverine, resorts to a horrifying self-sacrifice that is arguably noble but extreme. A mind-reading reformed villain thinks he can modify things from the top by manipulating governing bodies. The story presents these ideas to the reader without defending or dismissing them, emphasizing the theme throughout that there is no good answer, but there are good people.
The final chapter is a quiet one, moving away from the conspiratorial subplot concerning the murder of young superheroes and focusing on Alison’s past as she deals with a family emergency. This new direction doesn’t bookend the volume in a way that feels cohesive, but it does give insight into Alison’s life and upbringing, which is significant considering a rather poignant moment shared between her and an old enemy. Alison is at her most honest when she opens up to a super-villain, acknowledging that with society’s tendency to discriminate not only against those that are different, but to those who look different, she would be the one destroying cities.
Alison Green remains an admirable character, despite stumbling through mistakes and misconceptions, who decides to believe that not only are people inherently good, but they deserve better than she can offer them. Superpowers aside, she’s simply a young person on the brink of adulthood who wants her life to truly matter in the scope of the world. Strong Female Protagonist begins as story about gender politics and evolves into a conversation about society, all while remaining a fun superhero comic.
Strong Female Protagonist is available now from Top Shelf Productions.