Deconstructing the Strong Female Protagonist

Good representation in media is a limited resource. There aren’t many examples, and the ones that exist are often very lonely. Strong Female Protagonist is one of the few fantastic examples we might cling to.

Writer Brennan Lee Mulligan and artist Molly Ostertag met in a live action role-playing summer camp in upstate New York. Years later, while Ostertag was working on her degree in cartooning at the Manhattan-based School of Visual Arts, Mulligan had just graduated.

Strong Female Protagonist began with a discussion of what that term means and how it’s thrown around to put a bandage on the gushing wound that is misogyny. A strong female character can mean anything, as long as we consumers and creators don’t have to look too closely or too critically at the flat, one-dimensional female characters we encounter.

The comic book centers on Alison Green, a 20-year-old woman and college student who is not only physically invincible, but has incredible, inhuman strength. The comic opens with Alison, who has recently quit being the superhero Mega-Girl, trying to get her bachelor’s degree.

She knows she wants to help people and thinks college is the way to do that, but it’s more difficult than she thought. She dropped out of middle school to be a superhero full time and doesn’t know which classes will help her in her mission. The comic opens with Alison listening to Mumford & Sons when she runs into an Occupy rally.

Regardless of how unsure Alison is, she’s still a strong protagonist who’s intelligent, conflicted and continues on despite all of the obstacles and messy relationship stuff she’s faced with every single day.

Her roommate Violet deftly takes advantage of being roomies with a disgraced superhero, but when Alison stops a strange man from taking a woman he doesn’t know, a woman so inebriated she can’t walk or open her eyes, all of Violet’s activism and feminism flies out the window.

She tells Alison to chill. Superheroes are fine and social justice is fine as long as they don’t ruin the mood of the party. Violet has a goal, more or less, but can’t act, and Alison has been acting all her life, so she knows where half-idealized goals will lead you.

Her friends and family, even her enemies, are destroyed by monsters she can’t just punch out: terminal illness, perpetual and horrifying self-sacrifice and abuse; powers far worse than hers. It’s why she quit being a superhero. Alison realized she was only a reactionary measure and that maybe treating symptoms wasn’t the answer.

It’s an epiphany essentially spoon-fed by her nemesis. He introduced the idea of systematic oppression via capitalism to her, and she realized that even if she saved some lives she might be on the wrong side and that maybe the right didn’t exist.

Alison tries so hard to be good and to make a difference, but Mega-Girl has no finesse whatsoever. Alison knows that knocking over buildings causes more harm than it helps, but that’s the only thing she’s good at. That, and writing essays on Greek mythology at four in the morning.

Besides honestly exploring problems like sexual assault, capitalism, hate groups and police brutality, the cast itself is diverse. So many characters, main and secondary, are queer. Paladin, gadgeteer genius, is too interested in creating robots that might or might not be our demise to really date, but she’s a robotics whiz, government certified and a black woman with a prosthetic leg she designed and built herself.

An impressive feat of really hitting a lot of key issues and emotions that define a number of generations struggling right now, Strong Female Protagonist might just be the comic we can place our trust in. And no media is trustworthy, so that’s saying something.