I’m mostly between fandoms right now; my summer shows are over, my fall shows haven’t started, and I’m trying very hard not to spend my entire life reading post-finale Hannibal fanfiction. In the interests of digging into something new, I clicked on a bookmark I’ve had for a while—a link to the first page of a webcomic called Strong Female Protagonist. I’m not sure who first recced it to me—if I had to guess, my money would be on former LGG&F writer SquidInkSamurai—but it’s sat in my favorites for… probably years without my ever having read a panel. When I saw that I was up to write a Web Crush this week, though, I knew its time had come. I clicked the bookmark. The SFP fandom gained a member.
Trigger warning for mention of rape after the jump.
Strong Female Protagonist, written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag, follows the adventures of Alison Green, former superhero. After she and hundreds of teenagers across the world gained superpowers, she helped found a super-team known as the guardians under the psuedonym Mega Girl. After their greatest villain was defeated, however, she ended up unmasking herself on live TV, and has been trying (and failing) to lead a normal life ever since.
The most recent issue has been tackling some pretty heavy subject matter—a hero has been murdering rapists who’ve escaped punishment, and Alison’s struggling immensely with the morality involved therein. Is it okay to kill a definitely guilty person in cold blood if they’ve committed such a heinous crime? With her own body count of bystanders from her ultraviolent fights with supervillains, can she really say anything? And this isn’t the only issue the comic deals with. Intersections of real-world oppression layered with the phobia/hatred of humans with dynamism (only a very few of whom display anything categorizable as “superpowers”); the morality of mind-reading; the complex socio-economic factors that can lead to a person’s becoming a hero versus a villain—they’re all dealt with, and well.
It’s also awesome to see the progression of the art as the comic ages—the first issue from when it premiered in 2012 is all in black and white and a little sketch-y at times, while the later issues are in full color and feature much more detail and dynamic action. (You can also now purchase the first four issues as a bound graphic novel!)
While the titular strong female is a white heterosexual girl, SFP does not skimp on the diversity. One of Alison’s mentors is a superintelligent Black woman who built her own prosthetic leg; her former-supervillain secret boyfriend is some flavor of polysexual (he mentions having had sex with “men, women, et cetera”), the leader of her former superhero team was a Latino guy, and the other girl on the team was Korean-American (and she’s not waifishly thin, either, which is a big deal for Asian female representation). There are a multitude of queer characters who have both major and minor roles in the plot, and the series doesn’t shy away from discussions of class privilege and indeed privilege of all sorts.
I also appreciate that the series doesn’t show the characters who are “good” or who share our LGG&F political beliefs as being perfect. Alison’s roommate at school is a punk activist fighting against oppression, but she has a bad habit of using Alison’s power to back up her own words (without Alison’s permission), and refuses to see that the people she hangs out with might not all be great human beings. Alison may be our hero, but she confesses to a caged villain in a stark and tense scene that she’s just as damaged as he is, and she has to constantly hold herself back from just killing bad people rather than just beating them. It’s a mark of great writing that these characters are so nuanced, especially from a comic whose very name is a phrase that’s become political in fandom.
Strong Female Protagonist is ongoing, and, as the banner above says, updates on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can catch up from the beginning right here—at a little over three hundred and fifty pages, it’s a pleasant diversion but not a Homestuck-sized commitment. Also, if you check it out and like it—consider buying something from their shop or making a small donation to keep SFP going!