Reading Resolution: “Strong Female Protagonist: Book Two” by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

26. Wild Card: Strong Female Protagonist: Book Two by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag 

List Progress: 6/30

Deconstructions can be difficult to make engaging. When setting out to interrogate tropes and genres, you often run into formats that are used because they work well and set up a lot of narrative momentum. The deconstructor then has to decide what parts of their inspiration to keep so that the deconstruction is a story in its own right, rather than just a treatise. Strong Female Protagonist, the webcomic by Brennan Lee Mulligan, illustrated by Molly Ostertag, has a tendency to wander into treatise territory, especially in the comics collected in Book Two. The comic is trying so hard to say something about superheroes and power that it doesn’t end up feeling like an actual story.

Strong Female Protagonist: Book Two follows Alison Green, a young woman who publicly abandoned her teenage superhero persona, Mega Girl, and is now trying to go to college and live a normal life. She still has her super strength and invulnerability, but rejects the idea that she should be any sort of role model or authority just because of her powers. But Alison is still a do-gooder at heart and won’t stand by when bad things happen around her, which twists her into moral and philosophical knots: she doesn’t want to believe in Might Makes Right, but she wants to do Right and can’t deny that she is Might. It’s an interesting conundrum, but it becomes less so when the conundrum is all that the characters talk about. Alison takes philosophy courses at college, so there are plenty of long, long scenes of characters just discussing their own belief systems, and it gets more than a little trying.

There are interesting parts of the world of Strong Female Protagonist, but few of them directly involve Alison. One of her former superhero teammates, a young man with echolocation powers and the face and fur of a bat, has started a support group for “dynamorphs”, or people who don’t look conventionally-human because of how their powers manifested. Another former teammate is using her invisibility to enact vigilante justice. Yet another is using her regeneration powers to be a perpetual organ donor. Alison comes into contact with these stories, but they are not about her, and she is stuck in fairly dull love triangles and ethical debates.

Book Two sees the comic at a disadvantage, compiled into a collection rather than released on a weekly schedule, and perhaps with more space to process, the treatises would not be as wearing. Strong Female Protagonist went on hiatus in 2018, as both Mulligan and Ostertag have other projects going, but if they do ever return to it, there are some considerable tweaks that would be needed to make it more engaging. And in a market where everyone and their mother is trying to deconstruct superheroes, even superhero movies themselves, Strong Female Protagonist can get buried in the shuffle.

Would I Recommend It: Not really, but I’m sure it can find its fans.

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