Strong Female Protagonist

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Original review author: Plarblman
Webcomic name: Strong Female Protagonist
Author: Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
Start Date: 2012
End Date: Ongoing
Genre: Social Advocacy comic under the guise of a Superhero comic (seriously, there isn't a whole lot of superheroing)
Defining Flaw: The comic preaches to the audience in an effort to be socially conscious, but takes it to some pretty horrifying extremes.

Rating Summary
Art: Wiki.pngWiki.pngWiki.png

Decent, but slightly bland. Don't expect that much dynamic art because it's not that kind of superhero comic

Storyline: Wiki.pngWiki.png

This isn't quite like one of those sitcom "very special episode" deals, but the action and plot still tend to take a backseat to social issues.

Characters: Wiki.pngWiki.png

Allison Green could have been an interesting character, but there feels like a lot of lost potential in the way she's portrayed.

Miscellaneous Details: Wiki.png

For a message comic, it has a hard time clearly explaining its ideas.

Overall: Wiki.pngWiki.png

It has enough draw to keep you reading, but only out of curiosity on whether or not SFP finally blows a gasket and destroys the world.



Background

I remember seeing this a few years back when it first came out and thought very little of it; a superhero comic that's more about social issues? That's not really a new thing, and that was before Marvel had its meltdown and thought pandering to feminists was a sure-win strategy (spoiler: it wasn't). Still, it wasn't until I heard about what happens in Issue 5 that really grabbed my attention to this comic. And boy, let me tell you, it ain't pretty.

Downfall

There were some warning signs of what was to come in Issue 1 when it became apparent that the focus of the comic was going to be on "being woke," as the hipsters say, but I'd say that the comic's badness wasn't really cemented until Issue 2. SFP fails an assignment because her professor says she can't possibly understand the human condition or criticize Nietzsche, though really its because he lost his husband to collateral damage from one of her prior battles. And he ends up getting fired for it after she complains. On the one hand he is being kind of a dick and grading her more out of personal bias than the actual assignment, on the other hand he ends up being kind of right thanks to SFP's invincibility, which will become readily apparent later.

Story and Plot

The story stars Allison Green (I'll simply call her Strong Female Protagonist, or SFP for short), who retired from the superhero business because she wasn't happy about not being able to solve any problems that didn't involve monsters or supervillains. She's now a firefighter and college student, and many of her current exploits revolve heavily around social issues.

Issue 1

Allison goes to this Occupy-ish rally (this comic was written before Occupy really started to implode in on itself, otherwise it would probably be a Bernie rally instead) where she gets into an argument with a superhero named Furnace, who I will now rename Douchey White Superhero. Because that's his sole purpose in the story. We switch to a flashback before she retired, when she tracked down a super-villain named Menace (hereforto renamed Angsty Antivillain Asshole) and convinces her that she's wasting her time fighting monsters because some shady conspiracy is tracking down and killing child superheroes who could do "real change." As far as I understand it, the other superheroes are only allowed to live because they're dumb thugs who beat people up, thereby preserving the status quo (if you're asking who's responsible for the murders, my money's on the Patriarchy). And this is enough to convince SFP to take off the mask. As an added bonus, she's now dating Angsty Antivillain Asshole as well. I remind you, this guy literally instigated a coup against the United States and is directly responsible for people's deaths. Guess crime does pay.

Issue 2

SFP goes to school, and as mentioned above, has some trouble with a professor. But that's all interrupted when a supervillain breaks out of ail and calls SFP out. All but one of her former comrades hate her guts and don't want to help her; the one that does (we'll call him Milquetoast Mexican Munchkin) doesn't really do a whole lot other than shrink down and get inside the bad guy's body to tell her if his claws are sharp enough to hurt her. She knocks the guy out, then grabs a chain and starts strangling him. She tells him that she loves fighting so much that the only reason she stopped was because she didn't think it was making the world better. She lets him go to be taken by police, and mopes off.

Issue 3

We're introduced to Feral Lesbian Lizard Lady whom SFP met back in her superhero days. Side note: Lesbian Lizard Lady attempted to make out with SFP and, while she does get thrown out a window, they make up quickly after. If the rest of the comic were any indication, if a dude tried that she'd straight up murder him. But no, unwanted sexual advances = power + privilege and all that. Anyways, Angsty Antivillain Asshole takes SFP on a road trip, but really he's there to bring her to see Lesbian Lizard Lady. SFP catches up with her to find her in a hospital, where she relates what she's been doing since they parted ways. She had a crisis of confidence after SFP took off the mask, and her own team started dying off from drug overdoses or going to jail, so she's been traveling the world to try and expand her perspective.

Angsty Antivillain Asshole, being a mind-reader, reveals that Lesbian Lizard Lady, using her regenerative powers, has volunteered to donate her organs - while she's still alive and unable to use anesthetics - for the rest of her life. Understandably, this upsets SFP quite a bit. But before she gets a chance to talk to her, the Westboro Baptist Church Church of Humanity uninspired anti-superhero religious group are protesting outside the hospital as they somehow learned about the organ donation program. While clearly homophobic and anti-superhuman, they do have one legitimate complaint in that Lesbian Lizard Lady did in fact murder someone in the past (which she got pardoned for, but they can still think that's bullshit). SFP gets in an argument with Lesbian Lizard Lady and some British Dick superhero who has no real bearing to the plot, but Lesbian Lizard Lady goes through with the operation... only for her and everyone in the operating room to get torched by a crazy guy with a flamethrower. Naturally, this pisses SFP the fuck off. So she goes outside, threatens the protesters, and when a cop tries to arrest her, she literally takes his gun and shoots herself in the mouth just to prove that he can't do shit to her. And she very nearly murders every single one of them, until Lesbian Lizard Lady shows up, having survived the fire.

The issue ends with SFP visiting the bad guy from the last issue, where she straight up admits to having thought about just murdering lots of people, specifically, klan rallies (despite being pretty much defunct at this point), people who read Ayn Rand (because they're just as bad as lynch mobs, apparently), and threatening the government into passing Universal Healthcare (democracy everybody!). So yeah, that's our hero. The only thing that's stopping her is some pretty weak justification - if all she has is "people are good" then she's simply one shaken faith in humanity away from going full-blown tyrant.

Issue 4

Here we flashback to SFP's childhood. Content-wise it's pretty boring and mundane, but it's frequently peppered by these little vignettes where it becomes quite obvious where SFP gets her ideology from (More on that later). Funny though how even as a kid, she's an egocentric asshole. Anyway, this all builds to when SFP discovers her superpowers, how she meets Milquetoast Mexican Munchkin, etc. We finally return to the present where we learn SFP's dad has pancreatic cancer...

HOLD THE FUCK UP. Last issue, we learned that Lesbian Lizard Lady can make organs that are compatible with anyone. And SFP's Dad's cancer is still early stage, so it's unlikely to have metastasized. Why not just replace the organ? Problem fucking solved. But noooo. We gotta have some family drama. Otherwise we wouldn't have the chance to see SFP argue with her sister, especially since she's going to join up with some anti-super group like the WBC from before. Oh well. They talk it out and make up in an extremely rushed and unconvincing manner where SFP promises to destroy her sister's ex-boyfriend's house. Yaaaaaaay.....

Issue 5

Hoo boy. Not only is this the longest issue to date, but its the one with the most disturbing content to boot. I'll try to summarize here.

We open up with a girl talking to some mysterious shadowy entity about her rapists because they weren't convicted. So we are to assume that these accused rapists are in fact rapists because mysterious shadow-warp thing says so. Or rather, it's egging this girl on with promises of revenge. Honestly, even if she were being honest about her own rape, this could easily spiral out of control if she started targeting other people. Imagine if she were involved with the UVA incident? Anyways, four guys get their throats slit, as well as the judge who presided over their case, but he was a wifebeater, so he deserves it. I think you can start to see a pattern here.

Back to SFP: a guy is escorting a drunk girl away from a party, and SFP just FLIPS. Not just on him, but everyone else too. So, two issues here. 1. If she suspected that bro-dude was going to rape the girl, she had other options available than strangle the guy. 2. She's accusing everyone of being complicit with rapists for not immediately going after the guy, despite the fact that they're understandably freaked out over the situation. Even if what he was doing was shady, you can't expect people at a riotous party to be 100% aware of everything going around them. The lack of information is likely the reason why they're upset. Again, she could have handled the situation a lot better.

SFP brings the girl back to her apartment (which she could have just done from the beginning). Her roommates are saying that drunk girl needs to practice safe drinking like every responsible adult on the planet. SFP calls it victim blaming. And whaddayaknow, she's a hypocrite too. SFP says she doesn't drink for "safety reasons", which I assume means she doesn't want to lose control when drunk... which is EXACTLY the same reason why you don't drink and drive, or get drunk at a party.

We learn that when SFP left the superhero team in a huff, it put undue pressure on her teammates (since none of them are as powerful as SFP, who I remind you, is literally invincible). Because of this, Mary is the one who turns into the psycho killer vigilante. So I'll give her her new supervillain name: Psycho Female Slasher (GET IT? SFP, PFS, I am such a hack). So there's no excuses here of the killer being some all-knowing entity who knows without a doubt that her victims actually did the crimes they're accused of. Again, PFS would've leveled UVA if she listened to Jackie.

Remember the guy from the party? PSF killed him. She killed a guy who hasn't actually raped anyone but might have. So we doing precrime now? Are we going to execute babies right out of the womb for crimes they might commit?

AAAAAAHHHHH THEY USE THE 1 IN 4 MYTH WE'VE REACHED FULL SOCJUS NOW BOI!!! Also the completely unfounded 2% of rapists go to jail myth to boot. Lady, if we knew those men were rapists they would have been put to jail. But innocent until proven guilty is such a crock, am I right? Oh yeah, and rape culture is mentioned by name... except every character we meet besides Douchey White Superhero is completely ok with PSF murdering people. This is the most incompetent rape culture I've ever read about.

Douchey White Superhero is brought back into the comic (because we need an MRA redpiller strawman for PFS to kill), and for once he's right! The killer IS targeting accused rapists who were on the news. It's almost as if the notoriety is more important than actually going after legitimate rapists, since as mentioned before, dudebro guy from before hadn't raped anyone. Also, Douchey White Superhero describes himself as "Pro-police and military, anti-government." ....What the fucking fuck this is not a real political position. NOBODY CAN BE THIS STUPID. Anyhow he's being targeted by PFS for some reason. I don't recall him raping anyone. Was there ever even a hint of it? Seriously, I can't even find a hint of it. Last thing he did was try to rescue some sex slaves from a Mexican cartel... does that count? My head hurts trying to understand this comic.

SFP tracks down PFS and they have a standoff. PFS justifies herself by saying that not only is she getting justice on unconvicted rapists (she claims that she knows they're rapists for a fact because she uses truth serum, except we never saw her use it on the four guys from before) she's also going to terrorize the rest of the country into stopping rape. Not only that, because SFP is invincible, PFS claims that she doesn't know "what it's like to be a real woman." ...you know what, extreme patronization aside, I'm saving this the next time a radfem wants to justify making an invincible Mary Sue character. Also, Douchey White Superhero saves the day by being an idiot, getting himself blown up in the process.

PFS gets away, and SFP breaks down crying. But you know what? She actually starts apologizing for PFS. "So what if there's already violence in the world? Whats a few more stacked bodies to feed into a national hysteria?" This is worse than wide-eyed idealism. It's fucking sophistic demagoguery. Jesus Christ.

But before the comic ends, we finally getting somewhere halfway decent. SFP makes the big breakthrough that trying to save the world alone is a really bad idea. Especially since nobody has all the answers. Good. (I would point out that this is exactly why nobody should be judge jury and executioner, but I'm sure the point would be lost on this comic). SFP uses her epiphany to put together a superhero hotline for domestic abuse victims. This hotline could be a good idea... but I could see it backfiring tremendously if all it takes for a super to rough someone up is just point a finger (again, a point that would be lost on the comic) but I'll take what few good ideas I can get at this point.

Issue 6

This is currently underway, and I can't really comment that much about it as of this time. But it looks like it's shaping up to be one of those issues, since SFP gets in a big argument with her philosophy professor when he starts poking holes into her beliefs and she can't handle it. What's the body count going to be in the issue? I'd hope for the low hundreds, but maybe that's too optimistic. I mean, the issue cover has a building on fire. You know some shit's going to go down, and too many pages are devoted to professor asshole to not be crucial to the plot.

Art review

Pastel colors? Check. Quirky hipster fashion? Check. All we're missing is Rudolph's nose and we've got a bona fide Tumblr comic!

It's not bad, the later comics definitely improve over the older, rougher comics (seriously the guys in panel 2 on this strip look like their faces are melting), as the consistency and linework improves, but I find it kind of bland. I wouldn't go so far as to say the comic is full of "dull surprise" faces, but for a comic that involves a lot of high emotions, I'm not exactly convinced by a lot of the characters expressions. There's also a bit of Tumblr nose here and there, but I've definitely seen a lot worse.

Writing review

One thing you have to keep in mind when reviewing a political comic is that there's no point in trying to review the comic's politics itself. People are going to disagree on different platforms; trying to argue whether an author is right or wrong on a position isn't about the quality of the comic. What can be reviewed, however, is whether or not the author's politics impacts how well the comic holds up on its own merits. And from what I've seen, Strong Female Protagonist is simply a preachy, confused mess.

Let's give credit where it's due: at least this isn't Gyno-Star. The comic is open to the idea that SFP is a fallible protagonist, which does help to balance the character out. The problem though is that there are times where some perspective on the character's part is sorely needed but entirely glossed over. The audience is frequently left wondering if SFP will either learn that life is more nuanced than her idealistic ambitions allow, or if she'll just get frustrated and start bullying people into complying with her ideas. But with the way the comic resolves issues, odds are that neither will happen. Instead we get a very weak "everything sorts itself out" conclusion to most issues, allowing SFP to remain virtuous without putting much thought into how to grow her as a character. While her flaws are addressed, they're never really challenged, since nobody is in a position to confront her. That's just one of the side effects of having an invincible character: no one has enough authority to tell her when she's wrong.

One issue seems to be that despite its constant moralizing and preaching, the comic doesn't seem to know what it stands for. Sure, it recites the standard feminist talking points like "1 in 4 women will be raped" (despite that factoid coming from an online survey so shaky in its methodology that its writers have since distanced themselves from it), but for all its recitations, it can't put together a coherent message. It goes out of its way to justify Psycho Female Slasher's actions without putting up a solid counterargument for why it's wrong to murder people accused of a crime. SFP goes on to downplay the severity of PFS's actions using a bizarre inversion of the Nirvana fallacy, saying "any solution is better than no solution" when it comes to dealing with rape. With that mentality, we should cure headaches with decapitations! It's better than nothing, right? The only thing SFP can say is that PFS is wrong, but because she can't explain why, we're left with an incredibly weak resolution to the initial problem.

This failure to eloquently back up this rejection, combined with SFP's prior admission of wanting to 1) cause some "real change," and 2) straight up kill people in her way because she knows she can without repercussion, leads to some disturbing predicaments. Especially since Angsty Antivillain Asshole's been feeding her dirt since day 1, and despite them breaking up, he's pretty much left a lasting mark on her. This would be the point at which she turns to the dark side, but we all know that's not going to happen because she's the hero and she'll fight for whatever it is the comic is desperately trying to figure out.

The odd thing is that this comic actually addresses the idea that superheroes going after ordinary people might be a nightmare for due process... which promptly gets ignored in the rest of the issue. If anything, this is the core reason why PFS's actions are unjustifiable, and the fact that didn't connect the dots itself is a major issue. You can't prove someone is a rapist by threat of violence, and truth serum hasn't been proven to be effective. You're basically torturing people to get the answer you want, of course they're going to admit guilt! That's exactly what the Spanish Inquisition did! PFS has the gall to claim, "The world was ready to hate them for expecting justice." BITCH PLEASE. Nobody loves injustice. Nobody hates the victim. But here's the crucial dilemma that you and so many people crying "rape culture" don't seem to get: Until proven in the court of law, we don't know if the accused or the accuser is the victim. And icing on the cake, she straight up admits that she doesn't care if she takes innocent lives, so long as it advances her cause. SFP glosses over this as PFS being "willing to make mistakes" when this is the crux of the entire problem. If Mayella Ewell came to you and said she was raped by Tom Robinson, would you take her at her word and slit his throat?

This is a bit of a tangent, but if for whatever reason that you're still not convinced on why Mary's in the wrong, consider this excerpt from A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

In short, if you eliminate the legal protections for defendants just to get at them, what's to stop your enemies from coming after you?

A common fault of political comics is the use of the strawman, typically a willful distortion of an opposing side's arguments. In this case, the strawman character is an absurdly wrong (and frequently outright evil) character who only exists to oppose the protagonist and show how righteous they are. We see this the most with Douchey White Superhero, who is such as massive asshole that even cops don't like him, despite being "anti-government, pro-cop" nonsense. He's also the only character to question the legitimacy of PFS's actions, when everyone else is totally OK with her murdering people who are not proven rapists (and yet this comic wants us to believe that rape culture exists in spite of this), and because of this, he gets targeted for murder himself, so clearly he's meant to be in the wrong. This is not a healthy attitude towards other people's opinions; it makes the protagonists come off as smug, holier-than-thou dicks who can do no wrong.

In issue 5, SFP's teacher gives some long-winded spiel about "no glory save honor" which I think might be a metaphor for the working class? I don't know. It makes no sense. The metaphor being used here is so poorly explained that the only reason I was able to derive class from it was from the unsubtle art used. If you're going to use a metaphor, it should be self-explanatory from the start, otherwise people will think you're pulling words out of your ass. On a related note, the teacher goes, "I don't see why making an AI would be a bad idea, humans do terrible things all the time." Honestly, if she can't see the difference between a human and an automaton performing an action, she has no business being in robotics. If you learned anything about automation, it's that whatever they can do, they can do it tirelessly and infinitely. That should be reason enough on why it would be worse for one of them to start a war or build a doomsday weapon.

Author biography

I'm all worked out so I'll just copy-paste the bios on the website. Also because I can't really find much else on these guys.

Brennan Lee Mulligan the writer. He is an improviser, writer and actor. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in Screenwriting, and from SUNY Ulster with a degree in Philosophy. He has studied at the Upright Citizens Brigade with [a bunch of people I've never heard of, moving right along]. IMDB says he's worked on a few indie films. He's also worked at CollegeHumor, so you know that he's basically pure evil.

Molly Ostertag is the artist. She graduated from SVA. I haven't seen her work on much else, as Strong Female Protagnist seems to be the biggest project attached to her name.

Conclusion

Before attempting to create a socially conscious comic to beat over the heads of the unwashed masses, perhaps the comic creators should first examine just what exactly they're trying to communicate in the first place. Talking points and buzzwords are no substitute for substance.

Links