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Some More Thoughts On Strong Female Protagonist Book Two

I told Molly Ostertag once, during the time when the Kickstarter that would fund the second volume of Strong Female Protagonist was being planned, that I was looking forward to the book eagerly, as I can only read the story in large chunks. Like, book-length chunks, because SFP is a story that takes its time.

This was abundantly clear in the chapters that made up Book One¹, which took their time in laying out the world where Alison Green is a retired superhero and college student — writer Brennan Lee Mulligan takes his time in establishing characters, relationships, plot, choices, and consequences. It’s not a story I can follow in twice-weekly updates.

I didn’t know how true that was until Book Two arrived (ahead of the promised fulfillment date) just prior to Thanksgiving. I had a long day of bread-baking and interstate travel ahead with a stupid early start, and I spent half the night reading more than 300 pages of nominal superhero story², which are regularly packed with dense dialogue. Personal philosophy buts up against ethical crises and social justice theory for pages; rigorous philosophical arguments in full Socratic mode can occupy dozens of consecutive pages, and it works.

It works because Mulligan has a stellar artist in Ostertag, and she can made pages that might be dead from text overload sing. Look at this one page and do me a favor — read out the text aloud. It’s a good minute and a half, two minutes. It’s dense with information as Alison gives voice to all the uncertainty and contradiction she feels. And instead of a slog, it reads clearly, with a sense of rising urgency, each word balloon building on the previous, and the page before it, and providing the foundation for the page to follow.

It’s also doing something that superhero comics almost never do: it’s considering the collateral effects of allowing your world to be populated with relatively plentiful powers. It asks if the mainstays of the genre — punching stuff until it explodes, mostly — is really effective in making a better world.

It asks about where the really helpful superpowers — energy generation, food production, cancer cures — are, and why only the visible, damaging ones get our attention. It explores the line between altruism and villainy, and the sociopathy of power (whether super, or just the plain ol’ garden variety money kind). It’s thinking.

And at its beating hearts, a swirl of self-contradictions named Alison “Megagirl” Green tries to figure out the right thing to do. Not the simplest, not the most efficient, or even necessarily the best. She’s trying to come up with the Vulcan solution: the greatest good for the greatest number, minimizing the hurt to the least number of people and the least degree. She’s trying very, very hard to be smart about it, but the thing she’s best at?

Punching stuff.

She wants to leave that behind, but sometimes the only way to solve a problem — or worse, to convince somebody else to solve a problem — is to break things and hurt people until it’s not a problem anymore.

Her powers (which, like many others, appear to be growing in breadth and strength) might not physically or mentally destroy her (as is starting to happen to others), but this emotional conflict, the helplessness that comes with not being able to punch the world to a better place, is trying its damndest to do so. She might be invincible to whatever the outside world can throw at her³, but the questions on the inside are equally powerful.

Get SFP Book One today; get Book Two as soon as Make That Thing is done with shipping to the Kickstarter backers and it gets added to the store. And then ask yourself why “adult” superhero comics featuring more swears, violence, and sex, and not so many smart looks at the consequences of powers. Strong Female Protagonist is the best, serious, adult cape comic being written today (and it looks great), and it’s being given away for free, Tuesdays and Fridays.

If you can stand to read it in single-page chunks, that is. Figure I’ve got another 2-3 years before I get Book Three.

Spam of the day:

Learn how a Reverse Mortgage loan may change your life

Given the predatory and fraudulent nature of much of the banking system these days, I’m guessing not in ways that are very good for me.

¹ Issues 1 through 4 in the archive, which is easily navigable but which lacks a direct link.

² Issues 5 and 6.

³ It’s implied the government has contingency plans for if she goes rogue, and they appear to be only halfway kidding when they state that the planetary evacuation ships are due for testing the next couple of years. Her self-doubt, conscience, and good fortune to have been raised by earnest, altruistic people probably spared us the use of a nuke or two.

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