In 1991, the earth witnessed an unprecedented meteorological event. For five and a half weeks, over 90 percent of the planet’s surface suffered mass flooding, soil erosion, and large-scale climate and terrain changes. Years later, it was discovered that this cosmic event created the first generation of “biodynamic” individuals. In other words: Superheroes.
Of all these superheroes, Alison Green was the most powerful. Taking the name Mega Girl (“It was literally the first name I thought of,” she says), Alison was invincible and stronger than any human alive. As a teenager, she became famous for her dedication to crimefighting. A wrecking ball (her weapon of choice) became her iconic calling card.
But being a superhero isn’t as self-fulfilling as you might think. “I love fighting,” she confesses at one point. “I love the blood. I love the heat. I love breaking shit. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. And the fact that it never makes anything better just fucking kills me.”
Because of this ongoing angst, Alison quits her superhero gig and tries to reinvent herself as a normal college freshman. This is where Strong Female Protagonist (Book One) starts.
It’s hard to turn your back on superhero infamy, however. Even though she hung up her cape and domino mask when she was 19, everyone still knows Alison’s “secret” identity. This can be messy, particularly when scary supervillains hunt her down for a little payback. Plus: her old pals, the Guardians (a young Teen Titans-like aggregate), are constantly asking for backup.
Despite the simple declarative book title, Strong Female Protagonist contains plenty of complexity and nuance. There’s nothing “simple” about Alison’s mega existential crisis. She enjoys crushing rocks with her bare hands. But later she wonders, “Am I still me?” For answers, she is encouraged to read All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. (We’re not joking.)
The book stumbles occasionally when the characters (especially Alison) start monologuing. But overall, the creators have produced a reflective comic narrative that offers a new (and welcome) perspective on the superhero genre.
Since this is a comic book, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the contributions of Molly Ostertag. Her artwork is deceptively simply but her skills are sturdy enough to provide the emotional weight of Alison and her biodynamic buddies (especially Feral, whose situation is heartbreakingly tragic). Can you imagine if Jim Lee drew this graphic novel? Naw-yeah, it would be a mess. The ongoing Mega Girl story definitely puts Ostertag squarely in genre-busting territory.
Ostertag is also good at producing a string of memorable images throughout the book. Early on, for example, her full-page illustration of Alison leaping across a crowded New York intersection is terrific. And later, Mega Girl is shown firing a gun into her mouth. It’s a highly disturbing drawing and reminds us of an old Black Flag album cover. Raymond Pettibon’s got nothing on Mighty Molly Ostertag.
[Strong Female Protagonist: Book One / By Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag / First Printing: November 2014 / ISBN: 9780692246184]