Monday, December 25, 2023

Rereading Strong Female Protagonist, part 6

Link to the first post in this series

Going into chapter 5, we gotta know it's the longest one. Probably going to split my reread of it into three posts, at least two. But anyway, let's get the formalities out of the way.

Strong Female Protagonist, a deceptively named, sadly unfinished (as of December 2023) webcomic by Molly Ostertag and Brennan Lee Mulligan. Here we are rereading it, trying to decipher it and discuss it but basically just fangirling out over it. Unless otherwise noted, the links contained in this post are related to it, freely available as it is on SFP dot com.

Chapter 5 cover

Okay there's Ali running and the shadow of Mary "Moonshadow" Kim floating upside down. Not sure if this is a metaphor or a symbol or anything, but I guess riffing on the poster for Catch Me if You Can is in theme with Mary's cat and mouse game.

Page 1

It was not, in fact, too late to turn back. There's several levels of people pretending they don't have a choice going on in this chapter.


Like right now, Kaylee is obviously not into this. I doubt she's just going around crying all the time; I think she's sad because she more or less knows she's about to get her rapists killed, and (like any healthy person) she doesn't like doing murder, so she's letting herself believe her dad is forcing her to go through with it.

News update

 Well, this describes Ali's unmasking scene we have already seen in great detail. I think the only thing to say about this page is that the paper shows a remarkable clarity and even-handedness. Pretty neat for what was apparently a last minute filler update.

Page 3

See, Mary has apparently been goading Kaylee and her folks for some time towards the revenge she, Mary, wants to take. Mary wants Kaylee to feel like she's the one choosing for her rapists to die, even if Mary is pressuring her so hard that it's basically impossible for her to say anything else. I don't think that's as empowering for Kaylee as Mary wants it to be; I think it's more about Mary letting herself feel like she has no agency in the murders she does. Feel like she has gone too far to turn back.


My cousin and best friend is a huge Harry Potter fan. Got tattoos and merchandise and everything. Mainly to do with a period of her childhood in the 1980s when her dad kept her in a closet under the stairs. She's also the one to whom I first came out as trans, and the one who's been the most unfailingly supportive. This could seem like a contradiction to some people, but lemme tell you the secret. It's not about "separating the art from the artist" or going around pretending Jeanne Rowling is not a dangerous, hateful person. It's about not treating the act of consuming as a moral choice. Neither eating good food nor reading good books makes you a good person. Conflating the things you enjoy with your personal character might be the purest, most mistaken expression there is of consumer culture.

So, let's not judge Dan for reading Harry Potter or Ali for gifting him the books.

(´But we can judge Violet for running Alison's printer dry and not refilling it or even saying anything about it until after Alison's print out fails. We can judge the Hell out of her.)


We can infer third tier and higher biodynamics have skills that are defined by federal law as "supernatural." That's got to be hilarious.

The girl with the burn scar over half her face may tell us something that's easy to overlook: That this country recently went through about four years of civil war, with new and unpredictable kinds of weapons.

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Look at that fancy contrast of words and pictures. I feel Alison has more poetry than substance in her argument about people's lives arbitrarily forced into given directions by unique gifts being bestowed upon them. But it's effective on several levels: obviously she has to be thinking about this all the time, it manages to sound like something thrown together to meet a minimum word count at 4 in the morning, and (it hardly needs pointing out) the focus on invisibility makes it a whole theme with Mary simultaneously stabbing these dudes.

Me, I'm a writer, I could only ever have been a writer, everything that's happened in my life since before I could speak has led to that, my choices are limited to either writing or doing nothing, and doing nothing only makes me unhappy. So I can get having your life decisions made by forces beyond your control, and trying to redefine the basic terms of existence to free yourself from those restrictions. We SHOULD shift the focus of society to meeting our needs rather than exploiting our abilities! It would be possible with some sort of. . .collective action.


Funny page, but if you consider Patrick is unable to ever completely tune out Alison's thoughts and is bound to take extra notice when she's thinking his name, it gets even funnier.


This is such a silly thing to call a controversy, you'd think making the reader listen to a TV debate is just a waste of time, but wait. Look at what they're actually saying. This is just exposition. So elegant.


Speaking of elegance, but with 100% more irony. . .


Oh look, it's Violet putting words in her friend's mouth, it must be a day of the week. "I told some people you don't know that you'd clear your usually extremely busy celebrity/student/firefighter/family crisis schedule and come and party with them tonight" is kind of messed up if you ask me and then her follow up to that isn't even "are you going to make it?" but "can you do a cool superhero entrance?" 

Save us, kind madam Paladin!


Wow Violet is so pissed at not getting a full monopoly on Alison's time. I'm enjoying her misfortune maybe a little too much.

"Coming out of the phone booth" is honestly hilarious however. #JustSuperheroThings


Getting blindsided by an amputee joke and being extremely flustered is not a biodynamic anomaly Alison, I think that's the same for everyone including probably amputees. Violet saying something we can relate to, now that's shocking.


We can't say Alison isn't a good sport, at least.

Okay we know Violet is a bad friend and a bad person, but she really isn't "all" bad. A friend who pushes you into going to parties is good for someone shy and introverted. Here she's even moderately supportive.


Clevin is a good egg, but I can't help but wonder how that conversation would go if Alison had saved his least favorite cousins instead.

Some of my favorite movies are Swedish! Not as many as you'd think seeing as it's my first language. I'm not enough a film nerd to actually like Ingmar's stuff, but I'll watch The Seventh Seal for the arts which I'm guessing was where Clevin was going with that.


Hello Miles, aka Dead Meat


"To 'chill' means to pretend bad things aren't happening around you" is easily in the top five most useful real things this comic has taught me.

And yes, going "Dude if I was trying to kill you you'd know all about it" would probably not have made anything better for anyone here.


Of the several strong lines served here, my favorite is "oh, you can see her now?" Alison's power of zingers has evolved from wisecracks to deadly whip-cracks.


It's our right as adult humans to drink ourselves unconscious in public without fear of creepo violators, or, okay, um, maybe not the particular hill I'd choose to die on. No but for real, it's good the comic doesn't present Daphne as a perfect victim. Doing everything right, knowing your limits, not making poor decisions are not supposed to be prerequisites for not getting molested.

Now I want to finish watching I May Destroy You. but it's so fucking hard to watch I don't know if I can.


There's not much I can say that isn't already taken care of by the comic and the comments, but: I hope Alison is making sure to get enough sleep! Sleep deprivation has basically the same effects as inebriation you know.

25, 26

Hot cornbread AND cold lemonade and he still has the nerve to yell? This guy beats his wife and probably beat his kids or worse, but he's also an asshole.

And now a dead asshole.


Our first look at the big splashy superhero headquarters comes just when the team is completely finished falling apart. Seems symbolic.

If I can only figure out if those blue patches on the ground are solid or water or what. Maybe mini submarine access?

28, 29, 30

I like Brad because he doesn't seem to care about being liked. He'll just say whatever is on his mind that he thinks Alison should know, he's kind and critical and petty and fair all at once, not bothering to sugarcoat anything or show any firm displeasure. I don't think I'm explaining my thought here very well. It's a willingness to let things be nuanced and complicated, as his feelings towards Alison probably are. It makes his attitude tricky to read, I'd struggle to figure out what kind of reaction he's expecting his words to have.

So that seems bold.

31, 32

Some unusually dense storytelling here, but it's good to have this backstory sorted.


CLOSURE! Which is kind of funny how valid it feels to have things decently resolved between these two characters, half of whom we have only been getting to know for six pages.

Who can say where the road goes, okay, it goes to the dynamorph conference, but they don't know that yet.


I think half of the science fiction technology in this comic goes towards enabling Hector to talk to other people when he's being tiny. But no devices can overcome the lethargy of major sads.


"This is the size I feel like being right now" is such a superhero-but-in-a-realistic-world thing to say. Who needs four Ant Man movies when this comic page is a thing that exists?


If we're going by their own words, Hector has saved the world at least one time more than Alison has, which means he's the better superhero.

This is probably one of those times when I go so deadpan nobody can tell I'm joking. But for real, Hector is badass.


See, Alison agrees with me.

And "There is no such thing as a good idea forever" is the most important lesson of the comic in my opinion. They're dropping hard and fast today.


The immediate, visceral response is so painful to see. Ali must always be thinking about Tara. If her insides were not invincible the guilt would eat her up, and that's not a metaphor.


I like that they aren't just hugging it out like every other conflict resolution we have seen. That was so bad Ali doesn't just forgive him for saying sorry, not immediately. Actually, making all that effort to hand her a tissue as big as he is might've made me believe he really feels bad, that's a solid act of contrition.


I can't blame Hector for being daunted by the prospect of doing hard science, but if I were in Ali's I also would be going "I'm leaving" at that point.


They'll reconcile later so it's not that sad, but this page goes so deep into melodrama it's more funny than sad anyway.

Also, this is where the comments on the comic become unmanageable. I'm probably going to slow my reread down to a crawl to read all the comments and it'll be a big waste of time 99 out of 100 times. We'll see how that shakes out in coming posts.

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