After a successful Kickstarter campaign, several years' worth of the wonderful webcomic Strong Female Protagonist has been collected in a book called Strong Female Protagonist Book One, and the story is now available in a single, powerful draught. Cory Doctorow reviews a comic that has a lot more to say about justice than the typical superhero story.

When Alison Green — a typical midwestern middle-class girl — was 14, a panic broke out in America: all across the land, teenagers were exhibiting "biodynamic" powers that ranged from the mildly interesting to the outright terrifying. President George W Bush took to the airwaves to call for calm, only to be interrupted by a supervillain who promised to subjugate the human race. And that's when Alison discovered that she, too, had biodynamic powers — incredible strength and total imperviousness to physical harm.

For years, Alison fought with a super-team under the guise of "Mega Girl," but as she matured, the project of being a superhero raised more questions than it answered. Everywhere Alison looked, she saw deep, structural problems of poverty, injustice and discrimination, and no amount of punching robots or tackling supervillains was doing a damned thing about it. One night, on national television, she removed her mask, revealed her identity, denounced superheroism, and walked out of the studio.

Now Alison is a "normal" university student, albeit one whose no-longer-secret identity follows her around wherever she goes, along with the grief, guilt and sorrow she feels about the world and her place in it. Alienated from the fraternity of superheroes and unable to quite fit in with the people around her, Alison soldiers on, secretly in communication with her former arch-nemesis, a mind-reading, retired supervillain who understands her in a way that no one else can quite match.

What could be a gimmicky setup rises far beyond cliche, bringing new questions about vigilantism, justice, and heroics to the field, standing alongside stories like Watchmen and Soon I Will Be Invincible in the canon of witty, thoughtful commentaries on superheroism that manage to be, at the same time, extremely satisfying as superhero comics, full of the adventure and marvellous feats that makes the genre so evergreen.

Created by writer Brennan Lee Mulligan and illustrator Molly Ostertag, Strong Female Protagonist made an extremely successful transition from the Web to a bound book — the creators even preserved the normally hidden tooltips that they use to add a self-reflexive gag to each installment by making it into a footnote on each page.

Humor is hard to get right, but humor with a serious message is even harder. Mulligan and Ostertag's creation strikes just the right balance. It's super.

Strong Female Protagonist Book One

-Cory Doctorow