“Our failures will help us grow. They forge us. Test us. Make us stronger.” This quote from Ethan Young’s comic The Battles Of Bridget Lee: Invasion Of Farfall is a good glimpse into what this comic is about. Set in a dystopian future where there is an intergalactic war happening, Bridget Lee, the comic's protagonist and namesake, must cope with being a doctor, a war veteran, and the protector of her community.
It is the type of role we rarely ever see women portray in any medium of storytelling, let alone comics. The inspiration for this comic was one of the greatest war heroes of all time, a hero whose name you probably know. “It’s a sci-fi allegory of the Mulan folktale,” Young, the author and illustrator of the book, tells BUST at one of the nation’s largest comic cons, C2E2 in Chicago.
“I mean, that is one of my mom’s favorite folktales she told me about it when I was a kid," Young says. "She was very upset when the Mulan animated film came out in '98 because she felt they changed too much of the story. I approached Dark Horse about this, and they were excited about the idea; the only thing is we couldn’t use the Mulan name because of certain legal issues.”
Additionally, Dark Horse had already produced a comic about Mulan, so instead of using the Mulan name and creating yet another Mulan story, Young chose to create a whole new folktale inspired by the heroine. Bridget Lee is a war hero fighting an intergalactic battle with aliens who have lost their planet and are on Earth seeking its resources.
The war has caused a lot of carnage and humanity has lost its cities and nations; in its place, three sectors were created and military prowess is prioritized. All are fighting the same enemy and for the same cause—to live another day and hopefully win back their planet.
What is interesting about Young’s world is that even during an intergalactic war in which human civilizations as we know them have ended, sexism is still there. Three sanctions—Blue Circle, Green Order and Red Prime—authorize a mandate. Every sector has an orphanage post, and men are meant to fight. That means, as it says in the book, “The mandate created certain obstacles for women.” Much like the heroine Lee is inspired by, Mulan, Bridget Lee enters the military group and is an extraordinary fighter.
All of this is just in the first few pages—don’t worry, I haven't given away any spoilers. These similarities are all a part of Young’s plan and how he is setting up the world. “We changed the folktale in the story to 'the Mighty One,’" he explains. "That’s the folktale within the graphic novel, so I wanted to tell the story about a hero who is very strong but also flawed, who has the ability to be vulnerable but also to take charge—all of these characteristics that we want in our heroes to begin with—and I also want her compassion to shine through as we take care of the orphans in the book.”
Lee stands out from the canon of war hero stories because of her immense empathy and the daily pain she deals with. In the book, she has lost someone close to her. She must cope with her day-to-day pain, the legacy of being a battle hero, living in this war, and the carnage the war has brought and continues to bring. “I think you can tell in book one, violence isn’t something that she is geared towards," Young says. "She’s not there looking for violence—defending the kids is a very reactionary thing. And you know, my wife is a nurse and my mom was actually in the medical profession when she was in China.”
Young says the personal connection his mother and wife have to the medical profession was able to inform how he developed Lee. Especially his mother’s experience as a medic in the village she lived in while in China. Lee’s profession as a caretaker is juxtaposed with her experience as a soldier throughout the comic and is one of the main issues our protagonist deals with. Can a medic kill? “Yeah, and you see this within book two as well. You’ll see these conflicts within her where it’s the struggle between doing what she thinks is best vs. doing what she thinks is necessary,” Young says.
Young explorers this conflict not just with the text but also with the art and art style. The comic is drawn in mostly muted purples and red, colors that can be seen as royal and vibrant, but in a world where war has been constant, even colors fade.
Although Young creates a dystopian fictional world, readers can see echoes of reality. Pick up any paper with images from Yemen, Afghanistan, or any war-torn country, and we see the desperation and lack of vibrancy. Young has created a world where war is the daily life, and Bridget Lee is not only dealing with greater philosophical issues, but is also just trying to survive. Young explains, “If I had to get into this character's head, I would say in her mind, she’s living in this dystopian world and she can’t tell where the end is, but she still has to try to give hope to these kids. She understands that she fulfills this symbolic role to them as the Mighty One, and so she has to find it in herself to still play that role where she’s uplifting these kids and galvanizing them, but at the same time being realistic, like, ‘hey, we just have to find a way to survive.’”
Because of Lee’s very human problems, she is relatable to all readers. Yet there is also a reason why Young made Lee an Asian woman. Young says diversity is very important to him: “I think the more diverse, the better. I know that is kind of a hot topic buzzword to just say 'diversity,' but I think you don't know how special it is to have a character that looks like who you are, until you finally see it. Seeing someone who reflects you and looks like you take on these larger-than-life heroic storylines because you know the whole point of the fantasy is to immerse yourself into these larger-than-life storylines.”
Larger-than-life storylines also include larger-than-life characters from all backgrounds. Although Young is happy to reach out to other Asians and ensure they see themselves, you don’t have to be Asian or a woman to relate to Bridget Lee. Young says the more diversity we see in comics and film, the more we can respect each other and undo any stereotypes we have learned from pop culture.
He says he hopes this comic gives audiences a broader idea of what they think a genre hero can be. “I’ve kind of been reflecting on some of the books I’ve done lately, and I like giving my heroes these understated moments of true heroism, but with the backdrop of something much larger happening.”
Young has brought to life a character who is inspired by an amazing woman, but will be a whole new hero for a different generation. She doesn’t have special abilities and she is highly flawed; those qualities make her a hero, not only of the future, but for all time.
The Battles Of Bridget Lee Vol. 2: The Miracle Child will be available in stores on May 9. Here's a sneak peek:
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa