DC Comics’ Female Furies Is a Poor Political Metaphor

It looks like DC’s ‘Female Furies’ is nothing more than a poor political metaphor, and with the people involved, a mighty pretentious one at that. The Hollywood Reporter recently interviewed Cecil Castellucci, writer of the new Female Furies series starring the characters created by Jack Kirby in the Bronze Age for his 4th World concepts like the New Gods. It’s pretty biased, of course:

 

Darkseid is…a patriarchal system.

Following up on the critically acclaimed, award-winning Mister Miracle series, DC this week launches another revisionist take on Jack Kirby’s beloved Fourth World comic book mythology. Instead of simply continuing in the vein of the last series, however, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Adriana Melo’s Female Furies is something altogether different: a funny, feminist take on the origins of the unstoppable all-woman fighting force of Apokolips, as trained by the sadistic Granny Goodness, a woman feared by everyone — except the men who consider themselves her peers.

 
Considering what it allegedly tackles, I’m not sure why it’d be a laughing matter. And considering Darkseid himself is a villain, isn’t it kind of a moot point he’d be running a “patriarchal” system, or one dominated mainly by men? And, how did Castellucci even get the assignment?

 

How did you get involved with this project?

As I was finishing up [DC Young Animal title] Shade the Changing Woman, I was looking around for what my next project at DC could be. I had gone through the DC Encyclopedia, looking about for a new character I could sink my teeth into like I did with Shade. I was at the DC offices and I stopped in to say hi to talk to [co-publisher] Dan DiDio and talk about that kind of stuff, but the characters that I showed him had already been snagged or they had plans for. 

So, we were just gabbing and he was telling me about some of the upcoming projects and I made an off-the-cuff remark and Dan opened the encyclopedia and said, “If you can crack that idea with the Female Furies, we can talk.” He then handed me the Kirby Fourth World Omnibus, and I was off to the races.

 
There’s something wrong when DiDio is the one greenlighting the projects, and he still hasn’t admitted he made reprehensible mistakes in the past. Besides, what if the metaphor makes Darkseid and company look like right-wingers? One could wonder about Granny Goodness being put in charge of an orphanage…

 

There’s something wonderfully fitting seeing the various members of Darkseid’s familiar evil cabal — including Darkseid himself — represent patriarchal oppression in the way that they do in the first issue of the series; it feels like something entirely appropriate, considering that they were created as analogs for other evils. I’m curious about the idea of using Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters as metaphors and stand-ins in this way; it feels very true to Kirby’s original intent, but I’m surprised and fascinated to see how you repurpose it for your own ends here.

Thank you! Yeah, it’s interesting because as this idea about gender equality was brewing up inside of me and I was combing through Kirby’s pages and pages of work, I saw that a lot of that stuff was already embedded in his world and the way that Darkseid and his Cronies talk about Granny and the Furies. It was really fascinating. I feel like I’m pulling directly from his world and highlighting the color or turning up the volume. 

Kirby knew that women were capable and strong and equal, but he also knew that wasn’t [widely seen to be] the case in his present day. So that’s stitched in there. The way men comment on Barda’s body. The way that men on Apokolips talk about the Furies. The way Gilotina, who’s not in my book, handles a handsy guard. The way that Granny treats her own girls. It felt like a real ripe time to take a look at these kinds of issues within the context of a story that was already inherently commenting on it and addressing it. 

Women have been enduring these kinds of stories of not being able to advance in fields for years, and even with progress being made, we still face challenges. Look at all the headlines these days. It’s amazing that we’re saying enough. With the Fourth World, I thought it would be interesting to see an awakening on the level of a Me Too movement, but on a planet where everyone is really the bad guy — even the gals – because everything is heightened.

 
I honestly have to wonder if a story where even the women sexually harassed are the baddies is a good idea, because doesn’t that kind of undermine the whole point? And if Darkseid was usually honorable enough before not to stoop to sexual abuse, or, never depicted that way in the past, then it’s wrong to exploit him to convey the writer’s narrative now. A story like this would work far better with new characters who were more “down to earth”, and not of the costumed supervillain variety, and that’s why this is decidedly no better a step than it was to turn Dr. Light into a rapist in Identity Crisis.

 

Traditionally, Kirby’s Fourth World is something that’s very masculine in focus — it’s ultimately lots of stories about fathers and sons — with these wonderful women in there at the edges who are pretty much left unexplored. Is Female Furies an attempt to correct that, to some degree?

In a way, yes, I think so. Or rather, I’d say that it’s a broadening of the world. I am and always have been interested in telling stories about women; I like all stories, and I read all stories, but I want to see more stories that reflect my experience, just as many other people whose characters have been pushed to the edges want to see that. I look at this book as being a way of expanding the gloriousness of what’s already there. The Fourth World is certainly big enough to have room to bring a lot of points of view to the table. It really is a time now to do that. For me, I want to tell and read stories that center the female experience. But just because those are the characters that I’m concentrating on, it doesn’t mean that it’s not for men. Stories, all sorts, are for everyone.

 
Do I get the feeling she’s alluding to the same kind of pretentious argument used by the anti-Comicsgate bunch? Mainly because Big Barda stood out as a notable female representative, and she even defended hubby Mr. Miracle whenever possible, so her comment comes across as quite uncalled for and insulting to Kirby as much as everybody else.

 

I’m curious about how you approach something like Female Furies, or your earlier Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman, in general; in both cases, you’re working with long-established characters and mythology but telling a story that feels very much yours. How do you balance fan concerns about continuity with your own needs as a creator? Is that even something you think about?

I do feel very lucky that I have gotten to do that. It’s really fun, and I think that not being in continuity helps with that — you kind of get to go in and have fun and spin things around a bit. For me, I think the most important thing is to really go in with the intention of honoring what came before you. I do a lot of homework. With Shade I read both [character creator Steve] Ditko and [writer who revived the character in the 1990s, Peter] Milligan and tried to honor what they did while carving out my own geography in that space. I’m trying to do the same with the Furies; I’m trying my best to honor Kirby and his world but just pull it toward a female voice. It’s both exhilarating and daunting. I take it very seriously.

 

Sure she does. Based on some of the material I’ve looked over so far, I’m skeptical she read enough of Kirby’s visions, or she’d know Big Barda was a tribute to Jack’s wife, and as the anti-heroine of the story, Barda provided some kind of feminine perspective.

Surprisingly enough, Newsarama’s reviewer wasn’t impressed with this cynical production:

 

Casting Darkseid as a sexual predator as well as an archvillain, he coerces a younger Goodness with promises of power and betrays her by putting her in charge of the “orphanage.” The heavy-handed analogy could be read as being about any number of Hollywood or political figures who have recently been called out for their behavior. It’s a clumsily-made argument, but in isolation it would have made for some interesting texture to this sci-fi parable. Yet as the pages of fight montages are suddenly interrupted by the Furies engaging in a bake-off, an evening gown portion, and a smile/swimsuit contest. Castellucci’s point about double standards and institutional misogyny is crystal-clear, but it comes awfully close to mocking its own thesis.

 
Which the Hollywood Reporter writer hinted at in his own introduction. If the viewpoint is depicted humorously, doesn’t that undermine the seriousness of the topic?

 

Contemporary conversations around abuse of power and privilege are far too important to be diminished by throwaway stories, and Female Furies’ bewildering execution can’t help but undermine the progressive allegory it attempts to make. Falling far short of satire and just too plain weird to be take seriously as retro-flavored drama, if there is an intended audience here, it probably got lost in a Boom Tube along the way.

I certainly don’t think Kirby purists will appreciate this. Somebody says in the comments:

 

What a backslide for DC. Putting people who hate superheroes on superhero books is a terrible idea. All you have to do is look over at Marvel and see where that road of narcissistic mediocrity ends up. It’s even more terrible that Kirby characters had to be sacrificed for this Tumblr abortion.

 

If she does run a blog there, she’s only added herself to the crowd who’ve given the whole network a bad name. Especially if she’s one of the superhero-hating crowd who’ve been hired by the Big Two despite their non-qualifications.

Bounding Into Comics’ review says:

Female Furies #1 is a case of DC bringing in a writer with a clever idea and letting her run rampant with no editorial oversight. It’s obvious from the first page that Cecil Castellucci is merely passingly familiar with the general characters that inhabit The Fourth World stories, and that’s where her knowledge base stops. In nearly 50 years of stories told in this world, nobody has missed the characterization mark by such a wide margin, even John Byrne had enough respect for Kirby’s work to keep every personality consistent.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s such a clever idea, and certainly not if it tampers with established villains like Darkseid to make him into a sex abuser. But, they have a point; Castellucci’s understanding of Kirby’s 4th World is superficial at best. I would argue though, that when Byrne made use of Big Barda in a 1987 Superman story from Action #592-93, he really screwed up, with the way he put Barda and Supes into a scenario where a slimy alien named Sleez mind-controlled the twosome into participating in a porn-snuff movie(!), and Mr. Miracle had to rescue them. I once read that Kirby particularly hated that story, as he considered the mind-enslavement Byrne put Barda through insulting, based on how she was a tribute to his wife, Rosalind Goldstein. Of all Byrne’s run during 1986-88 on Superman, that was the weakest.

And this new story spotlighting the Female Furies of Apokalips is no better, since it takes established characters and exploits them for the sake of an agenda, instead of inventing new characters who could fill the same roles and purposes.

===============

Originally posted at the Four Color Media Monitor
Follow @avigreen1 on Twitter

Avi Green

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON