Tag Archives: Furiosa

We Need to Talk About Furiosa.

My weekend blogs are usually a collective of thoughts on the comics I’ve read since my last rundown, but this week I want to focus on one, and one alone. We need to talk about Furiosa.

If you follow my blog, or have read any of my past posts, you will know I was among the many who highly sung the praises of Mad Max: Fury Road (which I argued should really be titled Furiosa’s Road), primarily for its fantastic Hollywood-shattering portrayal of women: fully developed characters in an action-packed movie so scarce on dialogue – never weak or purely plot devices. You can read my full appreciation of George Miller’s return here: https://faceittiger.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/mad-max-furiosas-road/. Surely, then, my excitement that the release a Furiosa spin off comic, to coincide with Vertigo’s new Mad Max franchise series, is understandable – and one voice in a chorus of many.

Oh boy.

Be careful what you wish for.

I’d like to begin by stating that, whilst obviously trying to remain in canon with Fury Road, it does not. This is not smoothly linked in, and it’s certainly not the prequel we deserve.

The beauty and brilliance of Fury Road is that we understood the background these women were escaping from without having to actually see it. The implication was enough, and the clipping of the belts added that extra nod just to make sure everyone was keeping up. And the women, each driven to gain their freedom, were so diverse: a shared goal from unique perspectives, each bringing something different to the team. It’s surprising, then, that Furiosa #1 has completely ignored these fantastic characteristics. Most shocking of all, although disappointingly unsurprising in the comics industry, is that almost every plot point is driven by rape. And not just the implication: graphic, brutal, disgusting, unnecessary rape. The powerful subtlety of Fury Road has been completely besmirched by Furiosa #1. Let’s take a closer look at just how wrong it went.

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The Wives

When we first meet the wives, we learn that Immortan Joe has gifted them with education: books, music, history lessons. Indeed, we’re told that giving these women a teacher was his “one fatal error”, because we all know how dangerous a group of educated women can be. Anyone else’s alarm bells ringing? And we’re only on page two…

The issue of education is brought up repeatedly throughout the 40-page book, and really makes each of the wives look like ignorant little flowers that desperately need protection. Rather than pulling from the implications in the movie that each of these women were interesting and led their own lives before being captured by Immortan Joe, they rely on Joe’s kindness of giving them a teacher. It doesn’t matter that Toast knew how to load a gun, and what ammunition to pair with each weapon when the other girls didn’t; or The Dag knew a thing or two about seeds (there’s one condescending page in the comic where they’re learning about peaches, their pits, and ‘oh, wow, seeds help things grow’). These women didn’t learn things through experience and share their knowledge with each other while held captive; they’re not interesting individuals: they’re lambs wrapped in blankets. The extent of focus on education is unnecessary, and could easily have been replaced by the women swapping stories from their life before. As Ana Mardoll stated in her fantastic post on Shakesville, “to me (and I’m guessing other women in theatres), it was no ‘mystery’ as to why the women knew things; they knew things because they were people.”

But it’s okay, you know. Immortan Joe really is a good guy, because he gives them such nice things. Books, music, knowledge, water. Surely being held captive, beaten, raped, held for a man’s pleasure is much better than freedom. Pfft. Who needs free will, amirite?!

I’m not joking when I say this is genuinely the attitude the majority of characters have in this comic. Furiosa tells the women just how good they have it; Joe asks “WHERE’S MY GRATITUDE?!”; and teacher, Miss Giddy, tells them to just “Stay calm within your core. In that place, he cannot reach you.” Great, because suppressing trauma is definitely the healthy and normal thing to do. I can have a bath, so please, continue to treat me as property!

The wives are treated as idiots by both the creative team and the other characters. They’ve just to put up and shut up, because it’s a lot better than anything else. They certainly aren’t capable of surviving outside by themselves, as Furiosa venomously reminds them. Miss Giddy also confides in Furiosa, telling her that the girls need a leader since they’re incapable of surviving alone. They’re reduced to nothing more than whimpering damsels, reading about peach pits.

To make it worse, the majority of their interaction with each other is when they’re being bitchy or emotional – but not, as Mardoll explains, genuinely emotional and deep, but “girly emotional”. They’re catty and cruel. Capable lashes out at Furiosa for not protecting them from Joe, and then apologises because she’s jealous. That’s right – she’s not mad because Joe’s raping them and keeping them against their will – that would be ridiculous! She’s got the red-headed temperament and is green with envy; “The moment you walked through the door… I was filled with envy. You looked so strong. Proud and Independent. A warrior magnificent.”

Am I the only one banging my head off the wall here?! The wives have been stripped of every single trope that made them so fantastic and interesting in Fury Road, and have been turned into dribbling children who need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and whose lives really aren’t that bad because they have baths and books. And to make things worse, their motivation for change isn’t the rape, or forced child bearing, or being held against their will – IT’S BECAUSE FURIOSA HAS TAUGHT THEM AND THEY SHOULD TRY TO BE LIKE HER.

The writers have well and truly created women who can barely tie their own shoes without guidance, never mind fight for their own freedom. They can’t think for themselves, apparently can’t survive themselves, can’t educate themselves. Urgh, I can’t even…

Furiosa

Oh my goodness, guys. We’re about to learn the back story of one of the most kick-ass women in cinema history. I bet it’s good! Okay, here we go, time to find out what happened to her to make her into the badass monster she is today. Ready?

Oh.

She was raped.

Great…

The creators have seriously missed an amazing opportunity. This could have been the chance to explore just what makes a female heroine, who is adored by male and female audiences, so intriguing, so mysterious, so awe inspiring. But no. I wish I’d been at the creative round-table:

‘So, guys, what motivates women? Where did Furiosa come from? How did she become a war-rig driver? And what about robo-arm?! The possibilities!’

“She used to be one of Joe’s wives, she was raped, and why not hint that she’s probably barren – so a rejected wife?”

‘GENIUS! We know how well that kind of approach worked out for Whedon!’

I held my head in my hands for a good ten minutes after reading Furiosa’s backstory reveal. I can’t get past the poor plotting. It’s like being presented with the Golden Ticket to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but cashing it in to buy a life supply of advent calendar chocolate. But even then, surely Furiosa should have been more determined to help the wives rather than encourage their compliance? The narrative is weak, the writing lazy, and the opportunity wasted.

Their Bodies

One of my biggest problems with Furiosa #1 was the way in which pregnancy and women’s bodies were treated. On page three, we’re treated to a very graphic vaginal exam, in which the panel is framed by female legs. I’m sure this seemed like a fantastic creative idea, but as a woman who is now being forced to look through the eyes of an abused woman in a hugely intimate scenario with three slobbering guys in my vision, it’s unbelievably insensitive, and kind of insulting. Way to make a woman into a literal framing device, team. *slow claps*

We learn that these exams are so Joe knows when peak ovulation times are, which suggests his raping of these women is to repopulate with his teeny army of warlords. Haha, what suckers we are! They pulled us in with that trick, didn’t they?! It seems that the women are required to regularly ‘perform’ for Joe, and Toast’s disgusted sigh of, “where he puts it, there’ll be no babies” tells us that it’s as much for pleasure as it is for repopulation.

The list goes on and on with where the creative team totally missed the mark here. The girls are angry that Joe decides it’s finally time to rape Cheedo – the girl who is so young, she’s not ovulating yet – because she’s the only one not “infected by your poison”. Way to exploit the guilt felt by victims of sexual abuse, guys. There’s an attempt at abortion with a coat hanger which is overly graphic. Abortion is compared to war – I don’t think I need to expand on the idiocy and insensitivity of that. The writers can’t seem to grasp that, sometimes, women don’t want babies. Again, Mardoll brilliantly summarises the situation; “The movie narrative felt inclusive to me of differences between the wives: whether they wanted to abort or adopt out of their current pregnancy and have children, they were united in not wanting to bear warlords. Now the comic has twisted that to be a statement about a specific child, making the women’s flight for freedom just as much about ‘protecting’ that child from warlord-training as it was about making reproductive choices on their own.” And she’s right – in Fury Road, the women wanted total freedom: of their bodies, of their minds, of their choices – and they’d do anything to get it. In the comic, they are 100% objects. Their bodies, their minds, and their children and choices belong to Joe.

The Creative Team

The narrative structure of Furiosa #1 is almost an ironic paradox. When we come in to the story on page one, we’re met by a male storyteller, recounting the events of their tale to a captive audience, acting as an uncanny mirror of the comics’ entirely male creative team expressing the experiences of a female centred comic to their readers. I’m not saying men can’t write women – there are so many examples to shut that kind of argument down immediately. However, it’s important to remember that Miller was so desperate to get his sense of how women would respond in certain situations right in Fury Road, he enlisted the help of Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) – and it certainly worked in everyone’s favour. So why not do the same for the comic?

In investigating unique female voices further, it’s necessary to draw upon genuine female experience. By ignoring the female voice, the creators of Furiosa #1 have resorted to the lazy writing tropes that have haunted women in comics – and blockbuster media – for decades, and that’s what completely destroys this comic. For example, as I stated already, rape is used repeatedly as the motivation for the plot to move forward, as well as providing “character development” (if you can call it that). Shall we count the excuses? 1. Furiosa is enlisted as protector of the women after Rictus attempted to rape Anghard; 2. Furiosa doesn’t stop Joe from raping the girls on page 10, because he’s the boss, and he’s giving them a nice life, right?!; 3. Furiosa’s a badass because she was raped herself; 4. Furiosa holds the girls back once more from Joe during the Cheedo incident; 5. Furiosa finally decides to help the girls, after seeing them repeatedly raped and abused. That is FIVE excuses in FORTY pages – technically, thirty-eight pages. That’s more than once every ten pages!

The handling of characterisation is so poor, it’s embarrassing. Gone are the women from the screen, replaced by whimpering idiots who need to be led. And even when they do begin their escape, it’s not as the team we saw in the movie, but as bubble wrapped ornaments, bullied by a condescending Furiosa. Theron’s depiction of Furiosa was determined and hard, but never cold nor hurtful to the girls. She was maternal rather than monstrous: a militant mother on a mission, and hugely likeable. It took me a long time to snap out of wanting to shave my head and drive around the desert. But here, she’s just as guilty as treating the wives as inferior idiots as Joe and the comics’ creative team are.

URGH!

Reviews and Responses

If the content of the comic didn’t make you angry enough, the response by the creative team and DC/Vertigo has been just as sickening.

When contacted by Rebecca Vipond Brink, asking for a comment on the Furiosa #1 issue (in all senses of the word), DC responded with “Thanks for reaching out, we appreciate it! We have no comment to provide and are declining the request.” In other words, “we couldn’t care less.” Great – thanks for caring so much about change, fan response, and female representation in comics, DC!

To make matters worse, when called out on Twitter, Furiosa #1’s co-creator Mark Sexton responded with:

“Best answer is that the use of institutionalised rape by Immortan Joe is not only central to the story but without it, the story could be viewed merely as a bunch of young girls whining about being kept in relative luxury by an older man who’s concerned with their safety. Not really much room for dramatic tension there…!”

Erm… Am I missing something here? It’s okay to keep people captive as long as you’re not raping them? Well, alright then. I’m sorry, Immortan Joe – you are a stand-up guy! Please, continue to lock up women to your hearts content!

Sexton has totally missed the point here. We all knew rape was a part of the back story. We’re not idiots – give your audience some credit. But it does not have to be the root cause of everything. It does not have to be the sole reason these women are fighting for freedom. It does not need to be the reason Furiosa is a mysterious soldier. It does not need to be shown so obviously, and played upon FIVE TIMES. It does not need to be the reason for appointing Furiosa protector of the wives, and it certainly doesn’t need to be the motivation for her finally helping the women.

In Furiosa #1, these women have lost themselves, reduced to little more than wombs and a robotic arm. I am so disappointed in the rich pool of opportunity which has clearly been ignored, only for comics to return to the static state of using women as little more than plot devices – but that’s where the problem lies: it’s a comic about these women – using them as plot devices in their own story doesn’t work. It makes it dull and even more infuriating that thought hasn’t gone in to establishing strong backstories in which these characters can be defined as different, interesting individuals.

I, for one, will be boycotting the book from here on out, and am disappointed that Vertigo agreed to print it in the first place. I would urge those of you with any interest in a Furiosa comic, and in learning more about her backstory, to stick to the fan-fic online and keep the fond memories of the powerful, developed women of Fury Road fully intact.

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Mad Max: Furiosa’s Road

Since first seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Now, after multiple viewings, a week of blaring nothing but the soundtrack, and raving about it with anyone that will listen, I’ve talked myself out of shaving my head and driving a war rig across the desert, and have finally been able to put my thoughts into coherent words. Spoilers lie ahead!

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What a lovely day!

The latest Mad Max sequel/reboot is a full-throttle triumph, kicking into high gear and keeping its foot on the accelerator until the credits roll two hours later. A beautiful piece of cinema which is only heightened by breath-taking live-action stunts and a rocking soundtrack, Fury Road hits you like a sudden adrenaline rush, becoming everything you want in a summer popcorn movie, and then some. Behind the fast cars, the stunning scenery, the outlandish explosions and high-flying stunts is real depth. After two viewings, I still barely feel as if I have scratched the surface. But what I can tell you is there are lessons to be learned from this blockbuster.

Who killed the world?

Mad Max: Fury Road would surely have served better being titled Furiosa’s Road, because that’s exactly what it is. George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the future is Imperator Furiosa’s story – Mad Max is merely along for the ride. In fact, his one big heroic action scene in which he confronts and kills the Bullet Farmer happens off-screen as the audience stays with Furiosa and the girls.

Charlize Theron steals the show as Imperator Furiosa: the one-armed badass on a mission of redemption. Lesson One: George Miller knows how to write women – like they’re people. Usually in action movies, the heroine is either hyper-feminised: running in heels and firing weapons without a hair out of place; or masculinised until it may as well be a guy in drag. Not in Fury Road. Instead we have a whole host of amazing characters who are surprisingly fleshed out in a movie with such a lack of dialogue.

Furiosa is not held back by her femininity. Instead, it pushes her forward: it is her source of power. In a world where everything has died, where warlords rule the roads, she cares about making a change; about pursuing a non-barbaric life. Her mission to rescue Immortan Joe’s wives and take them to the fabled Green Place is not only a maternal drive, but it is one which longs to create new life.

This is true of all the women in the movie. Their hope and capability to start again keeps them driven under extreme circumstances. It’s a responsibility. From their ability to have children – which “will not be warlords” – to their carrying of seeds. New life lies within these women, and they’re capable of making it happen. They just need to win the world back from the warlords.

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It’s repeatedly asked throughout the movie: “who killed the world?” The answer? Toxic masculinity. (That is: a harmful patriarchy which is violent, unemotional, and sexually aggressive). This is clear from the nature of the movie itself: the thrill the warboys get from brutal kills, the excessive violence, the extreme explosions. Joe’s son, Rictus, expresses anger by firing bullets repeatedly into the air rather than communicating. Indeed, it’s interesting that male characters, including Max, are muzzled during the movie, and many communicate in little more than grunts. Perhaps a comment on the modern day approach of attacking first and asking questions later. Max himself recognises his place in this new world. At the end of the movie, Max doesn’t stay with the girls at the citadel. Why? Because he knows he doesn’t belong in their new world of creation, growth, and renewal. His “world is one of fire. Of blood.”

It’s incredibly refreshing for a movie to portray a variety of women, each representing different things, but are definitely more than just a body to ogle at. When the wives are originally revealed, unclipping their belts, freeing themselves from Joe’s ownership, an unnerving sense of ‘here we go’ settled over the room. Eye-rolling ensued. Max is going to have to save them there bimbos. But no. Fury Road gives a big middle finger to typical action movie tropes before darting off in the opposite direction. We know the terrible circumstances these women are running from without having to be shown. You don’t need to abuse women on screen for entertainment: the idea should be – and is – bad enough. There’s no relationships or romance, only compassion and respect. These girls are completely competent in handling themselves, stepping up when it’s needed. Because that’s what Fury Road is about: survival.

Just as the stereotypical roles of women in action movies veers into the unexpected, the tropes of the male action hero are also confronted. Max is not the lone soldier, punching his way through a world alone. He can’t be. His solo escape attempt failed. In this world, survival is the only objective. Gender, race, class, sexuality – none of it matters. Instead, it’s people helping other people escape from unthinkable circumstances. If Furiosa needs to use Max’s shoulder to steady her gun, so be it. Get the job done, no matter what.

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The Anti-Seed: “Plant it and watch something die.”

In a post-apocalyptic world, where little but sand and salt are left on the earth, bullets are in ample supply. The destructive nature of humanity takes hold, and the power-hungry thrive. Fury Road acts as a warning. Who killed the world? We did.

It’s no surprise the higher up the power-chain you see in Fury Road, the more grotesque people are. The literal fat cats. War destroys beauty. But it also makes beauty valuable, hence Immortan Joe’s pride in his wives. These girls will help him father healthy male heirs whilst being his prized possessions – one even has all of her teeth!  Their value is particularly well demonstrated when Splendid uses her pregnant body as a human shield. She knows Joe will not sacrifice his favourite wife, particularly as she is carrying an heir. This idea is paralleled in the warboys, who are portrayed as being ultimately disposable. As one anonymous warboy dives in front of a bullet to save Immortan Joe, his body is shaken from the car, and his sacrifice goes seemingly unnoticed. He is deemed less valuable than Splendid, or any of the other wives.

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I cannot fully express my admiration and adoration for Mad Max: Fury Road, but I do believe it has opened doors for a new wave of action movie, and that’s a great thing. We may now see the rise of the realistic female action hero; a new portrayal of how men and women can work side by side, no matter their gender, for a common goal. Fury Road has blasted right through the expectations that men won’t go and see female-fronted action movies, or that they’d hate every second of it. And it disproves that women just don’t like that kind of thing. Well, Hollywood, I for one would much rather sit through Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times a day than Pitch Perfect 2 just once (I imagine it’s just more laughing at the fat one, but it’s okay, cause she laughs at her being fat as well, right?!). Who killed the world? We might. But there’s still time to save it.

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