Tag Archives: Vertigo

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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Veronica Mars with Brains – Literally!

Last week I sat myself down and talked myself into watching the CW’s new comic adaptation, iZombie. Based (loosely) on the Vertigo comic book series by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, the show’s received positive reviews and fan interest, but I have to admit – I was a very reluctant viewer.

The premise alone sounds cheesy. Liv – whose life is going super-duper-dandy (perfect fiancé, amazing job, super pretty, fantastic everything) – gets caught up in an isolated zombie attack. She awakens to find that she’s now a zombie, who can prevent turning into a complete monster as long as she snacks regularly on brains. Side-effect: by eating these brains, she connects with the person it belonged to – a literal you-are-what-you-eat. So, she uses this for good. She works in the morgue (free snacks) and helps solve crimes. Without much more information than that, it sounds like an awful version of Chew.

But, to my pleasant surprise, iZombie turned out to be so much more than that. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So, today – my experience watching the first 3 episodes.

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Oh God, this really is super cheesy.

The first five minutes of iZombie embodies everything I feared the show would be. It’s cheesy, it’s embarrassing, it’s just…. No. But luckily, the whole Liv-becoming-the-unLiving thing is turned around pretty quick. There’s no dwelling on those six months where she tries to figure her life out. We jump straight in to where the good stuff is. We know she broke up with her fiancé to keep him safe, she sunk into a zombie-like depression, and she struggled to get herself on track. But that’s it. We find ourselves confronting Liv’s life when she realises she can use this undead thing to her advantage. She can actually help people.

Okay, I take it back – this is great.

Before I knew it, I was actually settled in and enjoying it. I was laughing – out loud – at the jokes. It’s essentially a police drama with a twist – and a fun one at that, even if it’s slightly silly. But iZombie knows it’s silly, and that’s what’s great! It’s comedy-drama with a heart – nothing groundbreaking, but one that you can sink into for 40 minutes, enjoy, and then carry on with your day. (Plus, the title sequence is really cool).

Rose McIver is fantastic as Liv. She completely owns the snarky, slightly-confused-by-the-whole-situation character Liv needs to be relatable. And every one of her accompanying cast members are as strong. There’s no annoying, whiny, idiotic characters – they all add depth. They’re not all likeable – oh no – I hate Blaine who is clearly up to something, but in that fantastic way that I love to hate him, rather than it making the show unbearable. The cast are so clearly in to what they’re doing, it makes it all the more fun to watch.

It’s also great to have a show that doesn’t skimp on the drama in favour of pushing other plot points through. iZombie successfully combines Liv’s personal struggles with the police drama, and both are thrown into the mixing pot with something that’s clearly so much bigger. But it’s not overwhelming – there’s just enough to be procedural but with an ever expanding intrigue. And it’s incredibly fast-paced. There’s no major dwelling points, no pausing for 10 minutes to have an argument about something. Even when Liv’s been upset, it’s been a passing voiceover – yet not passé. And so far, she’s always overcome her problems. She has an amazingly positive outlook for a zombie, and is able to transfer her energy into doing something productive.

My one complaint is that the show must be sponsored by Instagram. Seriously – how many times can you mention it in one episode?! Having said that, the show successfully uses social media in portraying the difficulties in growing up in the digital age.

I wanted to keep the events of the show as minimal as possible. I entered the show relatively blind, and came out with a positive view. I suggest you do the same. Shake off the worries, keep in mind the first five minutes are just the first five minutes, and embrace the life of the undead!

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Death of the Endless.

Very rarely is death one of the more popular aspects of, well, anything – but Death of the Endless (of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’) is perhaps one of the most charming characters to frequent the comics page, ultimately making her an all-time fan-favourite.

Death first graced the pages of ‘The Sandman’ in issue 8 (‘The Sound of Her Wings’), and despite her fleeting appearances across the complete volumes of Gaiman’s work, she quickly became cemented in fan popularity, which ultimately led to two of her own mini spin-off series.  Death of the Endless directly confronts the typical Grim Reaper characteristics presented in popular culture, being portrayed as a kind-hearted, nurturing young woman.  A stylish character sporting a silver ankh and Horus eye-tattoo, Death subtly reflects the gothic feel portrayed throughout The Sandman series; and her soft features and caring personality ironically contrast the negative connotations of death.

The second eldest of the Endless siblings, Death often appears in The Sandman to act as a confidante to her brother, Dream.  Whilst it is evident she adopts and adores the role of maternal sibling, Death is undoubtedly the most powerful of the Endless.  An immortal, omnipotent power, she is respected and feared throughout the universe.  She is the only one of her siblings able to intimidate the Furies, and it becomes apparent that she is the only one unbound by the ancient rules.

Undoubtedly, Death’s most poignant power is that over life and death.  It is believed that she appears twice in a lifetime: once at birth, infusing the body with life; and again at the time of death, where she passes the soul to the appropriate Death Gods.  One of the most appealing aspects of this character is her ability to take her job seriously; she finds no joy in what she does, but accepts the responsibility of the difficult role.  In response to the development of her character, Gaiman stated, “I didn’t want a Death who agonised over her role, or who took a grim delight in her job, or didn’t care.  I wanted a Death that I’d like to meet, in the end.  Someone who would care.  Like her.”

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This is perhaps what makes Death’s character so appealing, explaining why she often graces the ‘best comic book character’ lists.  The distinct irony of her appearance and personality completely contradict everything she personifies.  She is not a terrifying skeleton draped in a hooded cloak, carrying a scythe, grinning manically at you as time runs out.  Nor is she someone who completely disassociates from her duty.  Instead, she’s comforting and compassionate; becoming mortal for one day a year to remind herself of the significance and weight of her job, and the impact it has on humanity.

Death is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and poignant comic book characters.  But she does not abuse her power, nor does she carry a distasteful glee or unsettling distance from her responsibility.  Her kind and caring characteristics make her an uncanny, yet comforting figure; more angelic than demonic; a friend rather than something to fear.  So my advice to you this week?  Read (or reread!) ‘The Sandman’, and don’t fear the reaper.

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Karen Berger.

I’m lucky enough to work in comics. An industry where women are considered a rare breed, it’s interesting considering the industry itself from the inside as a cog in the creative machine, and from the outside as a fan. From both perspectives I’ve found Karen Berger particularly intriguing and influential. Working behind the scenes, no name on any covers, Karen Berger is one of the most influential voices in comics history. So for this week’s Wonder Women column, I’d like to focus on editorial hero, Karen Berger.

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Graduating with a degree in English literature and art history in 1979, Berger jumped straight into the comics industry, working as assistant editor to Paul Levitz at DC.  This experience allowed Berger to nurture her growing love of the horror genre, gaining the position of editor for DC’s ‘House of Mystery’ title, as well as succeeding Len Wein’s editorial role for Alan Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’, providing it with the development it needed to become the widely acclaimed work that it is considered to be today.

Indeed, Berger was instrumental in shepherding the British comics’ talent of the ‘80s and ‘90s across the pond, granting them global success.  As Grant Morrison argued, “it was a perfect storm for a bunch of creative punks from Britain who were suddenly being taken very seriously.” Indeed, Berger’s recognition of these talented young British lads opened the doors to some of the most popular and critically acclaimed comics and graphic novels in our history; such as ‘The Sandman’, ‘The Invisibles’, and ‘V for Vendetta’.

Her passion and dedicated hard work towards the medium provided the push needed to create DC’s horror imprint, Vertigo, in 1993.  A line dedicated towards creations for mature-readers that could stray from the Comics Code Authority’s strict guidelines, Vertigo allowed a darker side of DC comics to be unleashed upon the public.  As founding editor, Berger oversaw the majority of Vertigo’s projects; everything from ‘Fables’ to ‘Hellblazer’, and ‘Y: The Last Man’ to ‘American Vampire’.  Vertigo made huge leaps forward in the comics industry, being a mainstream label which catered to adult audiences, as well as being the first comics’ publisher to collect all of its publications into graphic novels.  Indeed, in 2010, Vertigo began to modify in attempt to become a largely creator owned company, granting further freedom to the various works.

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Berger’s drive in moving the industry forward has certainly not gone unnoticed.  Winning her first award in 1990 (the Inkpot Award), Berger went on to win three Eisner awards (1993, 1994, and 1995), as well as the title of Favourite Editor from the Comics Buyer’s Guide Awards every year from 1997 until 2005.  But her fundamental role in creating and nurturing Vertigo, pushing writers to set new boundaries, and supporting the monumental Vertigo publications has also been recognised within the industry.  In 2006, Berger was promoted to ‘Senior Vice President – Executive Editor’ of the imprint; the same year Vertigo was unveiled as the fourth largest comics’ publisher in America.

In 2013, twenty years after beginning her venture in launching Vertigo, Berger shocked the industry by stepping down from her role as Executive Editor.  Finding DC to be driven largely by company owned characters, Berger left the company in order to pursue different opportunities and channel her creativity elsewhere, passing her gauntlet onto Shelley Bond.

Karen Berger’s time working within DC and Vertigo certainly cannot be overlooked.  Her keen eye for unique talent and expert story-telling resulted in the publication of some of the most renowned comics’ series of the modern era.  By supporting writers, artists, and ideas she truly believed in, Berger was able to produce and promote some of the best creative works in the adult comic book world. The founding of Vertigo is considerably significant in the development of the comics’ industry, and Berger was unmistakably a driving force behind the creation and shaping of this imprint.  It’s difficult not to question that if it had not been for Berger, would Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’ series have been any more than an idea?  Would we know the name Hellblazer and be excited for welcoming John Constantine to our TV screens?  Would Alan Moore or Grant Morrison be as widely recognised worldwide?  Would these darker tales have found their outlet at the right place or time?

I previously posted my Wonder Women column fortnightly on the Big Glasgow Comic Page. You can check out more from them at bigglasgowcomic.com

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