Mad Max: Fury Road is a brilliant, miraculous action movie—and part of that is because it’s not really about Max, instead spotlighting Charlize Theron’s excellent Imperator Furiosa. So a brand new comic exploring the origins of this fascinating female character should be great, right? WRONG.
Warning: Suffice to say, there will be spoilers for both Mad Max: Fury Road and Mad Max: Fury Road - Furiosa #1 below.
Actually, here’s the real warning that you should heed to: If you love Fury Road and are thinking about picking up these official tie-ins, don’t. Furiosa #1 has a lot of questionable creative choices, but the added insult is that it happens to capture nothing about what made Fury Road so good in regards to its treatment of female characters. It’s both a great disservice to the movie that spawned it, and ignorantly offensive to its female characters to boot.
To understand just how badly Furiosa #1 goes wrong, I have to talk about what Fury Road did right regarding Imperator Furiosa and Immortan Joe’s brides. In the movie, Furiosa herself isn’t just a badass (even if she does get to shoulder a lot of the coolest action scenes and be the hero, to the point that her very existence was driving Men’s Rights Activists into a tizzy ahead of the film’s release), but an interesting, layered character. She’s strong, but unafraid to show her emotional side, or her desire to protect the people around her. She’s a character that had the strength to make her own way in this dangerous world, to become a War Rig driver and command fellow soldiers. There was no belittling her position or her actions for her gender; she was just accepted on the strength of her own deeds and convictions. Furiosa worked because she was a great character who just so happened to be female.
Likewise, the group of wives we see in Fury Road are equally independent-minded and respected. They never fall into the cliché of female-infighting between either themselves or Furiosa; they all work together for the good of the group. They’re not damsels who were waiting to be rescued by someone more capable than them; they’re just as important to their own survival as Max or Nux or Furiosa are. And even though the film obviously hints at the sexual abuses they suffered in the past, it’s never dwelled upon or made to be their sole defining trait. Fury Road never makes their arcs in the movie all about the whatever Joe did to them.
Furiosa #1 gets all of this characterization spectacularly wrong, and more. First of all, it’s a comic inherently about rape. Unlike Fury Road, which was praised for not highlighting or dwelling on the sexual abuse that was part of its female characters past, the comic’s dominant focus is on that sexual abuse, to the point that the fact these women were raped by Immortan Joe almost becomes their defining characteristic. Instead of taking the nuanced approach that Fury Road did, assuming the viewer is smart enough to understand the sexual abuse these women suffered without the graphic acts themselves being shown, the comic becomes rape scene after rape scene (there’s even a brief implication that Furiosa herself was a former bride of Joe). It’s baffling that a movie that’s predominantly about cars exploding into beautifully-shot balls of flames is a hell of a lot more subtle in its approach to rape than a comic book is.
But when the comic isn’t about overtly depicting rape, it’s about turning these layered female characters into trope-ridden stereotypes. The comic reveals that the brides were tutored by Miss Giddy, the elderly woman seen at the start of the film, implying that their desire for freedom comes solely from Miss Giddy’s teachings about knowledge inciting revolution. It goes even further than that by even contradicting Fury Road at one point: in the movie, it’s said that the women “begged” Furiosa to escape with them. In the comic, it’s Furiosa who becomes the stereotypical rescuer, saving these women from their terrible life because they can’t do it themselves (and don’t know how to). To add insult to injury, the comic also tells us that the brides didn’t even write their open declaration that their babies “would never be Warlords” that we see in their vault in the film’s opening—Miss Giddy did it after Furiosa took them. They were so incapable, apparently, that they couldn’t even write their own declaration of defiance.
Remember earlier how I mentioned that it was refreshing to see Fury Road portray a group of female characters who worked together rather than snapped catty responses back and forth? Well, Furiosa #1 forgets that too. Not only do the brides not stand up for each other in the instances of abused displayed in the comic—they frequently blame each other for their respective sufferings)—the relationship between the Brides and Furiosa becomes entirely predicated on each side hating each other for being women. The Brides are untrustyworthy of Furiosa not just as a protector assigned to them by Joe, but as a woman (at several times Furiosa’s gender is called into question by the Brides, and even at one point they go as far as to use gendered insults at one point, mocking Furiosa for her lack of balls).
Later on in the comic, after Angharad attempts an abortion, Furiosa slaps her and the brides and furiously berates them for not being grateful for the situation, because life in the wasteland is harsh and they should just accept that while they’re being sexually abused by a horrible man, at least they have water and a place to sleep. It’s horrifying, not just because of the anti-abortion sentiment, but Furiosa is depicted as being entirely ignorant to their plight—the same plight that drives her throughout Fury Road.
Ultimately, what saddens me the most about Furiosa #1 is that George Miller himself—the man who created Furiosa in the first place—had some sort of involvement with this comic. His name tops the the list of six credited creators, a seal of approval even if his involvement in the actual writing process was minimal at best. Considering how poorly it manages to place itself in the world of Fury Road, it certainly doesn’t feel like Miller had an input into its creation. To boot, said creative team is also 100% male. That’s not to say that men aren’t capable or even allowed to write well-rounded, interesting female characters—or even that adding female creatives would’ve necessarily automatically meant Furiosa #1 would’ve been excellent. But it’s baffling that, in a female-driven comic that would obviously cover some very important and controversial material, at no point DC and Vertigo thought about including a female perspective on staff.
I guess that is the ultimate signifier of what makes Furiosa #1 such a colossal disappointment: it seems like it was created in a vacuum, in complete ignorance of what Mad Max: Fury Road got right, and why so many people fell in love with it. We could’ve had an interesting and engaging comic about the backstory of these intriguing characters. Instead we got a comic that was anything but.