Vertigo Comics recently released a Mad Max: Fury Road – Furiosa comic by an all-male creative team, and boy, are there some problems.
The first and most obvious one is (drumroll) rape. One of the most praised aspects of Fury Road was that while the wives were indeed raped and sexually abused, that their rapes were not depicted—that actually seeing their abuse so was deemed unnecessary, and perhaps counterproductive, to a story about women liberating themselves and insisting on being more than objects.
The comic not only gets those rapes visualized with a quickness, but adds a rape backstory for Furiosa, continuing the noble tradition of comic books that cannot imagine women doing things that are heroic or powerful without first having been sexually assaulted. Questioned about the use of rape in the comic, the response on Twitter by co-creator Mark Sexton was, shall we say, illuminating:
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 spoilt 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!
It's a disturbing view into the way that women are portrayed in the comic, and one that fails to understand what the movie understood so well: that you can simply believe the women when they say that they were raped; as a reader or viewer, you do not actually need to watch their abuse in order to understand that it happened.
But mainstream comics never met a rape backstory that it didn't want to show on panel, so here we are.
Nor is their abuse "central" to who they are; it's surely part of who they are, but so much of what made their characters great was what they did—escape captivity, fight their captors, and become heroes—and not what was done to them.
Sexton later doubled down this tone-deafness, deeming a female critic's extensive deconstruction of the book's problems with women as "fascinating" but also "incredibly subjective, very angry." Really? There aren't better words you could have used there than ones that sound like synonyms for "unobjective" and "hysterical"?
At io9, James Whitbrook digs further into the highly gendered problems with the issue. In this iteration of the story, not only do the brides not save themselves—Furiosa saves them instead—but it undermines the friendship between the women that actually was central to their characters:
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 an incredibly disappointing comic that not only misses what so many people loved about the female characters of Mad Max: Fury Road, and what made them so exceptional in an action film, but undoes it entirely. It's particularly damning that it comes from an all-male creative team, and raises the question of why including female creatives on this book wasn't an absolute no-brainer.
While that alone might not have guaranteed a home run, it's the absence of women's perspectives that has so often lead to one-dimensional female characters in comics—not to mention an ugly history of using rape in cheap and unnecessary ways—and their omission from Mad Max: Furiosa has gone, well… just about as well as you'd expect.