Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, I have been obsessed with Mad Max: Fury Road for the last few months. I’ve seen it three times so far, and since the original Mad Max film was pretty underwhelming by comparison, I’ve been digging about the internet for fuel to feed the fire of my obsession. Naturally, I was pumped to learn that Vertigo is publishing a series of tie-in comics, so I rode forth to purchase them last week with a furious fixation. Unfortunately, much like the four puny cylinders in my orange Honda Element, the Mad Max: Fury Road comics felt wildly inadequate compared to my newly elevated expectations.
The two comics available are both labeled #1, because rather than going in chronological order, they detail a portion of various characters’ backstories. The one released in May is about the war boy Nux and the vicious despot Immortan Joe, while the one released in June is about Imperator Furiosa and—to a lesser extent—the Five Wives. The Nux/Immortan Joe comic was decent, though the specifics of how Joe first took the citadel were a little hard to follow. The comic simply gives a snippet of flashback as told by a “history-man” living after the events of the film. Nux was orphaned as a toddler and was taken in by the war boys when he managed to cling to the platform that raised Immortan Joe’s Gigahorse into the citadel. Immortan Joe was ex-military when the world fell, and became the leader of a violent biker gang who forcibly overtook an underground aquifer that they fashioned into a fortress. After placing his lieutenants in charge of Gas Town (an abandoned oil refinery nearby) and the Bullet Farm (a lead mine) Joe managed to command a resource monopoly and build his empire.
Furiosa’s comic was what really let me down. Her story is told with the same framing technique: a historian living after the events of the film, but attempts to deal much more closely with characterization than the first comic. While the Wives are still in Immortan Joe’s possession, he becomes fearful that his son Rictus Erectus will despoil his “treasures”. Not trusting any of his male imperators, he assigns Furiosa as their guard, and after being moved by sympathy for the Wives, Furiosa arranges to help them escape. The story was fairly predictable, but in all the ways the film was exceptional, the comic was decidedly not. While the film was a story about survivors fighting back, and was praiseworthy for focusing on the Wives as people and not as victims or commodities, the comic focuses almost entirely on their victimization.
The opening scene is of the organic mechanic assessing Angharad’s fertility, and the comic includes several rape scenes and implied rape scenes throughout, with virtually nothing about any of the Wives’ personalities to break up the monotony. Even the dialogue is mostly about rape, and there are strange, incongruous implications that Immortan Joe actually prefers men, and uses the Wives only to produce viable offspring. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, since it’s clearly deliberate, and I can only assume that it serves to link “sexual deviancy” to villainy in some way. It was a bizarre choice, and even if the implications associating queerness with evil were unintentional, I couldn’t help but feel offended by them.
The fearsome compassion Furiosa displayed so magnetically in the film is likewise absent from her characterization in the comic. She is brooding and even outright misogynist. She tells the Wives with conviction that they should be grateful for Immortan Joe’s “generosity” and verbally abuses the obviously distraught Angharad after she tries to abort her abuser’s baby. Perhaps this was meant to show some kind of personal development in the months leading up to the Wives’ escape, but I have a hard time imagining Furiosa being so decidedly unsympathetic at any point in her life. I have an even harder time imagining her telling the Wives they should be complacent as breeding slaves, especially since Furiosa was evidently a wife herself at some point.
After my resounding disappointment with the Furiosa comic, I flipped to the credits page out of idle curiosity to find—unsurprisingly—that not a single woman was involved in making the comic, either as an artist or a writer. That’s not to say all men write terrible female characters or that all women write stellar ones—the film writers proved that—but this particular sort of objectification in writing has a decidedly masculine stink to it. It was only after reading the comic that I learned of the writer’s truly tasteless explanation for why the comic focused so much on rape:
Best answer is that the use of institutionalized 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!
No thanks, sir. That is not the narrative or the perspective I want polluting my media. Even if the comic were sold at the usual serial price of $2.99–$3.99 I would lament the money I’d spent on it, but I paid $4.99 per issue for this nonsense. I can’t imagine I’ll continue buying this series, no matter how much I love the film and want to know more about the universe and characters. I simply don’t have much faith in the comic writers and the opinions they bring to the story. For seventy-five cents more I can simply see the movie over (and over and over) again and support the sort of media I actually want to see.