The pantheon of gods and monsters that Kirby crafted for DC Comics in the 1970s is a weird comics connoisseur’s treat, but outside of that audience the Fourth World is best known as the home of Darkseid, the Superman villain. But that stands to change.
2017 saw Jack Kirby’s characters starring in a multi-Eisner-award winning miniseries, while a big screen adaptation from director Ava Duvernay hovers tantalizingly on the horizon of potential. It feels as though the Fourth World is inching towards a true mainstream breakout, and DC’s new Female Furies, written by Cecil Castellucci and drawn by Adrian Melo (Plastic Man), is another inch forward
Castellucci cut her teeth at DC on the trippy Shade, the Changing Girl, a modern revamp of an old DC/Vertigo standby, Shade, the Changing Man. Her Shade filtered the anxiety and rebellion of teenager-hood through alien body-swapping and cosmic poets, and Female Furies is about another kind rebellion: A fight for gender equality in a system where everyone is subservient to the caprices of the DC Universe’s biggest villain.
Female Furies #1, out on Feb. 6, tells the story of Granny Goodness and the Female Furies, the greatest fighting force in the armies of the dread Darkseid — and how even they are underestimated and objectified by the men who outrank them.
Polygon sat down with Castellucci to chat about Jack Kirby, the Female Furies, and the demands that men with power make of women who want the same.
Polygon: You said that when you first encountered Kirby’s Fourth World, it blew your mind. What about it grabbed you?
Cecil Castellucci: The depth of the world building. It really deep dives into a lot of ideas about good and evil, and the nature of betrayal, and art and science, and what it means to be a hero and what it means to be a villain. It’s just very broad, and there’s just 12 million threads that you could pick up from it.
What threads did you want to pick up to bring into Female Furies?
Castellucci: When you’re reading Kirby’s version, you really see how the Female Furies are treated as second class citizens. Even though they are very important and vital and Granny is really important. I mean, there’s a reason why Barda leaves.
And I think for me that was the thing, looking at Barda and how she has an awakening, much like Scott [Free, aka Mister Miracle,] does, and following that thread. But then when you dig deeper and you start to piece together all the things with the Female Furies, you really see that Granny Goodness, while she’s in the inner circle, she’s on the outside. And she’s in charge of the orphanage, which is woman’s work. She has this female fighting force, but [when] you see a lot of the other guards or arrow troopers or whatever talk to Barda or Guillotina or Lashina, it’s very misogynist. And I don’t think that that’s Kirby being misogynist, that’s a reflection of the time and also of the brutality of that world, that everything is pushed to 100.
Granny’s position as Darkseid’s greatest brainwasher is an interesting one.
Castellucci: Yeah, I think he leans on her a lot, but he also is aware of her power and wants to make sure that she uses it for him and not for herself.
Maybe this is more of a question for [series artist] Adriana Melo, but I was curious about how you went about designing Granny’s younger look in the issue.
Castellucci: That would definitely be an Adriana question. I will say that one thing that I did when we first were paired together was I made a Pinterest of all of the Furies, where I pulled fantastic images of people that I thought had the vibe of Stompa, had the vibe of Bernadeth, had the vibe of Granny. It was a lot of older women, but a lot of older women that were very beautiful. Because I really feel like Granny must been formidable in her youth.
When most people think of the Furies, they think of Barda first, but this issue is very much about Aurelie, and her dubious position as the best of the Furies. Where do you see her place in the series?
Castellucci: I think you’ll see what happens [...] Aurelie is extremely important to Barda and Scott’s story. This book is about Granny and Barda and the awakening that they have and the way that they’re both trying to deal with the unfair power dynamics on Apokolips. I think Granny has carved out her place as the only girl at the table, but it’s cost her a high amount and she’s had to survive that. And I think that the Female Furies, because they weren’t there in the past — and they were raised by Granny — that they have a different perspective of what power could be.
It makes a horrible kind of sense that Darkseid, who is this ultimate evil character, would truly use every tool at his disposal to take power. Do you see his coercive sexual relationship with Granny in this issue as him wielding power, or him just responding to desire?
Castellucci: I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean, I also think about Darkseid being a younger man, a younger person at that time. Do you know what I mean? Just like Granny is. And I feel like that’s a different thing. I don’t know what Darkseid — I don’t know that he — I’m sure that it’s different [laughs] as anybody grows up. Things change and evolve and stuff.
I think it’s wrapped up in a lot of things, right? Like powerful men, the things that they do and the appetites that they have, and the prices that people pay for that. It’s everywhere in the news. So really it was pulled from the headlines, it just seems sort of obvious. And it seems obvious, too, that he would have a very different relationship with Granny than he would with his cronies, with the boys. Because there is that extra dynamic that is there.
Your dialogue in the issue feels like Kirby’s dialogue. Were you deliberately going for his operatic style?
Castellucci: That is the biggest compliment in the world. I mean, I’m trying to write a Kirby book. I’m trying to write a book that Kirby would enjoy. I hope wherever he is that he’ll like issue #1 [laughs]. I keep the Fourth World omnibus at my will and call. I have a few pages up on my bulletin board that I photocopied so that I always have [them] to go back to.
I think that’s a really great way of putting it, is operatic. I think that’s what Kirby’s Fourth World is, is it’s very operatic. And I actually have written operas, I’ve written two operas, so maybe you hit something on the head there. It is a grand sweeping thing, but also I think that a lot of the stuff that I’m pulling from the Fourth World and using in this book, is very much coming from things that Kirby had already laid down about the Female Furies and about how they are talked to, how they’re talked about and how they talk to other people. And so I’m just trying to honor that.
Is there anything else you want people to know about the book going in?
Castellucci: I guess I would just like people to know that this is a story that’s just telling it from another point of view. It’s telling a Kirby story, but from another point of view. And that all the characters can withstand any harsh light thrown on them. I’m trying to remain as true as possible to the characters as Kirby set down.
I mean they’re all bad guys, so it’s fine to put them in a harsh light.
Yeah, exactly. They are all [pause] very bad guys. [laughs] And girls.