Cecil Castellucci is a talented novelist, comic book writer, and musician, who won a Joe Shuster Award for her work on 2007’s The Plain Janes. Recently, she has written the comics Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman for DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint. At C2E2, I had the opportunity to chat with Castellucci at the DC Comics booth about her new series, Female Furies, that brings the Me Too Movement to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
Graphic Policy: I’m a big fan of your Young Animal work, like Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman. Why should fans of Shade check out Female Furies?
Cecil Castellucci: With Shade, I was looking at what [Steve] Ditko did and what [Peter] Milligan did, and I was trying to honor and echo some of things they did. But then me and Marley [Zarcone] would stake our own claim to that universe. I feel like with Female Furies, I’m looking at Kirby and his magnificent work and looking at the Female Furies and trying to put it through a different lens.
Shade the Changing Girl is dealing with a lot of the things that original Shade did and Milligan’s Shade did, but where Milligan explored a lot of darkness and cruelty, I staked a claim to heart. It complements it. I feel the same way with Female Furies. I think that Tom King did an amazing job with Mister Miracle, and it’s just got a tenderness to it. It’s very domestic drama and asked, “What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a father?” Those are wonderful things. I’m taking those same characters. Just like he took one lens on it that was different than Kirby, I’m taking a completely different lens from the same characters and showing a different point of view. One thing I love about these characters is that they’re so flexible and can withstand being put through their paces in a different way.
GP: Speaking of these characters, I came into Female Furies expecting for it to focus on Big Barda because she’s a popular, big name character. But you decided to focus on Aurelie. Why did you decide to do that?
CC: One thing I knew going in was that I was going to do the Me Too movement on Apokolips. And a feminist awakening on Apokolips. When I read the whole Fourth World omnibus, it really struck me how women and the Furies were talked about. They’re on the side all the time. They never really go to battle. They’re on the fringes. They’re badasses, but they’re on the side.
So, I wanted to bring their story forward. But, also, the way in those original texts that their bodies are talked about and the way that Granny Goodness is in charge of the children when she’s an equal too. I wanted to look at that and focus on that. When I read Kirby’s Mister Miracle, I discovered the character of Aurelie, who is Barda’s inciting incident. She is Barda’s origin story. When I read that issue, I was like “This is a way in to tell this story” because it’s part of the original thing, but it’s expanding who Aurelie is and how she got to Himon’s place. And the dancing. I really tried to stitch that in.
GP: Why is the Fourth World such a good setting about gender inequality in the world?
CC: I want to go back and say that even though I’m focusing on Aurelie, I still think that my Female Furies is the story of Granny and Big Barda. It’s just the way we’re gonna get there.
First of all, I think that the Fourth World is operatic. It is enormous with highs and lows and drama and betrayal. And Apokolips is also a hell planet. So, when you’re talking about really hard things with bad guys, you can go harsher than what you would do if it was reality or Earth based and dial up the tension of the horribleness of systemic misogyny, of sexual harassment and abuse in that way.
I think that it made it a great landscape to explore the current issues. Sometimes, it’s hard for us when we’re living in a moment in time to look at that moment in time. When it’s in outer space on hell planet, I don’t want to say it’s easier because it’s not. But it is.
GP: Yes, Female Furies is a tough read.
CC: It’s tough to write too.
GP: In Female Furies #2, you had this big character beat where Big Barda is a victim blamer. Why did you decide to make her a victim blamer?
CC: Because I think what happens sometimes is that it’s so impossible for people to believe that something has happened. I think that it’s human tendency to keep the status quo because if you actually awaken to what’s really happening, too many things have to change, and it’s very difficult. Your whole world has to change. Not just society, but your whole personal world.
I think it’s easier for people, and Barda falls victim to that because it’s quite common. You look at women who are raped or domestically abused, or men. They’re usually blamed for what happened. It’s a cycle. I wanted to mirror that to make us look at ourselves, and how we deal with people when they’re telling us the truth. That’s why there’s that thing, “Believe women.” When someone tells you something has happened, it costs them so much to speak. We still have that lesson to learn over and over.
GP: Especially in issue 2, the visuals of the sexual assaults are very explicit. How do you do these kind of scenes without being overly gratuitous like some previous comics put out about this topic?
CC: I have to give a shout out to Adriana Melo. I think that Adriana does such an amazing job of handling those brutal moments with a tenderness and a care toward what’s happening to the characters. I think a lot of that has to do with our collaboration and her masterful way of doing that. I think that’s one of the hard things. Nothing that I or Adriana put in there is gratuitous. I’m not doing it willy nilly. It’s not to be titillating in any way. It’s to talk about harsh circumstances.
Also, they’re all terrible people. They’re villains. Even the people being abused are terrible people. It’s tough to write. It’s not an easy thing.
GP: Granny Goodness is the first protagonist you focus on in Female Furies. In previous stories, she’s been this caricature of evil like when Ed Asner voiced her in the DC cartoons. How do you make her sympathetic?
CC: The Female Furies have always been a part of Kirby’s Fourth World, and they’ve been on the fringe or on the side. You know that they’re all complex. When you take a sliver of the story, and you say, “I’m gonna tell this story of an awakening.” Then, you have more time to explore of how people got there.
I think that you can’t have someone like Granny Goodness without knowing that she came from somewhere. The way that she is is because she learned she had to be like that. I was really interested in figuring out how to crack that. Who is she, and how did she become such a terrible person?
GP: Your take on Darkseid is so unique. I’m used to him being a total nihilist. How do you make him go from being all about “Anti-Life” to a sexual assaulting CEO?
CC: First of all, I think that a lot of men in power express their power in many different ways, and to me, that seemed very natural. It also seemed to me that he would have a very particular relationship with Granny because she is the only woman. I think that he know that she’s probably just as powerful if not more powerful than he is. He needs to keep her under his thumb.
I looked to the history of man and womankind and sort of plucked from there. I think it’s obvious that Darkseid would have those kind of power moves.
GP: It reminds me a lot of Zeus in Greek mythology.
CC: Absolutely. You wouldn’t be like “Zeus doesn’t do it”. He did it a million ways. That’s also how he kept power. I think that Darkseid is a very smart man, and he knows how to manipulate people.
Follow Cecil Castellucci on Twitter