DC's 'Female Furies' Writer on Crafting a New Spin on a Jack Kirby Classic

"I thought it would be interesting to see an awakening on the level of a Me Too movement, but on a planet where everyone is really the bad guy," Cecil Castellucci tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Mitch Gerads/DC Entertainment

Darkseid is…a patriarchal system.

Following up on the critically acclaimed, award-winning Mister Miracle series, DC this week launches another revisionist take on Jack Kirby’s beloved Fourth World comic book mythology. Instead of simply continuing in the vein of the last series, however, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Adriana Melo’s Female Furies is something altogether different: a funny, feminist take on the origins of the unstoppable all-woman fighting force of Apokolips, as trained by the sadistic Granny Goodness, a woman feared by everyone — except the men who consider themselves her peers.

Ahead of Wednesday’s first issue, Heat Vision talked to Castellucci about the series’ origins, as well as how it connects to contemporary pop culture.

How did you get involved with this project?

As I was finishing up [DC Young Animal title] Shade the Changing Woman, I was looking around for what my next project at DC could be. I had gone through the DC Encyclopedia, looking about for a new character I could sink my teeth into like I did with Shade. I was at the DC offices and I stopped in to say hi to talk to [co-publisher] Dan DiDio and talk about that kind of stuff, but the characters that I showed him had already been snagged or they had plans for. 

So, we were just gabbing and he was telling me about some of the upcoming projects and I made an off-the-cuff remark and Dan opened the encyclopedia and said, “If you can crack that idea with the Female Furies, we can talk.” He then handed me the Kirby Fourth World Omnibus, and I was off to the races.

There’s something wonderfully fitting seeing the various members of Darkseid’s familiar evil cabal — including Darkseid himself — represent patriarchal oppression in the way that they do in the first issue of the series; it feels like something entirely appropriate, considering that they were created as analogs for other evils. I’m curious about the idea of using Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters as metaphors and stand-ins in this way; it feels very true to Kirby’s original intent, but I’m surprised and fascinated to see how you repurpose it for your own ends here.

Thank you! Yeah, it’s interesting because as this idea about gender equality was brewing up inside of me and I was combing through Kirby’s pages and pages of work, I saw that a lot of that stuff was already embedded in his world and the way that Darkseid and his Cronies talk about Granny and the Furies. It was really fascinating. I feel like I’m pulling directly from his world and highlighting the color or turning up the volume. 

Kirby knew that women were capable and strong and equal, but he also knew that wasn’t [widely seen to be] the case in his present day. So that’s stitched in there. The way men comment on Barda’s body. The way that men on Apokolips talk about the Furies. The way Gilotina, who’s not in my book, handles a handsy guard. The way that Granny treats her own girls. It felt like a real ripe time to take a look at these kinds of issues within the context of a story that was already inherently commenting on it and addressing it.  

Women have been enduring these kinds of stories of not being able to advance in fields for years, and even with progress being made, we still face challenges. Look at all the headlines these days. It’s amazing that we’re saying enough. With the Fourth World, I thought it would be interesting to see an awakening on the level of a Me Too movement, but on a planet where everyone is really the bad guy — even the gals – because everything is heightened.

Female Furies also brings one of the strangest paradoxes of Kirby’s Fourth World mythology to the fore — namely, that the Furies are the most deadly task force who never actually get to really do anything in the war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Were you a fan of the characters beforehand who’s been thinking about this contradiction for a while, or was this something that occurred when you were sitting down to write the comic?

It's true! They don’t really get to do much! That’s the problem! They’re probably better than most of the soldiers on Apokolips! For me, I was aware of Darkseid, Granny, Scott and Barda in a vague way. It was more through the great conversation with Dan DiDio and the reading of the omnibus that it all started to really snap into focus. At first I was like, well, we’ll see if there is any thread to pull on with this idea, and then, once I was reading, I was like, holy moly, it’s all already on the page! The paradox and the unfairness of the Furies, and Granny, being pushed to the side just burst through, and it was as though Barda herself shook me and said "Ahh! Tell it from our side!"

Traditionally, Kirby’s Fourth World is something that’s very masculine in focus — it’s ultimately lots of stories about fathers and sons — with these wonderful women in there at the edges who are pretty much left unexplored. Is Female Furies an attempt to correct that, to some degree?

In a way, yes, I think so. Or rather, I’d say that it’s a broadening of the world. I am and always have been interested in telling stories about women; I like all stories, and I read all stories, but I want to see more stories that reflect my experience, just as many other people whose characters have been pushed to the edges want to see that. I look at this book as being a way of expanding the gloriousness of what’s already there. The Fourth World is certainly big enough to have room to bring a lot of points of view to the table. It really is a time now to do that. For me, I want to tell and read stories that center the female experience. But just because those are the characters that I’m concentrating on, it doesn’t mean that it’s not for men. Stories, all sorts, are for everyone.

I’m curious about how you approach something like Female Furies, or your earlier Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman, in general; in both cases, you’re working with long-established characters and mythology but telling a story that feels very much yours. How do you balance fan concerns about continuity with your own needs as a creator? Is that even something you think about?

I do feel very lucky that I have gotten to do that. It’s really fun, and I think that not being in continuity helps with that — you kind of get to go in and have fun and spin things around a bit. For me, I think the most important thing is to really go in with the intention of honoring what came before you. I do a lot of homework. With Shade I read both [character creator Steve] Ditko and [writer who revived the character in the 1990s, Peter] Milligan and tried to honor what they did while carving out my own geography in that space. I’m trying to do the same with the Furies; I’m trying my best to honor Kirby and his world but just pull it toward a female voice. It’s both exhilarating and daunting. I take it very seriously.

Granny Goodness, and, to a lesser extent, Aurelie, appear to be the primary characters in this first issue, and both have responded to the same patriarchal structure in different ways; Granny has more or less taken it into herself and surrendered to it to some degree, but in the process, created a system that allows Aurelie to recognize it as, well, wrong. This sounds more of an essay question than it’s intended to be, but how much of this dynamic — if any — is a commentary on the ways that contemporary feminism/feminist theory is at once informed by, and a response to, earlier schools of feminist thought?

I’m so glad that you caught that. Yes! That is exactly what I was going for! The different ways that women of different ages and times dealt with things and the way that sometimes that leads to a different way of dealing with things but also sometimes creates a chasm. It is kind of like an essay question. But yes! Maybe when I’m done with the whole series, I’ll write that essay.

Something light to end on and apologize for that last question — how would you describe Female Furies to someone who’s only slightly familiar with the Fourth World comics, the Female Furies as characters and the whole milieu the story takes place in? Is there an elevator pitch to convince those who don’t even know what they’re missing?

I usually pitch it to my civilian-I-never-read-comics-friends as, “The Female Furies are an elite fighting force who work for the biggest bad of all time and live on a hell planet, and they have a Me Too awakening after something happens to make them realize things are never going to get better unless they grab it for themselves.”

Female Furies No. 1 will be released digitally and in comic book stores Feb. 6.