BITCH PLANET #1
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: December 10, 2014
Bitch Planet hangs its overt message on the framework of a 1970s science-fiction exploitation genre story. The genre itself is not new to comics, nor is it’s use as a tool to show empowering women, instead of exploiting them. However, instead of an homage to the genre, artist Valentine De Landro takes all the the typical images and points of view and throws the visage of real women in your face. Instead of women who are overtly busty, small waists and ready to shoot a porn, you have a cavalcade of various sizes, shapes and histories.
Notice that I did not say colors. Diversity is there, but in the opening spread, when the women are being transported to the prison planet, there is pink hue color tone that Peter lays across the page giving an equal representation to the characters. This isn’t used throughout the book and it’s cast is highlighted. But, using an equal color palette on their cast in the opening shot seems to speak volumes.
The prison is filled with bright colors, to enhance your imagination into recognizing the prison is another world from Earth, which uses tans and beige backgrounds. The holographic construct used to inform and judge the inmates during their stay is bathed in pink. It’s almost as if every little girl fantasy gone awry. Between the tiny details of De Landro’s art on the women, showing their scars, and Peter’s thematic colors, the art does a great job of setting the genre feel while still telling the story.
Women on the transport and at the prison planet are considered “non-compliant.” They were stripped before they left the planet and upon arriving taken through more traditional prison processes. DeConnick’s story plays a bait and switch. Often times, you see stories of this nature focus on what Hollywood or an author might think of as the character most easy to relate to. If you read the story and question her choice of which inmate to focus on, don’t. By the last quarter of the story it becomes extremely clear why she chose this character the short story, along with culturally appropriate message she has to tell.
There is also a twist that changes the entire structure of the story by the end. It’s a drop-off that lets you know anything goes with this book. It also makes it clear there are many stories and many morals that will be provided. In this issue, the fight isn’t the drama between the “non-compliant” but the struggle with oppression from the prison and the “chorus” watching them and playing with their lives from their camera spying guard-tower. It’s through these panels that Cowles uses clever lettering techniques to make sure you stay with the story and do not fill like you are being overwhelmed in dialogue. The fact that his lettering blends in so well speaks to it’s preciseness.
If you are afraid of picking this book up now, because you’re afraid you’ll be “preached” to about society, well… perhaps you need to pick up this book. While not a slow or dense read as KSD’s other work, like Pretty Deadly, the book brings many questions to your mind. If at any point you are uncomfortable with the subject matter, your immediate question should be, “Why?”
That is what is so fascinating about this comic. At no point are the creators subtle about what they are doing. They overtly try to make you think about issues of gender, race and equality. If you question the racial balance of the story, I highly suggest reading the essay in the back of the book, written by author Danielle Henderson. It provides insight into some of the composition of the cast and where the message of future issues might be headed.
For all this, there is the story about women who made choices based upon the roles they were pushed into and what they did about that those who pushed them. If you cannot read the issue and feel for the inmate featured in this story at the end, then you need to ask yourself why. This is the kind of book that not only makes you think, but can push you to want to be a better person. It all depends on how you answer the inner questions it asks: how do you see humanity? How do you treat humanity?
This comic book has been marked “mature” on the cover. Using the exploitation film genre as a setting there could be concern about just what is shown. However, in this first issue the only thing that seems to be present that could make readers uncomfortable is female nudity and violent attacks that occur during a riot. Just what is exposed, and how it is shown appeared to be very carefully chosen. However, there will be some readers who will not be able to get over this hurdle.
Other obstacles may include people who question the sincerity of the creators with the story they are trying to tell. Exploitation films traditionally masked themselves in the guise of empowerment when in actuality they were for the vastly male audience. If there are readers who feel that the creators are trying to simply go this route, I highly suggest you check their blogs and other social media outlets to better understand their social perspective firsthand. While that type of research should never be a requirement for reading a comic book, at the very least it should qualm any disconcerting feelings you might have about DeConnick’s intentions. I have read other comic books that follow the same genre framework. They have all been very good about turning the genre on its head and being more about female empowerment. However that is where the similarities end.
There are plenty of comics in this world that inspire people. However, there are few that line-up with a time-frame in history so well, when the message has the potential to resonate with an entire people or country. There is a severed cultural climate, with one side taking to the streets and the other taking to hate speech. There are television ads showing famous athletes uncomfortable with discussing domestic violence issues.
Despite very precise articles providing a timeline of the events and how they unfolded, there is still attacks of female gaming journalists or even female celebrities who speak out against the GamerGate. Then you can talk about the ever constant debate of the number of writers, artists, colorists, editors, letters… the sheer large discrepancy of diverse voices at large publishers. These are seen as either the ills of society that need to be corrected, or viewed as whiny complaints by those who feel they could potentially be “ousted” from their traditional roles of power. With this book, DeConnick, De Landro, Peter and Cowles owns the arena by taking a sledgehammer to your social constructs to deliver a simple message: “We’re all people.”
The Verdict: 10/10