Do you fit in your box?
Are you too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, too whatever-it-is-they’ll-judge-you-for-today?
You may just belong on Bitch Planet
When you get a load of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s dystopian world — earth as run by a patriarchy called “the Fathers”– you might prefer to be on the Auxilliary Compliance Outpost, also known as “Bitch Planet.” In a not-too-distant future, for reasons that are not explained in this book but I hope will be in future books, the world is run by a council of fat racist misogynistic white guys (imagine Trump, the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney and their ilk; imagine the Republican presidential candidates. Wait, maybe I know how this could happen in the future). Women are clearly subordinate, and those who don’t meet the Fathers’ expectations can expect arrest and deportation to an off planet prison that is run by brutal and sadistic guards. In book one, we meet some of the women of Bitch Planet as they form a team for a sport known as “Megaton.” Father Josephson thinks that having a male Megaton team take on a team of non-compliant female criminals will yield a substantial increase in ratings and “engagement” on the “Feed” (televised programming) while also raising funds to pay for the operation of Bitch Planet.
Our protagonist Kam (Kamau Kogo) is a former athlete whom the representatives of the state tap to form a prison Megaton team. Kam does not wish to be involved, seeing compliance as helpful to the state that she hates. She sees nothing to gain; while it’s implied that they might be freed if they win, Kam sees no possibility of this happening. She foresees only a loss of their dignity while the Fathers make money. Some of the other women, however, work on her to change her mind, and Kam, after a dramatic shower scene, sees an advantage for herself in forming a team.
While the history and governance of earth under the Fathers is an interesting point of discussion, and I expect more of that will be revealed in coming books, it’s the women of both worlds who are the center of interest in Bitch Planet. Compliant women all look alike: thin, white, big boobed, big botoxed lips, smiling constantly. And, in a clever touch, when they speak, their word bubbles are done in pink. The women on Bitch Planet, on the other hand, are mostly women of color, all shapes and sizes; some are educated women, some had had successful careers in medicine, engineering, sports. Their crimes include murder, seduction and disappointment, emotional manipulation, patrilineal dishonor, wonton obesity, and, the one that really knocked me on my ass, trisomy 21. That’s right — the crime of Down syndrome. DeConnick’s inclusion of a broad variety of outsiders among these feminist women is perfect, and she includes a timely and apropos discussion question about intersectional feminism at the conclusion (looking at you, Meryl Streep, Patty Arquette and Miley Cyrus).
At first glance, Bitch Planet might seem campy, but writer DeConnick and artist De Landro own that camp (they themselves refer to “the obligatory shower scene” and include a Catholic nun with ample cleavage as a prison authority figure) and actually use it to propel the action forward. Cliches don’t overshadow the story, and the creators reveal plot and character points in ways that are sometimes straightforward and sometimes subtle. Definitely go back and look carefully at background scenes, particularly when the “Feed” is featured in panels, and read the pages with “ads.” You will find factual information about domestic violence, hints of resistance, and horrifying ads for weight loss and beauty products.
Given the nudity and mature themes, I wouldn’t be putting Bitch Planet in the hands of kids. This is a smart, challenging feminist graphic novel perfectly suited for our time, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. PS — my husband gave me Bitch Planet as a birthday gift (because he’s a feminist and knew I’d love it).