A woman is running through a crowded street, apologizing and asking people to let her pass. A man is waiting impatiently in a room and begins to count down from 10. In the background you can see snippets of words and ads – “Less of you to love” “Fix you” “Obey.” The woman runs in the door, apologizing and asking, “who am I this time?” If you can hear the woman’s voice, you are on your way to BITCH PLANET!
I read ElCicco, SavageCat and narfna‘s reviews of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new comic book series, Bitch Planet, and got really excited. A few days ago, Amazon sent me an email telling me I could get each of the first five issues for $0.99. If you are on a tight budget, as I am, hurry NOW and get those issues for a buck each. If you are not on a tight budget, spend the cash to get a hard copy, because these weren’t really made for eReader viewing. But having them imperfectly is better than not having them at all. The 5 issues have been collected into one volume, but I’m linking to the individual issue option because they are less expensive.
Bitch Planet is in your face angry feminism. It’s also funny and thoughtful. Though she had been toying with the idea for years, DeConnick has said in interviews that she was prodded into developing the series because of the complaints she received during her Captain Marvel run. People complained that she was “an angry feminist” and inflicting a feminist agenda on them. So she decided to fly her “Angry Feminist” flag high and put her feminist agenda front and center. She has created an exaggerated version of our world where Patriarchy openly rules and women deemed “non compliant,” or just inconvenient, are shipped off world to a penal colony colloquially known as Bitch Planet. DeConnick, De Landro and the guest artists and writers are playing with the exploitation tropes of “woman in prison” and “Blaxspoitation” pulp genres. The cover art is reminiscent of cheap pop art of “girls, girls, girls” comics. And just in case you weren’t sure about the feminist agenda of Bitch Planet, at the end of each issue is an essay on Feminism and why we need it. Come for the fantastic story, stay for the thoughtful essays. Edit – According to Narfna, the essays are not in the collected volume. I think this is terrible and will be submitting my complaint post haste. Make sure you get access to the essays one way or another. They are good.
I appreciated the way DeConnick plays with internalized misogyny. Oppressive patriarchy could not succeed without women policing other women and themselves. Some of the prison guards on Bitch Planet are women – women who delight in being on Team Patriarchy, women who know the game is rigged (but not for them). The woman we first met at the beginning is the voice that non compliant women hear while they sleep through their journey to the penal colony. The voice of a woman tells them they are bad and wrong. Throughout the series, women explain to women how to behave. Women reject women for non-compliance. Women punish women for non-compliance.
The female body is on full display, both to the readers and to the male observers whose eyes are highlighted. The bodies of the prisoners are varied and natural looking. Their faces are individual and identifiable. Bitch Planet, the prison, also runs programs of hypersexualized “women” to encourage compliance and motivation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this big busted, scantily clad “confessor” is as pink as a breast cancer awareness ribbon. Other ideal women are shown on video screens on Earth and on Bitch Planet – slender, buxom, usually pink, and vaguely unidentifiable. Their faces have nothing that distinguishes them from all the other slender, buxom, compliant, pink women. All women are available to the male gaze.
Which brings me to the paragraph where I discuss a **SPOILER.** SavageCats discussed this moment as well in her review. It’s a powerful one. One of the prisoners, Penny, is a large combative woman. At one point she has things attached to her head and a group of men attempt to punish her by forcing her to look at the ideal version of herself in her head. They assume it will be of a skinny, pretty, compliant woman. Penny sees herself as she is and the men are horrified. I was flumoxed because I realized that my own internalized misogyny also assumed that Penny would see a skinnier, prettier version of herself. When I look at my own body in the mirror (I avoid it as much as possible), I don’t want to see the body that I have now. It was tough for me to read and realize how deeply I’ve internalized the misogyny. Unlike Penny, I can’t laugh with joy when I see myself.
Bitch Planet is only 5 issues into a proposed 30 issue run. I can’t say I’m an impartial reviewer. It grabbed me and I see no flaws in the storytelling or art right now. Someone else might, or maybe it is really the perfect feminist, science fiction, prison planet adventure. I hope that this year you read and enjoy Bitch Planet.