This is a bold new book that sets out to imagine a patriarchal society where non-compliant women are considered valueless criminals. The satire is biting, the art great, and the story compelling. The creative team behind this book, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles, have something to say and it is well worth listening up.
Let’s start on the outside. It would be hard to miss the intentions of this book from the moment you set eyes on it; both the name of the book and the front cover immediately evoke grindhouse sexploitation flicks and the strapline “Are you WOMAN enough to survive” lets us know we are in for a female-centric tale of tough women fighting for survival. Then there’s the silhouette depicted on the cover, and described as “caged and enraged” – a realistically proportioned woman. Bitch Planet is going to be about women, but it isn’t just out to glamorise or exploit; this book may have the trappings of a sexploitation film, but it isn’t going to be one.
Our first introduction to the setting of Bitch Planet is on the Earth of the future, a bustling metropolis where oppressive advertising appears commonplace. The advertising itself seems aimed primarily at women – weight loss “Eat less, poop more”, compliance “Obey”, and beauty “no more pores” are all clear topics. The panel lay out of this page emphasises the passage of time – a character, presumably out protagonist, is running late, someone is counting down, and the scene is shifting from the streets to the studio as we move down the page. This is a voice over artist and her script is a treatise, almost biblical in nature, about our planet – it is not Mother Earth we live on rather it’s Father Earth. We don’t know who this character is, we aren’t introduced to her here, and once we get to the prison the centre of the story pivots to another woman, Marian, so this opening presents an interesting mystery at this point.
Before we arrive at the prison we are given a glimpse of our cast of characters – there are six women with different shapes and builds, each naked in pink fluid, and connected to tubes and pipes, these women are going to be reborn at Bitch Planet and each will be equal, no possessions, no clothes, just their naked selves. The women are filed into the ‘Auxiliary Compliance Outpost’ and told to get their uniforms. They remain naked but they are not sexualised, this is a scene of humiliation and dehumanisation – to the prison they are all the same, criminals. Penelope Rolle is the first of the ‘criminals’ we really meet, she is unimpressed by the size of her uniform and isn’t afraid to express her discontent. She is well built, her left arm tattoo reads “born big”, and she is willing to get into it with the guards. The situation quickly escalates and we have a riot, just as the two supervisors we’ve seen in cut away panels have predicted.
During the riot we get to meet another couple of important characters, a second woman who is not afraid to stand up to authority, and the ‘innocent’ woman. A caption, “no one deserves this”, follows the innocent, Marian, being knocked unconscious, except this isn’t someone talking about her situation or that of the prison, this is Marian’s husband talking about how he is being made to wait in reception. What follows is a well executed bait and switch, not the only one of those in this book, as both the husband and Marian confess their love, history, and crime. There has been a ‘mistake’, Mr Collins just wants his loving and compliant wife back. Except it slowly emerges that he is talking about his new wife and Marian means nothing to him at. She has been cast out, traded in for a younger model as the disagreeable phrase goes.
The women at this prison protect each other, maybe out of duty or because they hate their oppressors or even just because they want a good fight, but it certainly seems like they are willing to go out of their way to keep each other alive. Except for one of them; a mysterious figure is handed a shiv and uses it to kill Marian whilst her protector is fighting the guards. This establishes two things, first there is someone who can not be trusted amongst the women in this group, and second, that the real protagonist of this story is the as the wouldbe protector, Kamau Kogo. Is it possible Kamau is the woman from the start of the book, the narrator of her own expulsion from Father Earth? “I think we just found the star of out show” utters one of the supervisors, and I for one am very keen to see what she does next
Bitch Planet #1 // Writer – Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art – Valentine De Landro / Colours – Cris Peter // Image
Notes and Observations:
- The guards on Bitch Planet wear full face masks that obscure their features and make them all appear uniformly faceless, dehumanising, and chillingly unsympathetic.
- Penelope Rolle shares her forename with the wife of Odysseus in Greek myth, a woman who stoically and faithfully waited for her husband for 10 years.
- One of the prisoners asks the others to count the guards, is a prison break in the offing? It’s worth noting though that this same woman also goes down the stairs to intervene in the caging of Marian, could she be the one who used the shiv?
- The supervisors refer to assassinating Marian as “Closing the red window”. That is some cold terminology.
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