Film // List // A Few Subtle & Culturally Insightful Science Fiction Fashion Trends

The fashion of a society can often be a window on to the political, economic, and cultural concerns of the day. In science fiction stories the development of unique fashion can be used to provide an effective shorthand for the society being depicted. This is most often the work of the costume and production design in movie making, and there are many examples of great world building and thematic elements developed thanks in no small part to the fashion that the characters on screen wear. There are plenty of recent examples, just take the clear distinction between the garish/excessive fashion of The Capitol and the threadbare garb of District 12 in the Hunger Games movies (and how great was Wes Bentley’s beard!).

The execution of these fashions, and the meanings they have, are not always so obvious though. I have pulled together a few examples of costume/production design that I think works to inform the culture of the film’s setting, even whilst being quite subtle or appearing at first unremarkable. These films vary in quality, but I respect that enough care was given to their crafting that there are interesting and insightful fashions on display.

Elysium (2013) – Sub-dermal Art

Niell Blomkamp’s sci-fi treatise on the diverging quality of life that the rich and the poor can expect was flawed in many ways, not least in that the inexplicably white-not-latino lead Max (ably played by Matt Damon) was massively overshadowed by the villainous Kruger (played to grim perfection by Blomkamp favourite Sharlto Copley). But amongst the subtler successes of the film was the visible expression of the difference between those who live on Elysium and those who live on Earth. The rich and care-free Elysium citizens can often be seen sporting sub-dermal artwork – patterns, shapes, and words implanted beneath the skin to create a unique look. The implants can be seen on the foreheads, cheeks, and wrists of the rich throughout the movie.

Elysium - Sub-dermal Art

Whilst the rich can have art work of their choosing added to their bodies merely for the aesthetic pleasure of it, the poor working-class people of Earth are not so lucky. Many characters in the film wear elaborate tattoos, perhaps the ancestor of sub-dermal art, but it is Max and Kruger that really demonstrate the difference in life-style. Like their rich counterparts they both have sub-dermal work too, but theirs is painful, practical, and bloody. For the poor sub-dermal implants are a cruel necessity, not playful conspicuous capitalism.

Elysium - Sub-dermal Implants

In Time (2011) – Buttons

After the sublime Gattaca writer/director Andrew Niccol’s return to near future societal angst was highly anticipated, but In Time suffers from a wealth of poor choices, including massive structural problems and interminably dry dialogue. That said, the production and costume design are pretty great throughout the movie. The concept of the film is also an interesting one: time has become a tradable commodity, and the poor die at 26 unless they can work to receive extra minutes whilst the rich have centuries in the bank. Justin Timberlake’s Will Salas finds himself mixed up in some time-trading shenanigans and the plot goes rather predictably from there.

Much like in Elysium the distinction between the rich and poor can be seen in their fashion choices (not that the poor necessarily have a choice). Although pretty conservative in design, mostly suits and gowns, the rich wear clothes that feature an enormously excessive number of buttons. Wherever buttons would normally be found, the shirt fronts, cuffs, collars, and jackets, here all of them feature just a boat load of buttons. When time is a currency only the rich can afford to spend precious minutes doing up their elaborate clothes. Such is the ostentatious importance of buttons that even the dresses feature non-functional decorative buttons for effect.

In Time - Buttons

The poor on the other hand do not have the luxury of wasting time getting dressed. Their clothes feature primarily velcro’s, zippers, and snaps. The speed with which the ‘have-nots’ change is emphasised when Will’s mother pops into the bedroom to change and emerges seconds later fully clothed and doing up a couple of zips – getting dressed and un-dressed in as short a time as possible is immensely valuable when you live in a time based economy. The aspirations of the ambitious also reinforce the fashion trends. The local thug, a man who thinks himself above the common herd, can be seen wearing buttoned shirts and jackets, though even he can only afford a two button collar.

In Time - Zippers

Inception (2010) – Subsumed Personality

This isn’t really a culturally insightful scifi fashion trend, but it does offer an interesting perspective on the events of this movie so hopefully it isn’t too out of place in this post. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is about the stealing of an idea from the mind of an unsuspecting mark; a team of trained ‘mind-thieves’ work to infiltrate and deceive via the medium of dreams. As the protagonists descend further into the multi-layered dreamscape they become less able to express themselves through their fashion choices. The team’s costumes and clothes, carefully considered personality choices, are erased and replaced with increasingly uniform outfits until they ultimately cease to be individuals at all.

In the ‘real’ world all of the characters wear clothes that, even though following similar trends (all of the men wear trousers and jackets for example) are uniquely their own (Eames, for instance, is more colourful and flamboyant than the rest of the group wearing a pink patterned shirt and antique watch, as opposed to the muted colours of Cobb’s wardrobe, whilst Ariadne consistently wears silk scarves).

Inception - Outfits 1

As the team enter the first level of the dream they wear an assortment of outfits according to role, but already Cobb and Arthur wear similar leather jackets. In the next dream level they all wear suits, each retains a unique style, but they all more closely resemble one another sartorially than before. The next dream level down requires the team to don snow camouflage/winter gear – they are now all literally wearing the same uniform and their personalities have been erased from their clothing at this point.

Inception - Outfits 2

In the finally dreamscape Cobb works through a collection of his previous looks, but at this stage the rest of the group, now devoid of sartorial personality, have ceased to exist – Cobb’s various outfits encompass them all. This idea intrigues me as there has long been speculation about the true nature of Cobb’s status in the film – if he is dreaming for the duration of the entire movie, simply trying to find his way out, then these sartorial choices would make sense. All of the other characters could be parts of his personality, creations of his mind, and so as he goes deeper to the heart of his psychosis or central dream problem or whatever that final dreamscape represents, the various splinters of his personality shed their distinct individuality and become closer and closer to the core personality. That said, it wouldn’t explain the epilogue at all, so it may all mean nothing and just be a collection of great clothes!

All images belong to the copyright holders

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Review: They’re Not Like Us #3

Concise

Eric Stephenson puts his uniquely dark twist on the familiar superhero training story with this incredibly rich issue. The writing is tight and brilliant, the art is simply beautiful, and the colouring is just something else. If you can handle the moral ambiguity and unsettling violence then this book is a must read.

They're Not Like Us #3 Cover

Spoilerful

The moral ambiguity introduced last issue is compounded with this stark tale of vigilante justice and brutal punishment. What starts out as a virtual ‘danger room’ session becomes something far more intimate and violent in this issue as writer Eric Stephenson starts moving us and Syd closer into the dangerous heart of this group of powerful misanthrope’s and vigilantes. This is a strong issue taking on Syd’s psychic training as well as the emerging darkness within her. There are also a number of incredible, yet subtle, displays of power from the group, perhaps the first time we’ve been given a better understanding of their gifts.

Stephenson has been taking us in this direction all along; the Voice’s spontaneous violence whilst breaking Syd out of hospital, the group’s gleeful beat down of a vandal, the speechifying about the evils and failures of capitalist society and humanity in general, all of it has led us to this – Syd beating the heck out of a man in a crowded street. The group have convened their own jury and Syd acts as judge and almost-executioner when she takes justice into her own hands. The political discussion between the Voice and Maise last issue seems academic here, this is all about action, and Syd is willing, eager even, to get involved. The training activity is all put together well, with the safety of the house giving way to the raw vulnerability of the crowed city square (but the group remain close by to protect and support Syd). It is easy to understand why Syd would quickly become comfortable within this group, even when they do such questionable things.

Syd’s relationship with Gruff is a new one, and it is surprisingly advanced from the looks of things. This is quite a nice way to show us the passage of time (although as we are given no indication of time passing this training session could be taking place a week after last issue or just an hour), and the idea that psychic training might lead to an usually intense and intimate relationship makes a lot of sense. The conversation that follows (I love that Gruff only speaks telepathically) reveals that Syd has never really experienced a physically or emotionally intimate relationship before. This is interesting as it serves to cast Syd as even more innocent, and maybe naive, than she has previously appeared (the hand holding was a sweet touch that emphasised this further). I can’t shake the feeling that the entire group is ‘grooming’ Syd in some way, and the idea that there are psychic powers in play just makes that queasiness more prominent. We know that the group are morally ambiguous, that they use their powers to exact pretty extreme ‘justice’, and that they see themselves above human law and society; without a solid moral compass within the book we are being asked to decided for ourselves whether we want to champion this group or fear them? Stephenson is enjoying the use of this intellectual conflict to advance the story, and it is a very effective device.

Artist Simon Gane uses simple, but effective, techniques to enhance Stephenson’s storytelling throughout the issue – typical pages see panels within the page, but then when emphasis is needed for the location or story beat Gane will free himself from those constraints and use the full page. Time and again this works well to punctuate the scenes and locations of the issue, and it also allows Gane to just blow the reader away with big, beautiful imagery. The brutality and motion of combat is brilliantly evoked both when Syd is training with Gruff, and again, even more so, when she really loses herself to the violence beating up the ‘criminal’ in the street. The detail in the character work is just excellent, with emotions so well and subtly indicated – take for instance the very slight upturn in Misery Kid’s mouth as he knows he has found Syd’s parents, just amazing (the weight of intention and ambiguity in that close up panel on Misery Kid is astonishing). The crowds of passers-by are presented as both unique, distinct individuals and a roiling mass of bodies, a perfect representation of humanity (and they have a real feel of motion too). I so love every visible representation of powers at use in this book, for instance, the simple switch between panels that show us how Moon is using her illusions to obfuscate reality.

Again Jordie Bellaire’s colours are simply amazing. Working with Gane, the way that the psychic space ‘The Calm’ is rendered in stark white void is a startling visual, and it really works to add to the visceral violence we see in these scenes. The way that the passersby and environment are blanked out or ignored as they become an indistinct pink/blue helps to transition us between the ‘real world’ crowd, the calm, and then the final act of brutal justice. It is also incredible work by Gane and Bellaire when the guy in the town square is picked out and highlighted within the crowd and then brought to the fore of the panels – we get a real sense of how the group become aware of his presence.

This book is dark, and it is intense, and I really don’t think there is anything else quite like it out there right now. Syd’s journey mirrors one that we have seen in superhero comics many times before, but rarely from this dark angle, and the creative team are doing sterling work bringing it to grim, but beautiful, life. There has been, and still is, so much quality storytelling on offer from this great book that I can’t wait to see how the story develops.

They're Not Like Us #3 Panel

They’re Not Like Us #3 // Story – Eric Stephenson / Art – Simon Gane / Colours – Jordie Bellaire // Image

Notes and Observations:

  • For all of The Voice’s talk about the corruption of human capitalist society Blurgirl still wants to go shopping at Barney’s. Maybe The Voice isn’t quite as persuasive as we thought?
  • Misery Kid, how I long to know your deal.
  • Syd is back in real clothes, and her outfit is cute and practical! Great work Mr. Gane!
  • This issue’s title comes from another Manic Street Preachers track and the back page quote is from Morrisey’s song Sister I’m a Poet – I’m still wondering if these are suggested soundtracks for each issue or just thematically relevant (and cool) references.
  • As this book is so tightly and effectively put together any small problems can appear quite glaring – a minor issue is cast in stark relief by the brilliance around it. There was a line in this issue that didn’t sit all that well with me; when Gruff commends Syd’s ferocity and physical power by saying “you most definitely do not hit like a girl” it struck me as a shame to perpetuate this phrase – maybe “you hit like a woman” would have been better than using this oft quoted and unfortunate cliche.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Review: Spider-Gwen #1

Concise

Well, I don’t think that could have been any better. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez deliver a storming first issue of the new Spider-Gwen solo book that picks up the threads from the Edge of the Spider-Verse one-shot and goes on to expand Gwen’s universe. The dialogue is funny, the characters interesting, and the story compelling; all of which can be found alongside incredible art, colours, and inventive lettering. This issue is the whole package, and one great start.

Spider-Gwen #1 Cover

Spoilerful

Following a fan-favourite introduction in the recent Spider-Man multidimensional cross-over Spider-Gwen is a very new addition to the wall-crawling family. So, Gwen has been out of town for a few days (getting involved in all of that Spider-Verse action as a helpful and fun editor Nick cameo informs us), and during that time a new villain calling himself the Vulture has decided to become New York’s first real super-villain. The introductory Spider-Gwen story from the Spider-Verse book gave us an insight into Gwen’s world, but this first solo issue does a lot more good work to establish the status quo of the New York that Gwen calls home. It quickly becomes clear that super-heroes are a rare breed here, for example Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four is a regular police man in this world, and likewise Peter Parker’s Lizard seems to have been the first legit super-villian. This is important because it establishes that Gwen is walking a lonely path, there are no Avengers or X-Men to turn to here, and the recent Spider-Verse book has shown her how different things could be.

To add to the pain of self-realization is the fact that the Vulture has stepped into the lime light only because he is jealous of Gwen’s infamy, a suitably self-indulgent and petty reason that sheds a lot of light on the Adrian Toomes of this world. Immediately this is a villain that mirrors and reverses Gwen’s feeling and situation – JJ Jameson (hating on spider-types even in Gwen’s Earth-65) has made sure that Gwen is public enemy number one, which is exactly the reputation that Vulture craves. Gwen doesn’t want her life to be this way, and neither does Toomes – they are opposites about to cross paths.

Writer Jason Latour does a lot of work in this issue, he widens our lens on this alternate Marvel universe, and lays the ground work for the first arc both for Spider-Gwen and regular-Gwen, all the while throwing in some thrilling plot points and funny lines. Gwen is dejected after returning to this world, she won’t face her father and she has quit the band, but most of all she is facing into the hatred of the city she is trying to protect. But her city, like her band, need her to be what they once were – upstarts like the Vulture and ‘cousin Jim’ may be trying to usurp Gwen, but they aren’t about to have it easy. Gwen’s soul searching feels real in this book, and never descends into cloying self-pity, she has shut herself off (listening to music in a dark back alley rather than speaking to her father on the phone, or hiding in the rafters of the Mary Janes studio rather than facing her friends directly). Gwen wants to re-integrate, but after revealing her secret identity to her father, having JJ and pals brand her as a menace, and missing the band’s big gig, she is understandably afraid to take those steps. I really liked that the eves-dropping at of the band yielded a painful truth for Gwen, as Gloria takes MJ to task for being stupid and pig-headed, the words resonate with Gwen too – she makes a faltering first step with her dad (listening to his voicemail) and steps up to reclaim her city. There are a lot of great threads in play by the end of this issue, Gwen still hasn’t reconciled with the Mary Janes, Frank Castle is on her case, and yeah she just got dropped in New York Harbor.

The art from Robbi Rodriguez is simply so good in this book. The physicality and grace of Spider-Gwen is amazon, when she pivots to throw the Bodega Bandit into a dumpster it looks real and effortless and incredible. Similarly Spider-Gwen searching Toomes’ apartment features so many panels of perfect physicality, especially when Gwen makes up her mind to call the Vulture out (she looks pretty damn serious!). But it’s not just the physicality that Rodriguez nails, it’s the details too. The Vulture is a petty vindictive man and his grotesque personality is captured in those very first panels – his grin, his vulture-esque features, his perch; he has truly become a true carrion creature. The Mary Janes are illustrated amazingly, from MJ’s meltdown to her wilted form, to Captain Frank Castle ‘interrogating’ the suspect (and the breadth of Aleksei’s shoulders and chest is just awesome). There are just so many great details on every page, in every panel that this is a treat to just look at let alone read – the bandit’s shoe’s flying off when he is thrown, the city reflected in the window Captain Stacy looks out of,  Gwen dropping her 78¢ in the tip jar at the grocery store, Murder-Face the cat’s face in every panel!

Holy moley, are the colours on this book something else! Rico Renzi’s style is a perfect match for Rodriguez’s art, and for this world. The deep mingling greens and yellows of the Vulture’s smoke clouds, the rich hot pinks and greens of the street-art, and the amber/pink hues of every scene featuring the Mary Janes; these are all gorgeously rendered colours that make the visuals of this world ‘pop’ with every panel. Even the more pedestrian scenes, like Gwen in the local store feature some beautiful colour work (check out the deep shadows in Gwen’s hair or the dust on top of the hot dog grill). Gwen’s New York is a vibrant pulsating purple world and it’s skies are an iridescent mix of royal, navy, and aqua blues that long to be stared at. And then there is Gwen’s costume, a stark clean white, with internal webbed pink lining, pink eye-shadow but white void eyes, and a complex shadows from every angle – there is not a panel where the colouring on this outfit is not amazing. Truly Renzi does an outstanding job on this book!

Not to be out done letterer Clayton Cowles does some wonderful work here. The dripping paint sound effect of a spray can, the “kruka” of cracking knuckles, the “rrrummm” of an ignored phone, all of these effects are delightfully integrated into the fabric of this world. Even Gwen’s narrative text is lovely, a deep purple that matches her costume’s lining. Cowles has been doing excellent work over on Bitch Planet and it is great to see that same high quality here.

The cult of Gwen is an interesting side-note, a group youngsters who wear hoodies similar to Gwen’s costume and use graffiti to contradict JJ’s narrative of a villainous Spider-Gwen. They have a prominent scrawl on their backs that reads “YSG” which would imply that they are this world’s Yancy Street Gang; a group that would frequently harass the Thing, both humorously and otherwise, in the pages of the Fantastic Four. Their image of Gwen is accompanied by the words “who’s responsible” so it is possible they are on Gwen’s side, or maybe just they are just making trouble and keeping officer Grimm busy. It is probably also worth mentioning that Grimm survives a six-story drop and crawls four blocks before he is found – he is either preternaturally strong, or maybe there are more super-powers at work in this world after all?

In many ways this book reminds me of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, perhaps it’s the sharp yet light art style, or the tight yet playful writing, or maybe it’s the combination of fun super heroics with deeper than at first glance story telling. In any case this is a really excellent start to this must-read book, and one that bodes well for this series going forward. If this issue is an indication, Spider-Gwen is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier.

Spider-Gwem #1 Panel

Spider-Gwen #1 // Writer – Jason Latour / Artist – Robbi Rodriguez / Colour Artist – Rico Renzi // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • Is the Bodega Bandit based on a real guy?
  • Who is the mystery woman watching Frank Castle ‘question’ Aleksei I wonder.
  • I love that Gwen’s backpack is pretty much a permanent part of her costume (even if it does disappear for a couple of panels when Gwen enters Toomes’ place).
  • Oh yeah – Matt Murdock is Kingpin again!!
  • Gwen finds an ad for ‘Mr Z’ at Toomes’ apartment – Mr Z was a corrupt insurance salesman (real name W.C. Tuttle) who first appeared in the 616 universe back in 1942 via Mystic Comics #10. What is he doing here?

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Rambling Thoughts on Jupiter Ascending’s Pre-Emptive Sequel Problem

This essay contains spoilers.

The Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, learned the hard way that franchise building can be a tricky and unforgiving task. Sure, the Matrix sequels made a lot of money, but they were critically derided (Revolutions in particular with a Metacritic score of 47 and 36% on Rotten Tomatoes), and the writer/producer/director siblings have never quite emerged from the trilogy’s long shadow. For me, the problem with the Matrix sequels was their starting point; so few loose ends remained at the end of the first movie that the script had to contort itself in unimaginable knots in order to retread similar ground and retain a familiar level of threat. When Neo talked the machines into submission and launched himself into the sky at the end of The Matrix there was very little wiggle room in which to pitch a satisfying sequel. Flash forward 16 years and we find the Wachowski’s revisiting the concept of big budget science fiction world building in their latest picture Jupiter Ascending, even touching on the same Matrix tropes of an anointed saviour (Neo/Jupiter), a leather clad super-capable bodyguard (Trinity/Caine), and humanity as commodity (fuel in The Matrix, cosmetic aid in Jupiter Ascending). Except this time the Wachowski’s appear to have gone out of their way to leave nothing within reaching distance of a resolution at the end of the movie; key characters drop out of view, story arcs fade into the background, and plot-breadcrumbs are cast about with wild abandon. This is presumably to leave as many story options and characters in the box for the potential sequels, but it serves to diminish the standalone nature of this would-be franchise first outing; I couldn’t shake the feeling I just watched a TV pilot for a show that isn’t getting picked up.

A powerful scene
A powerful scene

Jupiter Ascending is a film with perhaps more problems than characters, and it has a whole lot of characters, and they vary in importance and scale. The cringe-worthy dialogue, poor soundtrack, confusing action scenes, and hammy performances are all distracting and grating enough, but could probably be overcome if the plot and structure issues weren’t so glaring (and if Jupiter falls off one more platform I might just jump through a wall).  But you can stack on top of all those an urgent and inescapable feeling that the Wachowski’s are pleading with you to ‘buy-in’ to their universe. Everything about this film screams ‘I want to be a multi-picture’ franchise. So much is left loudly unsaid (“what’s the sister’s deal?”, “why don’t the Aegis do anything?”, “WHY DID YOU BITE THAT GUY CAINE?”). It seems like this may all be a reaction to the difficulties resulting from the conclusive ending to the original Matrix film. By resolving too much at the end of The Matrix it made organic and escalating sequels more difficult to write, and particularly more difficult to make satisfying for audiences. So is it possible Jupiter Ascending is just a long list of plot decisions taken solely for the purpose of leaving open threads for subsequent adventures?

Yeah Caine, why did you bite that guy?
Yeah Caine, why did you bite that guy?

After an impressive lead up to an incredible subway station fight with Agent Smith The Matrix takes an abrupt wrong turn into so massively over-powering its hero that the big finish is almost laughably disatisfying. By the end of the movie Neo has become unstoppable, he literally jumps into the antagonist who has been his better throughout the film and destroys him from within. Neo is able to bend the code of the Matrix to his will, and is untethered by its rules or restrictions, he can fly and he can summon cool end credit music at will. Note also that the majority of the supporting cast from the film, primarily the crew of Morpheus’ ship the Nebuchadnezzar, had been killed off (8 crew down to just 3). So any sequel has to start from this point, you have an unbeatable protagonist, no visible or likely antagonist, and a very small supporting cast. Sure, there were a couple of established plot threads available to explore (Zion, how humanity and the machines can co-exist.), but the core building blocks of the previous film are no longer available. Neo has completed his entire hero journey in the first story (at least within the matrix itself), he believes in his position as the one, he has developed incredible power, and he has faced down the machines’  greatest weapon. It is as if Luke Skywalker became a Jedi Knight and killed Darth Vader at the end of A New Hope – where do you go from that? And sure enough as they struggle with these problems the sequels get lost in overly long overly elaborate fight scenes interspersed with overly long overly elaborate pseudo-philosopical nonsense. All of which exists only in an attempt to add weight to the paper-thin philosophy of the first movie and detain Neo long enough to stop him from winning the universe in the first five minutes. The supporting cast are half-heartedly replaced by a few new faces who are never fleshed out or developed sufficiently to make them compelling and only seem present so that there can be a couple of recognisable faces in the finale battle (and weirdly the Nebuchadnezzar is never re-crewed). And finally, there is an attempt imbue the story with some tension by building a threat so strange and narratively perverse that it is still baffling (hello Architect/ridiculous multiple identical Neo’s twist).

Morpheus and all your favourite supporting characters
Morpheus and all your favourite supporting characters

From the outset Jupiter Ascending appears intent on establish itself firmly as a franchise-ready universe. The introduction of new concepts and characters is non-stop throughout, even though most of these are touched on only briefly and then left criminally unresolved. Take for instance the bounty hunter Razo; featured prominently in the movie’s advertising and employed by potential antagonist Kalique Abrasax, Razo at first appears to be the kind of character that would be a persistent thorn in the side of our action hero, Caine Wise. However, after a couple of early actions scenes Razo disappears from the plot, never to be heard from again and without any clue offered to her fate. This is especially curious given that the character and her companion Ibis have the makings of an arc about trust and betrayal and honour amongst thieves – a story that would mirror the machinations of the Abrasax siblings quite well. It seems likely that Razo was taken off the board in order to re-enter the story at a future point, in a potential sequel of course.

Jupiter Ascending Razo on Bike
Razo doing her best to be in this movie at all

Similarly there are dangling plot threads concerning Sean Bean’s character Stinger Apini and his daughter who is sick, the fate of sexy-slimy-sibling Titus Abrasax, and Caine Wise’s tortured throat-biting past. Whole factions are introduced and yet they play little part in the film’s core plot – the Aegis for instance who simply ferry Jupiter between dangerous situations and then wait around places. And what of Kalique who is introduced as a presumably important character (it is she who first introduces Jupiter to her real life)? She clearly has a hidden agenda (she hired bounty hunters to track Jupiter down outside and is wary of Aegis law), but then plays no part in the second half of the film at all. These all feel like ideas that were tabled so that they would be available in a sequel – they serve no function in this film as a standalone story and only work to bog it down in unnecessary baggage (how this film got made with the exact same ‘Jupiter meets an Abrasax sibling to discuss interminable exposition’ scene three times in a row is beyond me). Moreover, the fact that the film ends with Jupiter making no attempt to resolve the galactic exploitation trade in human bodies, or in fact to change her own life at all, seems to be more obvious place-holding. The wider conflicts introduced in the film go completely unresolved by the end of the story, and the film fails to provide satisfying story arcs for any character at all (although I suppose Caine does get his space wings back, but what the heck is the ‘Legion’ all about?). Even if more effort had been put into closing some of these story loops, or at least doing a better job of integrating future plot-threads without leaving them unresolved like gruesome hang-nails, this film wouldn’t have been particularly successful, but at least it wouldn’t have gotten me so irked as to write 1424 words on the matter.

Review: Bitch Planet #3

Concise

So far Bitch Planet has established an interesting dystopia, compelling leads, and an important agenda. In this issue the a-plot takes a momentary back seat whilst we get to know the history of perhaps the most interesting of the supporting players we have seen so far, Penny Rolle. This is a different pace for this book, every bit as biting and intimate as usual, but more focussed on character than plot, and it offers a unique insight on this world. Another great read.

Bitch Planet #3 Cover

Spoilerful

Penelope Rolle, arguably one of the most intriguing and humorous of the supporting players we have been introduced to in this book takes centre stage for an origin story of sorts. Taking place both just before Bitch Planet #1 and much earlier in Penny’s history this issue explores a life time spent on the receiving end of oppression and hate.

Ultimately there is a lot of heart to this story, even as we see the horrible oppression and hostile environment in which Penny has been forced to live most of her life. The ultimate moral, that Penny shouldn’t have to see herself through anyone else’s eyes to be proud of who she is, or live up to anybody’s expectations of herself but her own – these are valuable truths. There are strong statements here about the objectionable treatment of women in this/our society; the wall of male ‘Fathers’ sitting in judgement over Penny because she doesn’t conform to their ‘tastes’, unhelpful and wrongheaded views of body shape and size, the outright woman hating hostility of misogynists. There is also exploration of racism and the sheer awfulness of ‘white standards of beauty’ in how Penny is expected to style herself to match more closely societal expectation.

Art this issue is provided by Robert Wilson IV and it works well with the subject matter. The oppressive walls of faces on monitors creates a real claustrophobia in the scenes where Penny is being interrogated, whilst Penny’s facial expressions offer up an insight into her painful journey. The flashback sequences are all especially good and the wider angle framing seems to become increasingly tight as time progresses and Penny suffers more and more. The colouring work (by Cris Peter I believe based on the cover credit, but I have found it hard to confirm this) is similarly effective, and I was really impressed by the work in those flashbacks. I also loved that the lettering, by Clayton Cowles, shows only Penny laughing from the mirror-ideal-self rather than in the real world – her ideal self can laugh at these clowns for all their pettiness and hate, but Penny can only smile because she is still suffering at their hands.

In the issue back matter Kelly Sue DeConnick explains that this is the first ‘special third’ issues of Bitch Planet, an opportunity to spend more time with a particular character out of the current timeline and with new art. The punishing demands of a publishing schedule can often cause issues for artists on monthly books; I don’t know if that is the case here, but for whatever reason regular artist and co-creator Valentine De Landro is stepping aside with these special third issues. This method, alternating artists and covering different time periods when the primary artist is unavailable, has worked well for some books in the past (notably Matt Fraction’s runs on The Immortal Iron Fist and Hawkeye). That said, I can’t deny being sad that Del Landro isn’t drawing every issue (no matter how good the replacement artist is) as this is as much his world as DeConnick’s, but if it must be so then I am glad that they are taking this approach rather than have fill-in artists covering the a-plot (as long as the structure doesn’t get in the way of the main plot’s momentum).

This was another good issue of this book, an essential read for anyone interested in science fiction, dystopian futures, or the unfortunate gender politics of the future and the present. It may not have had the forward momentum of the main plot, but there is a powerful story here and one that is worth taking time to invest in.

Bitch Planet #3 Panel

Bitch Planet #3 // Writer – Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art – Robert Wilson IV / Colourist – Cris Peter // Image

Notes and Observations:

  • I am glad Valentine De Landro was still able to provide the cover to this issue; his retro-exploration-movie-poster-style covers are just brilliant.
  • The condescending Father Frank is quickly revealed to be as clueless as he thinks everyone else is – it’s an on-the-nose gag about political figures, but it worked (mostly because I enjoyed the word “algriffins“).
  • Back page ad-watch: get your megaton spirit fingers in time for the big game! I like that there are real world links on there to important sites too – non-profit organisation http://www.DomesticPeace.com which supports victims of domestic violence and fact checking site http://www.Politifact.com.

All art belongs to the copyright holders