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

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Review: Bitch Planet #2

Concise

This issue offers more back story and world building and puts the core plot in play for the coming story arc. In a very effective follow-up we learn more about the central character Kamau Kogo, and her world, as well as getting some hints about what we might be building up to. The writing deftly balances some pretty horrifying stuff with some genuine comedy, and the tension is already building fast. Last issue was a great beginning, and this is an incredible next step.

Grade: A

Bitch Planet #2 Cover

Spoilerful

Great care has been given to the realisation of the patriarchal society in this book, there are some revealing moments in this issue that pave the way for future world building and more history. The government of this world is clearly autocratic, and unsurprisingly there is infighting, corruption, and incompetence. Despite this society’s best efforts this is clearly not a utopia, even after the extreme actions that have been taken to oppress women. Interestingly the government follows some conventions more familiar from religion than politics; the leader’s title is ‘Father’ and the way he speaks “your Father is listening” reminds of Catholic confession.

Speaking of confession, this is the second time we have seen the “confession module” being activated (Marian was asked to confess her noncompliance in issue #1), and here it is a forceful attempt to corral a false confession from Kamau Kogo. We know Kamau is innocent, but the officials at Bitch Planet want her to take the blame for Marian’s murder. The confessional booth is an oppressively small room with images projected from every surface, and the confession programme offers up a nonstop barrage of intimidation and suggestion. One such line of attack is to dwell on the fact that Marian will never get to see her boy become a man, this coupled with a bereft mother on TV later in the issue give the impression that a woman can have no such joy as raising a man. Kamau doesn’t break though and so we are introduced to a very interesting character indeed, Operative Whitney.

Until now every authority figure we have seen has been male, but here is a woman working for the authorities too. Whitney is courteous and affable, even offering Kam some water and providing a more relaxing atmosphere in the booth. Whitney is a tough character to pin down because she is self-possessed, has agency, and makes her own decisions, but so far it seems she also actively supports and encourages a system of government that seeks to oppress her solely because of her sex. This is an important point though, sometimes there are those who do benefit even in a society that underserves them – this is what gives rise to popular inertia and makes change difficult. Kam is offered a way out of her solitary, if she agrees to put together a team for a popular sport, Megaton. In the midst of this discussion we are given quick hints of back story, Kam has a brother, and she used to be a professional athlete, this society is known as the ‘New Protectorate’ and it took power at some point in Kam’s adult life.

Kam doesn’t accept the offer, at least not yet, and is put back into gen-pop where she is given two pitches during exercises. It is interesting that these proposals, one from Violet and one from Meiko, are introduced with top page headers – it makes things more formal and gives the impression that Kam is convinced by one of them (but it is not clear whose proposal Kam is ultimately swayed by). Violet is eager that Kam take the offer so that ‘the movement’ can gain some media attention. Violet is still top of my suspect list for the murder of Marian and it isn’t entirely clear what she thinks they will gain by entering Megaton – I remain suspicious. Mieko’s pitch makes a lot more sense to me, it appears that she wants to stage a break out using her knowledge of the Megaton stadium ship. This stops Kam in her tracks and seems like it may be why she agrees to take part. The staging of these conversations on the running track is a great touch; along with the clear message that these women are physically capable, we also get to see the subversion of 80’s fitness videos/gym-classes as a large group of women are exercising in front of a ginormous video-instructor, and then there is the hilarious Penelope action scene in the background. We don’t get to see much of Penelope in this issue, but getting involved in yet another fight/riot had me in stitches; she is quickly becoming a favourite (and despite my misgivings about Violet’s motives I thought it was just aces the way she was totally blasé about jumping into the fray).

The issue closes with two important scenes, Kam accepts Whitney’s offer, and Father Josephson learns that violent deaths bring audience engagement up to an unprecedented level. The former scene is important because it demonstrates Kam’s value to Whitney, she is able to leverage the identity of Marian’s murderer for her agreement to join the team (we also get a glimpse of Whitney’s dark side as she removes gloves bloodied from dealing with another prisoner). It seems possible that pinning the murder on Kam in the first place was an effective way of manoeuvring her into building the Megaton team though so I don’t expect we’ll be getting clear answers anytime soon. The final scene is important because it sets the tone for the Megaton games themselves – Father has already explained the necessity of audience engagement and now has reason to believe violence and death on the field will bring it. These games are not going to be pretty.

This is an important book exploring important issues that don’t often come up in comics (or the media generally); the role of women in a patriarchal society that often marginalises, exploits, and demeans them. Father Josephson, the warden, and the rest of the system want to exploit the women on Bitch Planet for the ratings, at the same time as keeping them locked away for their noncompliance. By turns a treatise on female exploitation, a thrilling science fiction drama, and a damn funny book, this is an incredibly effective comic that is only getting stronger by the issue.

Bitch Planet #2 Panel

Bitch Planet #2 // Writer – Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art – Valentine De Landro / Colours – Cris Peter // Image

Notes and Observations:

  • The back cover classifieds continue to emphasise the idea of consumerist patriarchal society that puts pressure on women to fight each other for male approval. There is also some pretty funny satire, and I wonder if we can expect Rabbit and the Duchess to make an appearance in the main plot.
  • Violence appears to be common place in this world, even the sous chefs go at it in the kitchen!
  • The rules of Megaton still haven’t been laid out but the snippets we do get, “two teams, two thousand pounds, one victor” sound pretty ominous. It seems like there is a literal weight restriction on each team, which will presumably play a role in determining if Penelope makes the team (which she almost certainly will given her potential in a fight).

All art belongs to the copyright holder

February Pull List – Some of the Best Current Comics

There are a lot of great books coming out at the moment; happily with an increasing focus on the diversity of protagonists, stories, and target demographics. Although there is plenty of work still to be done in the industry it seems like steps are being taken in the right direction – there are more books featuring female and POC characters as leads, more effort being taken to portray female characters in less sexually objectified outfits and poses, and more mainstream books that tell stories that aren’t just about fighting the bad guys in the street.

The below books are some of what I consider to be the best titles from my regular pull list. They are all telling interesting stories, making inventive and exciting use of the medium, and/or tackling worthwhile and under-represented subject matter:

Batgirl

Batgirl #38 Cover

Writers – Brendan Fletcher & Cameron Stewart / Art – Babs Tarr / Colours – Marris Wicks // DC

The current creative team on this book, writers Brendan Fletcher & Cameron Stewart and artist Babs Tarr, have gently rebooted the Batgirl character as a more contemporary real world hero replete with social media, hacking scandals, campus rock bands, and reality TV stars. This book is both a high octane action detective story (visual devices like Batgirl’s eidetic memory are wonderfully executed by Tarr) and a multi-character drama (there are several complex relationships in play, both romantic and platonic). Not to mention the overarching mystery plot in the background. As the story of a young woman rediscovering and embracing her identity after a recent trauma, and as a superhero adventure, this is an incredibly successful book.

Gotham Academy

Gotham Academy #4 Cover

Writers – Brendan Fletcher & Becky Cloonan / Art – Karl Kerschl / Colours – Masassyk & Serge LaPointe // DC

Also from writer Brendan Fletcher, here working with co-writer Becky Cloonan and artist Karl Kerschl, Gotham Academy is another unique take on the darkest city in the DC universe. Often described as Harry Potter meets Batman this story follows melancholic Olive Silverlock and exuberant Maps Mizoguchi as they deal with a potential haunting at the school. The art is perfect, the tone graceful, and the puzzle-box-plot suitably intriguing. Although appearing to be aimed at a younger audience I think this book should be read by anyone interested in good mysteries, strong female characters, or just plain fun.

Bitch Planet

Bitch Planet #2 Cover

Writer – Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art – Valentine De Landro / Colours – Cris Peter // Image

This is not only an important book, but an exciting one too. The story of an off-world all-female prison in a militant patriarchal society, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick has crafted a work of biting satire and urgency. The women in this book are diverse in every way, from background to body type to personality, and their situation, imprisoned for being ‘non-compliant’ with societies expectations, offers an opportunity to explore the very real difficulties that women face everyday from a unique angle. This is a compelling science fiction action story that also has a very worthwhile agenda at its core.

They’re Not Like Us

They're Not Like Us #2 Cover

Writer – Eric Stephenson / Art – Simon Gane / Colours – Jordie Bellaire // Image

Exploring the dark side of superpowered self discovery this is a dense and philosophical story. Featuring a cast of morally ambiguous but compelling characters writer Eric Stephenson is taking the opportunity to dig under the surface of our society and how we react to prejudice. The tone may be a little too pessimistic for some, but it feels like there is plenty of scope for the characters’ world views to be challenged as the story goes on. I just cannot say enough good things about the rich art by Simon Gane and deep colours by Jordie Bellaire. The plot is a tense slow burn, but despite being only two issues in this book already feels like essential reading.

Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer #8 Cover

Writer – Dan Slott / Art – Mike Allred / Colours – Laura Allred // Marvel

Dan Slott has taken a character that in lesser hands could be a morose bore and turned him into an intergalactic explorer and one half of perhaps the greatest love story in recent comic history. After being joined in his adventures by Earthling Dawn Greenwood the Surfer has been redefined as a character with more heart and humour. The relationship between Dawn and the Surfer has been a constant thread throughout this run, having recently taken centre stage as things start getting serious, but there has always been a sense of fun and adventure as well largely thanks to the whimsical art of Mike Allred. This book really is something different to the grumpy put-upon agonising of a lot of contemporary heroes, but it is no less satisfying for it.

Review: Bitch Planet #1

Concise –

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.

Grade: A

BitchPlanet_01-1

Spoilerful –

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

001
The prisoners arriving at ‘Bitch Planet’

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.

 

All art belongs to the copyright holder