Bitch Planet Book One: Extraordinary Machine
words: Kelly Sue DeConnick
art: Valentine de Landro
My vote for best comic series of 2015 goes to Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, gathered together in this first volume, Bitch Planet Book One: Extraordinary Machine. I kind of feel like most readers of Comics Bulletin probably already know about Bitch Planet—or maybe that’s the circles I lurk in on Tumblr—but this series seems maybe the biggest word-of-mouth phenomenon in comics.
DeConnick is one of the smartest comic book writers out right now, and I think of her as the Quentin Tarantino of comics, for at least a couple reasons: 1. She’s got smart, snappy dialogue, is known for it, like Tarantino. I would argue her work with Marvel on Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble was all about the dialogue, the stories almost an excuse, as in almost every exchange of words between characters is at the least clever, and at their best bring laugh-out-loud joy. (My favorite being, “Well aren’t you little Miss Sparkle Fists!”).
2. DeConnick also shares with Tarantino a love of genre, like westerns (in Pretty Deadly) and, here in Bitch Planet, blaxploitation, science fiction, martial arts and women’s prison dramas like the old series Prisoner Cell Block H (Remember that? From Britain? Came on right before Benny Hill where I grew up). Even comics themselves are a ‘genre’ to be looked back on with fondness and nostalgia, thanks to the awesome retro art of Valentine de Landro: Bitch Planet rolls 70s-style, which is hard for my non-artist ass to define except that it’s grainy and ‘dotty,’ along with dark and gloomy: this kind of art leaves DeConnick free to get on with the story—just by looking at any random page of this collection you ‘get’ the world: the future is not bright, you don’t need shades. This is not the sterile sleek digital that most Big Two stuff is now (which you could take as neither good nor bad, though I lean towards digital=bad)(but I still like music that’s played on real instruments, and share DeConnick’s love of AC/DC, so what do I know).
For the uninitiated cave-dwellers: Bitch Planet is a dystopian near-future, women who aren’t ‘good women’ (i.e. who don’t put up with the (mostly white as the higher levels) patriarchy (or perhaps Patriarchy with a capital P)) get sent off-planet to a man-made (pun intended) prison in space, along with receiving a NC tattoo (for ‘Non-Compliant). And while many of the inmates, as well as the two main characters, Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle, are women of color, white women, though benefitting from the p/Patriarchy in the short term, can/will end up there too, like for example when they get old and are no longer useful to men and get angry that they might be replaced by younger women.
Because that’s all you really need to end up in Bitch Planet: to be an angry woman, even though/as the world—beyond your control and of course unfairly—makes you angry. Sound familiar? It should, even to male readers. DeConnick’s goal, or one of them, is to show that no one ultimately benefits from the Patriarchy, neither in the future, nor here and now.
I believe DeConnick is getting away from working with Marvel now, which I’m happy about, since Marvel’s newest strategy seems to be to go ‘cute’ (i.e. Squirrel Girl) so as to attract female and younger readers. Which…is kind of insulting to female and younger readers, if not a little true. But, it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both/and, the comics world is big enough for many approaches. I like my comics dark, and I’m glad we have DeConnick (which may be my #3 reason why she’s like Tarantino) just in general, and also to show both editors at Marvel, and female and young readers, that good stories can be dark, and good dark stories can be written by/for females and the young. And the rest of us.
Bitch Planet is so kinda huge that people, young women, are getting NC tattoos. DeConnick has tapped into something, a smoldering anger that’s way beyond the comic book world, part of both the feminist movement(s) and #BlackLivesMatter, and I think (I mean, prove me wrong, please) that this is the only comic series that’s even touching this subject matter. Even most of the ‘best’ comics series, which I still may love, play things safe and rarely even hint at outside Real World events or issues. Meaning they don’t take risks. DeConnick has taken a huge risk (she has admitted this in interviews and on her Tumblr page) in working with politics, race, gender, and she did it all without being preachy. And it’s entertaining. It worked.
Lesson learned: take risks.
I hope DeConnick continues to work in comics, though get her while she’s hot: she and her husband (the also-great Matt Fraction) apparently have a deal to move into the more lucrative field of film scripts. My only hope is that the Disney execs, or Warner, or whoever, will put DeConnick on the upcoming (finally and seemingly grudgingly) Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel movies. though I say that and what I really want to see is more of her original work. Again, maybe it’s not either/or, but both/and: Get DeConnick bringing up the quality level of mainstream stuff and bringing us new (yet nostalgiacly and genre-y) worlds like Bitch Planet.