2014 Best Writer Eisner Award nominee KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (PRETTY DEADLY, Captain Marvel) and VALENTINE DE LANDRO (X-Factor) team up for the very third time to bring you the premiere issue of BITCH PLANET, their highly-anticipated womenin- prison sci-fi exploitation riff. Think Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds.
Warning: Spoilers of “Bitch Planet #1” from this point forth.
Ray Sonne: In some circles, “Bitch Planet #1” was one of the most highly anticipated Image Comics releases of this year. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro promised a series that turned the 70s prison exploitation movie genre on its head, subverting the sexist elements to make a feminist book. Did they succeed? Questionable.
I am unfamiliar with the genre the creators are working with here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that dystopias were not a necessary ingredient for the movies. The world of Bitch Planet is a world of out-and-out misogyny. It opens with a girl running through the city streets where the buildings are covered with ads targeting women, mostly encouraging them to abuse themselves in some way with the goal of becoming more beautiful or just for them to OBEY. This girl turns out to supply the voice of the looming, pink, busty figure of the Bitch on Bitch Planet or, as another character later refers to it, the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost.
Readers are met with a diverse array of women on Bitch Planet, including characters I am going to name Ass-Kicking Afro, due to her afro, and Born Big, due to her immense size and tattoo, until further notice. We also meet Marion, who I would call Weepy Wilting White Woman if we didn’t know her real name because that’s all she does. The latter looks to be the protagonist until the government murders her as a favor to her husband because he’s gone to pick up a hot, half his age new wife and apparently the easiest way to get rid of Marion was to send her to Bitch Planet after she threatened him for it.
Katy Rex: The very last page in the very bottom corner actually refers to Ass-Kicking Afro as Kamau Kogo, which is good because otherwise none of the women of color in this first issue have names. Weepy Wilting White Woman had me hell of worried, actually, because if she was the protagonist and Kamau was her magical black protecter I would be significantly less interested in Bitch Planet. In fact, when all the women ran to Marion’s aid, I got a little pissed about it. Is that crazy? I just… I don’t need more white women who are protesting their innocence and allegiance to a system of oppression, you know?
[update: Born Big is actually named Penelope Rolle, and there are 2 other named women on Bitch Planet, Lizzie and Keiko, who seem to be revolutionary but whose roles are as yet undefined.]
RS: This comic toes controversial lines about race and sex so one of our big discussion points should be whether or not it truly pulls off its goal of subversiveness. But first, I need to inquire about the necessity and plausibility of some of the creators decisions. The panel above opens my first point: why did De Landro choose to set Marion’s face all in shadow except for her mouth? Why are we supposed to be concentrating on it? Is this an element borrowed from the original movie genre? But even if it is, the comic should be able to stand on its own while showing off the movies’ influence, and all it does here is leave me confused.
While overall the art is solid, there are a couple of different places where it leaves me feeling the same way. The very first panels of Bitch Planet place an emphasis on the pressures women have to be beautiful (a specific kind, at that), an exaggeration of the ads one may see in real life to make them more overwhelming. To contradict this, De Landro’s art shows the prisoners in different body shapes and sizes…except for all of their perfect Playboy vulvas.
Feel free to call me crazy, but even though I believe 100% that this comic’s world would have a higher percentage of labioplasties than ours this points to what seems to be an oversight. The genital area is only one of many, many places women are criticized for appearance-wise so one would think if Bitch Planet would subvert this criticism, they would thoroughly do it. Either one or two things happened here: 1) DeConnick planned out this detail in script, but failed to ever emphasize it to the part of the writing visible readers and therefore it was never made into the theme like it should have, or 2) De Landro either thought diversifying each woman’s genitals wasn’t important (to the point where he might not have thought about it at all or that doing so would be obscene.
There’s probably not much too obscene to put into Bitch Planet, though.
Anyone getting the same sense?
KR: I definitely get that, but for whatever reason I don’t feel as bothered by the shiny perfect labias. I’m going through right now trying to count how many well-detailed labias De Landro drew, and most of them are obscured by legs or fat rolls or are a sketchy suggestion of a vulva. Definitely I agree that there is a lot of disgusting and horrible ways women are made to feel self-conscious about their genital areas (Hair, anyone?), and a radical feminist comic should totally discuss that, though.
I’m really interested in the noncompliant women who seem to revel in their nonconforming gender expressions– the panel Ray selected, to begin with. A volunteer? What could that mean? And, importantly, why would the Powers That Be/patriarchy allow a presumably radical volunteer go to a colony of women who have already demonstrated their rebellion? Born Big, for instance. Half her head is shaved, how was that allowed? Where did she find a tattoo artist willing to ink her with a fat positive body reclamation? How secure and vigilant is this patriarchy anyway?