Title: Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
Author: Kelly Sue Deconnick (script), Valentine De Landro (covers/art), Robert Wilson IV (art on issue 3), Cris Peter (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: 2015
Format: Trade paperback
List Price: $9.99
As a card-carrying, ardent feminist, Bitch Planet is the best thing since sliced bread (and I do love me some bread). The entire comic is a giant fuck you to the patriarchy. In fact, every time someone reads Bitch Planet, a misogynist gets permanent erectile dysfunction.
Are you non-compliant? Do you fit in your box? Are you too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, too whatever-it-is-they’ll-judge-you-for-today?
You just may belong on… BITCH PLANET.
That’s the back copy, and it’s a great summary of what’s inside. Women of all colors, shapes, and sizes who stand up for themselves and fight the system, even though it’s grinding them into the ground.
Or, in this case, sending them to an entirely different planet, where they are imprisoned for their non-compliance. Things like “seduction and disappointment” and “patrilineal dishonor” and “unpermitted birth” and being a “bad mother.”
You’ll notice, though, that these are all things women have gotten into trouble for in reality, whether they’ve been jailed, assaulted, or outright murdered for their “crimes,” which amount to having a uterus and not feeling bad about it.
There’s so much social commentary in this comic, I’m not even sure where to start, so, let’s start with the future dystopian world we’re dealing with here.
In Bitch Planet, the political system has institutionalized patriarchy to the extent that those in power are called “Fathers,” and they exert total control over the world (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Any friend or family member can report a woman for non-compliance, and there aren’t any trials.
Citizens are required to watch the Feed, which is essentially the Fathers’ propaganda channel. Instead of looking at ratings or the number of people watching, they measure “engagement,” which is how many people are actually interested in what they’re watching.
And that’s where the story picks up. Engagement is down, and the Fathers want to bring it back up. One man has a possible solution—getting a female team of prisoners from Bitch Planet to play in the Megaton, a brutal sport that’s similar to football.
The catch, of course, is that no one expects the women to win. Indeed, the way the Fathers hope to get engagement up is from the actual deaths of the athletes.
And our main character, Kamau Kogo, knows it. Kamau is a kick-ass black lady with a giant Afro who knows her way around martial arts and doesn’t know the meaning of compliance. She befriends other women on Bitch Planet who feel the same way she does, and together they decide to take on the challenge not because they want to win, but because it will give them a chance to take down some of the Fathers directly.
Volume one ends before the actual sporting event begins, but there’s still plenty of intrigue and action. And that brings us back to the social commentary.
Bitch Planet is essentially an allegory for what women deal with today. We are judged on everything, especially our physical appearances, and always found lacking. If we are bold and assertive at work we get called bitches. If we aren’t assertive we get called hyper-sensitive and overly emotional. If we don’t look like porn stars with perfectly shaved snatches and giant perky tits, we get teased for being fat, flat-chested, and worse.
In Deconnick and De Landro’s world, these “failings” are actual crimes, and women go to jail for them. It’s no different than reality, really. No, we aren’t all in a physical prison, but there’s that pesky glass ceiling and all of those societal expectations keeping us in line (well, some of us).
But this book isn’t just RAWR WOMEN. The characters are fully-developed, three-dimensional people, and their relationships with each other are complex. It’s not just women vs. men, either. One of the primary antagonists is a woman, and while we don’t learn too much about her in this first volume, there’s definitely a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.
The men running Bitch Planet get a running commentary throughout, in the form of little panels off to the side. Their asides mirror the way men (and other women) feel the need to comment on women’s appearances, either positively or negatively. These men aren’t evil—they definitely show some compunctions over their jobs, but they are doing what they feel is “right.”
The back matter at the end of each issue is also full of commentary, and this time the target is the comics industry itself. The back matter features “ads” for junk products similar to the muscle-building programs and spy kits you see in comics from the 1960s and 70s.
Surprise insight! Scientific obfuscation really works. Imagine—you put on the “X Ray” Specs and hold his hand in front of you. You SEEM to be able to look right through him and see the truth! That guy in the black Taurus who followed you home? Is that really insecurity you “see” beneath his clothes? Or is it a gun? Is he probably going to murder you?
LOADS OF LAUGHS AND FUN AT PARTIES.
The fake ad is so depressingly true, it blows by funny and lands squarely in the land of irony. All to often, women are followed, and parties are one of the prime places women are sexually assaulted (and then blamed for it).
And, of course, there’s the whole “comic books are for boys” thing that is, unfortunately, still an issue today.
Thankfully, Deconnick and De Landro are here to say, “Fuck that shit.”
So, if you have lady parts, or you like people who have lady parts, read Bitch Planet.
Down with the patriarchy!