Bitch Planet Vol. 1 Review. There’s Nothing Subtle about it.
Here’s the problem with Bitch Planet: it is really, really intimidating to write about. There’s so much going on with regards to gender politics, body image, female autonomy, voyeurism, violence against women, race relations, and the prison industrial complex, it’s nerve-wracking to even try to say everything there is to be said about it as insightfully and intelligently as it should be said. In other words, it’s pretty great.
*Minor spoilers ahead*
There’s nothing subtle about Bitch Planet, which, given the title, should come as a surprise to no one. Enjoyably in-your-face, Book One: Extraordinary Machine collects issues 1-5 which set up the first major dramatic arc of the series by introducing pivotal characters, most notably Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle. Kam and Penny are “non compliants” – women who have been removed from society and shot into space to be contained on Bitch Planet, known formally as Auxiliary Compliance Outpost. They are in the company of a horde of other new intakes who are being punished for offenses ranging from murder and assault to disrespect and being a bad mother.
Upon being framed for the murder of a fellow inmate, former professional athlete Kam is approached by prison guard Whitney (a name I’m guessing isn’t coincidentally one letter away from “whitey”) and encouraged to form a prison-sponsored sports team as a means of reducing the severity of her sentence. Skeptical of Whitney’s motives, Kam first declines the offer but is later persuaded by her peers to go for it. And so we come to learn about the fictional competitive sport Duemila, aka Megaton, and it’s role in the prison industry.
Co-creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro do a killer job of bringing their feminist dystopia to life, revitalizing the prison exploitation genre while maintaining the elements of camp that historically make the genre so much fun. This is a violent, over-the-top comic that’s full of naked ladies and based on highly sexualized source material, yet manages to always make the nudity feel empowering rather than exploitive. The artists take care to depict a wide variety of body types in various states of undress and duress without being gratuitous, even in explicitly sexual situations. From Kamau’s solid, athletic build, to Penny’s hulking, rolling form, there is a broad spectrum of physical strength on frequent display. Penny in particular is Bitch Planet’s reigning heroine of body acceptance, owning who she is from the inside out and asking important questions, like “WHERE’M I S’POSED TO PUT MY TITS?” when faced with an egregiously undersized uniform. There’s just enough humor between these moments in the narrative and the Hey Kids, Patriarchy! ad pages to counter-balance the drama that naturally comes with a cast of characters that are “caged and enraged.”
Already including a prison riot, a murder, an obligatory shower scene, and a few brutal bouts of Megaton, I’m psyched to discover what future issues of Bitch Planet will offer up, especially given the heart-wrenching cliffhanger where this collection leaves off.
Story: Kelly Sue DeConnick Art: Valentine De Landro
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review