Review: Bitch Planet #1- Fights the Patriarchy in Space
In a world where the nasty specters of sexism (Gamergate) and racism (Michael Brown and Eric Garner) continue to haunt society, a mash-up of the exploitation and dystopian science fiction genres was created. Bitch Planet #1 uses the inherently misogynist women in prisons genre to create something subversive and empowering. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine de Landro take their time and develop the world of Bitch Planet, including its patriarchal government system, and the space prison known as the “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost”. DeConnick’s writing is filled with pitch black humor and boldly takes on common gender stereotypes in a sensational setting with larger than life characters.
De Landro gives the cast of the comic a variety of body shapes and ethnicities and uses the prison setting of the comic to create special “window” panels to show the machinery behind this incredibly creepy patriarchal society. He also uses opposing panel grids to show the female and male perspective on these events of the story. Colorist Cris Peter uses a cooler color palette when showing scenes that dehumanize women and uses more organic shades to fill out the scenes that empower them. Even if a couple major characters look the same, her colors capture the mood and overall tone of the plot.
From its frenetic, twelve panel opening page featuring a woman running to her job with signs that say, “Buy this and it will fix you” or “Less of you to love” and wouldn’t be out of place in sexist ads circa 2014, Bitch Planet #1 mixes real world problems and a science fiction setting. The world of Bitch Planet is the love child of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and a seedy midnight grindhouse flick and cuts from a biting, clawing, hair pulling prison riot to a sanitized grey and white colored scene (courtesy of Peter) of powerful men making decisions for women. Even though she has a plethora of characters and concepts to introduce, DeConnick balances characterization, world-building, and even throws in some action towards the end.
Even though she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on any one character, DeConnick and de Landro give each character a unique look and personality. “Born Big” Penny Rolle is the stand-out of the ensemble so far and gets DeConnick funniest lines. Her character has a potent blend of anger and control and from her first panel, subverts the stereotypes of how heroines should look. She is the opposite of “compliance” that the government of Bitch Planet expects.
De Landro’s art and layouts ensure the formal parts of Bitch Planet #1 are just as interesting to unpack as its characters, message, and world. Even without DeConnick’s dialogue, the panel structure in various scenes show how women are minimized in this society as a husband gets a bigger set of panels to tell his side of his wife’s wrongful imprisonment while she only gets a few tearful boxes and doesn’t even get to finish her sentence. These are talking head scenes, but they are meant to incite readers until the pay-off in the action scenes.
DeLandro also uses special “window panel” to spotlight oppression and the male gaze in different parts of the comic. For example, he uses these panels to show the guards’ reaction to the prison riot, which is a source of entertainment and titillation for them, reminding me of a scene in a TV show featuring a certain orphaned future superhero that played it completely straight. With its dynamic characters, innovative art, and immersive world, Bitch Planet #1 is the feminist slap in the face the world needs right now. Men’s right activists, Gamergaters, dudebros, or whatever “clever” parlance you assholes are describing yourselves as currently, beware!