Review: Bitch Planet #1

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Review: Bitch Planet #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Valentine de Landro

The boldly titled Bitch Planet is written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, author of the Image-published Pretty Deadly and the ongoing Captain Marvel series, and illustrated by Valentine de Landro, the artist behind X-Factor and Marvel Knights. Bitch Planet is a sci-fi interpretation of exploitation literature and movies, placing incarcerated women in a relentlessly violent, patriarchal dystopia. Earth is being cleansed of harmful and criminal women as they are taken to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, in which “non compliance is not recommended.”

We are introduced to a handful of characters, namely Kamau and Penelope, who will undoubtedly become the main protagonists for the series and are immediately likeable. After all, it doesn’t take much more than seeing a character unjustly incarcerated and beaten to make them your new favourite underdog. Kamau will most likely be the hero of the series, and it is really exciting to imagine what DeConnick will do to develop and challenge the character as the series continues.

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Seeing so much violence, particularly against women, can be challenging to read, especially given the context in which the women are imprisoned and punished in stifling patriarchy. A character Marion, for example, is chastised and imprisoned for punishing her adulterous husband. It requires a lot of trust in the author to be assured that the misogyny will be challenged, but the comic is in safe hands with DeConnick; in the first issue we have already seen more than one attempt to attack the oppressive regime, so it feel safe to assume that Bitch Planet will be a provocative attack on patriarchy and any exploitation will be given a severe dropkick to the face.

Valentine de Landro’s art work in Bitch Planet is superb and compliments the plot perfectly. He recreates the look and feel of the Pop Art movement by using bold colours and patterned or sequenced backdrops. De Landro uses pink for The Catholic, the Amazonian projection that judges and chastises the inmates, as well as a visual motif throughout the issue; it is interesting that he uses a colour stereotypically associated with women and femininity to illustrate a monstrous projection that oppresses and demonises women. He also creates distinct identities for each character, granting them unique attributes and physical appearances to avoid blending the inmates together. Furthermore, the overall reality of his depiction of women’s bodies is admirable given the way in which some comic book artists exploit and exaggerate the female form.

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As wonderful as de Landro’s art work is, it is DeConnick’s writing that takes centre stage and proves to be the driving force of Bitch Planet. For one, the dialogue is hilarious, especially coming from the inmates. Penelope’s problems sourcing a generic uniform that fits her amazing, colossal body are summed up perfectly by the immortal phrase “Where’m I supposed to put my other tit?” Bitch Planet reads like Orange is the New Black, if it were set in a terrifying futuristic dystopia, with several parallels to be made between the two: most notably the black humour found in a exploitation story in which women are subjected to patriarchal oppression.

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DeConnick also manages to create an uneasy tension throughout the issue by keeping the storyline unpredictable and maintaining a good pace throughout, as well as revealing just the right amount in the series’ first issue. The reader isn’t told too much about Bitch Planet and the overall activity or objective of the institution and that is perfect; in time we will learn more about the inmates, the authority behind the initiative and hopefully further insight into how this whole scenario actually kicked off.

Impressively for the first issue of a new series, Bitch Planet is so effortlessly rich and engaging. DeConnick and De Landro have hit the ground running and have created a funny, dark and visually provocative comic book. It is exciting to think of where the series will go, which is exactly how a debut should make you feel. It’s the dystopian feminist sci-fi spectacular we’ve all been waiting for.