Review: Bitch Planet #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Valentine De Landro
Issue 3 of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s sublime satirical, dystopic series Bitch Planet is released this week. With the last issue focusing primarily on Kamau and her decision to risk her security and status to benefit her fellow captives, issue 3 shines a light on one of the other inmates of the ‘Auxiliary Compliance Outpost.’ Bitch Planet takes undeniable inspiration from Netflix drama Orange is the New Black- portraying women, especially of colour, facing life behind bars in a patriarchal society and presenting flashbacks focusing on individual characters. Penny Rolle is in the hot seat this issue, having already made quite a splash in the first two outings.
She makes for a compelling character. Take the first interrogation scene, in which she faces an overwhelming wall of white male faces on screens talking at her. Despite her intimidating circumstances, she maintains a stony poker face and strong stature. They are incapable of getting under her skin, presenting her previous crimes such as “repeated citations for aesthetic offences.” They ask questions like “Why do you insist on making your own life so difficult?” and “Why must you be so angry?” They would be funny if they weren’t so rooted in reality.
We get a brief glimpse of fun and life before the patriarchal regime, when Penny lived with her beloved grandmother. She relies on quotes and matriarchal memories for survival, embracing the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Life was better before her mother was taken away by the authorities, and her grandmother becomes referred to only by her husband’s name.
Bitch Planet #3 sees the dialogue become even funnier than before, if that were even possible. DeConnick amps up this week, with the oppressive patriarchy and shallowness of the world’s inhabitants projected through Penny’s eyes. Highlights include the news anchor informing viewers of the parasite worm diet and gastrointestinal parasites, women ordering sugar, salt and gluten-free muffins and the immortal exchange:
“I envy your bowels.”
“I’d trade them for your hair.”
By highlighting this laughable scenario, DeConnick taps into the compulsive body-consciousness that comes as a result of patriarchy, in which the female body is subject to conforming to the male gaze, an unfair ideal. Penny presents the ideal version of herself- exactly how she is, with glorious confidence- which brings an inspiring and relieving conclusion to the issue. While issue 3 of Bitch Planet may not be an action-packed, explosive affair propelling the overall story arc, it is a sublime character study that gives the reader further insight into not only the harshness of this dystopia but a glimpse of life before its regime.
The art remains consistently stellar, with De Landro continuing to combine largely realistic human form with Pop Art-style colouring and patterns. His colours remain bold and he incorporates intricate detail that brings hidden depth to every panel. He creates a tonal division between the worlds explored in each flashback, with the colour scheme dulling with every further step to the present day dystopia. A cool motif throughout Bitch Planet is the addition of newswomen throughout the series, who have a chilling, maniacal look reminiscent of the newswoman poisoned by The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. They are slaves to the regime, and they are pointedly different to the inmates.
Bitch Planet #3 is yet another outstanding addition to what is by far the funniest, most biting and well-crafted comic currently published. The dialogue may be wickedly funny and satirical, but it is rooted so deeply in reality that there’s a chilling reminder behind every joke: this isn’t a distant, fictional dystopia, rather a heightened reflection of the world around us. The reader is asked “Are you woman enough to survive Bitch Planet?” By the end of the series, I have a funny feeling we will be.