Review: Bitch Planet #6
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Taki Soma
Colourist: Kelly Fitzpatrick
This week sees the return of Image Comics’ satirical, dystopian series Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by guest artist Taki Soma, a story that follows a group of female prisoners living under a tyrannical, patriarchal regime. Rather than a continuation of the story, Bitch Planet #6 functions as a flashback issue, presenting events that explore the story behind Meiko Maki’s incarceration. The issue is introduced by a disclaimer informing the reader that the story incorporates sexual assault; despite its challenging content and black humour, Bitch Planet consistently respects its readership and the weight of its subject matter.
The issue begins with a grim and shocking statistic; “In a 2008 Department of Justice survey of former prisoners, 1 in 6 female prisoners reported being sexually assaulted while incarcerated.” This information is terrible and emotionally resonant, especially in a title as political as Bitch Planet; the series serves as the perfect platform to remind readers that the comic’s stories may be amplified, but the subject matter and themes are rooted in reality.
Meiko’s childhood is fairly idyllic, with two loving and supportive parents. Her father, in particular, is a positive force in her life and nurtures her potential to become a promising engineer. Her father finds himself in a situation in which he has worked outside of the law and risks his family’s security. A colleague Dougie – easily the creepiest, sleaziest Bitch Planet character yet – blackmails him and places him in an impossible situation that changes the lives of his family forever.
Dougie is gross. He is the purest symbol of patriarchal control and inappropriate cultural appropriation, and is generally an all-round bad guy. “Sometimes a man dresses on the outside the way he feels on the inside,” he says, mansplaining the notion of authenticity and identity to the family. No mention of female identity, naturally.
There are interesting themes explored throughout Bitch Planet #6; the notion of honour is presented, for example. Dougie’s fixation on Japanese culture and attire is odd, but he makes reference to the traditional system of honour of Japan – finding himself “honour-bound” to betray the Makis and exercise his act of patriarchal control – in a way that connects honour and responsibility with female subjugation in this universe. Furthermore, there is irony in the fact that Meiko sacrifices her life and freedom – becoming a prisoner as a direct result of her gender – to protect her loving father from a powerful patriarchal regime.
The work of guest-artist Taki Soma – known for Takio and The Victories – is great; she retains the pop art feel from Valentine de Landro’s previous work, such as his use of dots for colouring, block colours and clean, bold lines. Her pencil work is superb, conveying a broad emotional range in her characters, and has a style distinct from de Landro’s that works really well. The opening page is particularly impressive, with sheet music as the background and the violin becoming a physical and metaphorical symbol for the feminine form. There is an important contrast between the beauty of the music and the stark reminder of sexual assault.
Bitch Planet #6 certainly has flaws and may not pack the same punch as previous issues. Understandably there is much less black humour throughout the story, but what Bitch Planet does so well is balance serious and important themes with dark comedy and satire. Police brutality and female suppression are amplified and reinterpreted to make us consider all their different facets, which works really well in every other issue. There is still the brutality from previous outings, but there are small problems: sometimes the dialogue and drama – especially the scenes depicting Dougie’s treachery – feel a little unclear and disorienting. The writing lacks the bite and pacing of earlier issues. Furthermore, the portrayal of Meiko’s idyllic family life is a pleasant change of pace for the series, but it is a little long-winded and could be cut down.
Bitch Planet #6 is as thought-provoking, challenging and beautifully illustrated as always. It may not have the bite and black humour readers have come to love in previous outings, but the themes and stories explored are important and remind us that the series is an important platform to challenge issues like sexual assault and misogyny.