When we look at feminist texts in the category of fiction, brutality and the subjugation of women are common themes in which authors explore how women strive for or gain agency within a world that has no qualms about denying or silencing them. The realm of science-fiction allows for a more heightened realization of these themes through the fears women have about their BITCH PLANET LOGO 1place in society and how institutions of power reinforce those notions. Science fiction also allows authors to take the combination of fear and reality to their most logical, or illogical, extremes; exposing the raw nerve of women as pawns, and sometimes perpetuators, of corrupt, fundamentalist societies intent on keeping them compliant. In this vein, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet strikes the right balance between over-the-top prison movie exploitation and biting social commentary.

In the future, not sure how far off but that’s really not important, Earth has taken great leaps to ensure that society is well-ordered, free of “sin”, and most importantly compliant by shipping criminals and radicals off the planet to a prison known as Bitch Planet. Unsurprisingly, all of the prisoners are women who didn’t exactly meet the compliance standards via the rule of law or the perceptions of society. Among the new batch of prisoners are Penelope Rolle, a large woman unafraid to speak her mind and throw her weight around, Kamau Kogo, the fight-saavy presumed volunteer on the station, and Marian Collins, the innocent caught up in the planetary victimization of women.

The CatholicTo be fair, all of the women in Bitch Planet are victims of society in one form or another. While we know some of the prisoners are murderers, we’re not certain of the circumstances that led them to kill. The rest are referred to as radicals, implying that they are political prisoners, demonstrators exposing the reality of a society enforcing compliance whether through speaking out or practicing good old civil disobedience. There is, however, a third category of prisoner, the women who don’t adhere to what men want. While that could come down to just about anything, this particular type of prisoner is mostly embodied in Marian. We learn through dual conversations, one between Marian and the prison’s “Catholic” construct, the other between Marian’s husband and Mr. Solanza, that the two experienced some marital difficulties, which Mr. Collins resolved by having an affair because Marian didn’t excite him anymore. Marian feels guilty that she drove her husband to have an affair, but we’re led to believe that Mr. Collins is trying to get Marian back because of his own guilt in having the affair. The bait and switch occur when we learn that the Mrs. Collins mistakenly being held in detention isn’t Marian, but the youthful and exciting Dawn with whom Mr. Collins had the affair. It strikes a chord immediately because this is how women are already treated in the real world, viewed as nothing more than a means for men to feel good about themselves until they wear out their welcome and are replaced by a newer, younger model.

bitchplanet1-2-05769What hurts the most is that Marian believes it’s her fault for not being compliant to her husband’s desires. It has nothing to do with what she wants or desires. We get a sense of how Marian would fall into this mire of self-esteem in the opening pages as the voice over artist rushes through an unknown city to her job. In the background are advertisements encouraging women to “Eat Less, Poop More” so there’s “Less of You to Love”, “Buy This. It Will Fix You”, and most blatantly “You’re Fat”. All of these ads are aimed at women, drowning them in expectations to be thin and beautiful, devaluing them through body shaming and not-so-subliminal messages. When the voice over gal gets to work, her job is to pose as the voice of a history teacher with the intention of using the recording to play while the Non-Compliants (NCs) are asleep in transit. It’s revisionist history used to indoctrinate these women into the compliant way of thinking.

The religious connotations in Bitch Planet #1 bring to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in which Judeo-Christian fundamentalism is used to justify and enforce class systems and sexual practices, placing women in the lower classes by virtue of being women. As the “history teacher” speaks, we’re given the “In the beginning…” opening that immediately frames this society within a religious context. Mother Earth is no more. Instead, Space is now the Mother and Earth the Father. The women en route to Bitch Planet are being expelled by their “Father” because of their trespasses of gluttony, pride, weakness, and wickedness, sins revised to specifically speak to gender. They’re beyond correction and so are cast out into the “loving embrace of the Mother”, which further reinforces the idea of women as outsiders. Father Planet is where society thrives, but Mother Space is where the cancers on society go. Their nakedness during transport and upon arrival further shames them as they’re watched over by male security techs and “guarded” by men in masks without discernible features. It’s voyeuristic and uncomfortable, which is indicative of how women feel under the scrutiny of men.

Furthermore, the issue of race isn’t specifically stated, but can be viewed through most of the issue. Marian is the only character referred to as the “white girl” while the rest of the prison is predominantly occupied by black women, which is on point according to Danielle Henderson who states in the back matter that “African American women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women, and most often for offenses related to men”. The diversity of the cast, as well as the final BP02twist are done explicitly to show the disproportionate population of women of color who visually represent non-compliance.

Bitch Planet‘s timing couldn’t be more perfect in regards to race and gender issues that are still at the forefront of women’s rights and representation in the media. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (whose art is amazing, by the way) have hit the ground running with their unapologetic look at society and women through the lens of science-fiction. This is not a subtle book by any means. Its message is loud and clear from cover to cover, ready to hit you over the head in a way that would make Penny Rolle grin with delight.

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