Let’s start with Bitch Planet #1 being an exceptional piece of science fiction exploitative pulp that transcends the genre and raises a double-middle finger to the trappings of oppressive patriarchy. It is a blunt exploration of a world a lot like ours except it doesn't pretend to hide its overt sexism and misogyny. It not only embraces the inequality of women as humans but mandates by law that they are compliant. Whatever the male-run powers to be deem compliant and if a woman has the gall to become obese or unattractive then they get a one-way ticket along with real criminals to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost aka Bitch Planet.
This prison planet is Kelly DeConnick’s most complex and challenging creation to date. Along with artist Valentine De Landro, DeConnick has served up a vision that easily could have been created by Stanley Kubrick and Jonathan Demme if they had made Orange is the New Black. The same tropes that permeated the women in prison exploitation films of the 1960’s and 70’s are all accounted for; nudity, violence, a manipulative oppressor, and sadistic guards. Yet, the backbone of this tale lies in the strength of the inmates we get to know.
Penny Roll is large and gives zero fucks if you don’t like it. A powerhouse in not just size but in confidence. Kamau Kogo is a force of nature whose fighting skills defends the weak and brings some balance to the inequities already in place. They would normally be characterized as victims and they are to a degree. We don’t know a lot about them but in this authoritative dystopian future world where just being a woman is already cause for concern they represent the antidote to the viral misogyny that legislates this alternate society. The question that subverts the story on every page is this world that much different from ours?
Clearly, we’re not imprisoning women for “non-compliance” but metaphorically speaking we have. Women have been manipulated, shamed and devalued in one way or another for as long as humans have roamed the earth. Bitch Planet is the mirror that reflects our society back to us and finds exaggeration and extremes but holds enough ugly truth that it cuts like a machete to the gonads. It’s social commentary served up in a smart dangerous prison drama.
If you’re adverse to comic books with a message or clever allegory don’t worry you too can enjoy this enthralling future world of women in prison. A lot has been said and will continue to be said about DeConnick’s feminist vision for the book that will be more eloquent than we could ever do it justice. But as a form of entertainment and storytelling, Bitch Planet in its simplest form is a captivating science fiction tale told without fear and pretense that belongs on everyone’s pull list.