Before I ever opened Bitch Planet, I read the back cover and laughed my ass off. “HEY KIDS, PATRIARCHY!”, it reads, before offering a classic mail-order splash page for non-compliant residents in the world of Bitch Planet. X-Ray specs, “The Perfect Way to See Through His Intentions,” are only $1.00. A notice of anniversary from Skip, to his beloved Dawn: “Half my age, All my heart,” he writes with churlish relish. The order form lets readers in on the secret: “You know you’re ordering garbage, right?”
And so before I even opened issue #1, I knew where Bitch Planet‘s heart is: feminism, humor, non-compliance. Page through the book and you’ll see nude, imprisoned women on probably 75% of the panels. Black women, white women, big women, small women, even a pink holographic dominatrix/priestess known as the Catholic. Valentine De Landro’s thick-lined bodies are everywhere in Bitch Planet and there’s no secret that the book is going for that sexploitation vibe.
Needless to say, sexploitation has never been the subtlest of environments. But it’s ripe soil for DeConnick and De Landro to plant their acerbic feminist story.
For issue 1, that story is mostly concept. The narrative is simple and smooth and has only the necessary beats. A new group of non-compliant women arrive on a prison called the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost–known colloquially as Bitch Planet. They’re cleaned, clothed, and one woman is sent to see the Catholic, for the final confession of her sins. A brawl breaks out in the prison, and the inmates and guards participate in the genre-required violent engagement.
Back on earth, a man works to free his wife from this Outpost. His wife was sent away mistakenly, he says, and he’d like to get her back before she’s lost forever. “You just don’t hear about people coming back from Bitch Planet,” he says.
The resolution of this micro-plot is built on a joke that lets you know what kind of world Bitch Planet inhabits: one where the women are criminals, the men are assholes and no one has an ounce of sweetness. Hilarious.
But that kind of re-direct is what readers have come to expect from Kelly Sue DeConnick.
DeConnick writes Captain Marvel, an engaging and humane, if straight-forward, superhero title. In Captain Marvel, DeConnick has imbued Carol Danvers with a complexity that resonates deeply with Carol’s devoted fans.
Compare Captain Marvel with DeConnicik’s highly unconventional horror-western Pretty Deadly. A mash up of genres and characters and narrative styles, Pretty Deadly paired a light-stroked airiness from artist Emma Rios with the blood and violence of DeConnick’s story. It made for a disorienting and rewarding read.
Bitch Planet is clearly an independent endeavor from these other DeConnick titles. But it’s hard to avoid comparison when talking about the opening salvo of Bitch Planet, if only because Kelly Sue looks to continue her streak with a strongly messaged but strangely conceived new book.
So far it seems Bitch Planet will land somewhere in between Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly in the DeConnick ouvre. After one issue, the purpose and vision of Bitch Planet seems more defined than after five issues of Pretty Deadly. Thematically, visually and stylistically, Bitch Planet seems likely to be richer and more rewarding than Captain Marvel.
Despite the familiarity that comes working this deep in genre, DeConnick and De Landro feel like their carving some new territory. Bitch Planet #1 is a caustic debut; a boldly feminist comic-book landing at a moment that requires it. The book embraces our expectations of prison exploitation stories (tits and violence!) while condemning that pleasure with the splashes of blood it leaves on the floor.
It’s fitting to see 2014 come to a close with Bitch Planet. The year 2014 in comics was defined by women in the industry; a surge of women and girls reading and creating and starring in comics. After a decade in comics, its rewarding to see Kelly Sue have, in my estimation, a great 2014. She found a stride that put her in true command of two excellent titles, and finally seems to be receiving the recognition she deserves (she received her first Eisner Award Nomination for Pretty Deadly, and Marvel announced their plan to develop a Captain Marvel movie). Adding Bitch Planet to the list of accomplishments, well, I imagine that 2015 will be even better.