Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Pull List: Bitch Planet #1 Review

At the comic shop where I work, I am known as the Kelly Sue DeConnick Cheerleader. It's not an exaggeration, either. Ghost was phenomenal, although I will admit that I stopped reading when KSD left; Pretty Deadly was gloriously weird and poignant; and Captain Marvel portrays feminine power in a way that few comics do these days. DeConnick is a huge inspiration to me not only as a writer, but as a feminist, as well. I mean, who else could say, "I make people uncomfortable so my daughter won't have to," and mean it so wholeheartedly? So when I discovered a few months ago that she was working on a series for Image Comics called Bitch Planet, I knew that I had to pick up the first issue. 

And what an amazing first issue it was. No spoilers below (I promise!)

Bitch Planet #1
Via Image Comics
I'll admit it: as I turned to the first page, I was whispering to myself, "Please be good. Please be good. Please be good." It was a mantra, really, but based on my disappointment with several titles as of late (Spider-Woman, ODY-C*, Escape from New York, Penny Dora and the Wishing Box, etc.), I felt it was necessary. Once I started reading, though, I just could not stop. 

The comparisons between Bitch Planet and Orange Is the New Black are not unwarranted; we meet a whole crew of women who have been transported to "Auxiliary Compliance Outpost," aka "Bitch Planet - although the PR team apparently prefers the former over the latter, due to obvious reasons - for, as of yet, unknown reasons, and the story, at first, seems to focus on the plight of one white female inmate. However, for my purposes, Bitch Planet is more akin to Running Man, where naked, imprisoned women are placed on display and there's a giant holographic woman who is directing the new arrivals through intake. Plus, at the very beginning, a harried woman takes her place at a studio microphone and starts the narration of what sounds like it came straight out of the mouth of Tina Turner in the Thunderdome. Subtle hints are thrown in that this show is aired to remind people of what happens to women who are "non-compliant," an undefined crime as of this issue, although it's pretty clear that it encompasses a lot of things, namely rebelling against the patriarchy.

We only really find out the names of a few characters, but I feel like I'm already getting to know them. It's like watching a really good zombie flick: you can configure a person's true personality by putting them into a life-or-death situation within a few scenes. Do you root for this person to survive? Do you hope they are eaten alive as retribution for their behavior? Or do you know that, yep, she's gonna die within the first five minutes? I already have my favorite character, and once you read this issue, I'm pretty sure that you all will know who it is. 

And oh, my GOD, the artwork by Valentine De Landro. It's brutal, harsh, jarring, and perfect for the story that DeConnick is telling. Pop art is normally not my favorite - oh, hi there, POP, glad you're done now - but the thick lines and generally more graphic art style works beautifully here, especially with the colors added by Cris Peter. I love her use of stippling throughout the whole issue - even the cover - which adds subtle texture as well as giving it a more vintage feel. It seems like everybody on the Bitch Planet staff watched a ton of exploitation films from the 1970s - see, The Humans, this is how you do this shit - and was determined to have as much fun as possible creating this new series. 

What really got me to go back and read the entire issue again, this time much more carefully, was the essay included with the main story. Written by Feminist Ryan Gosling creator Danielle Henderson, it helped me realize that DeConnick and crew are simply fictionalizing every single woman's experience on our own Bitch Planet. If we are "a little overweight, talk too loud, have an opinion ... or are a woman of color," we do not conform to patriarchy's definition of what a woman - a female - is supposed to be. Those who do are rewarded in ways that men believe women want to be rewarded; those who don't are openly treated as trash, lesser-than. Since I don't have permission from Henderson to post her full essay here (which I totally want to do because it's amazing and I love her), you'll have to simply put on your adult underwear and go buy a copy of Bitch Planet yourself.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he thought Bitch Planet was the most important comic to come out since he had started reading them, and I can only agree with him. So much is packed into this first issue that it would be nearly impossible to try and summarize it all; hell, you could probably write a graduate-level paper on feminist theory by examining the first few pages alone, something I think Danielle Henderson would appreciate. Not only is is tackling incredibly complex topics like race, body consciousness, femaleness, it's shocking and funny and sad and maddening. I think I experienced every human emotion possible throughout the issue, and I will again when I go back and read it for a third, fourth, fifth, etc. time. I use the sentence "I'm really excited about the next installment" a little too liberally, I believe, because there are really only a few comics that I feel this way about, and guess what. Bitch Planet is going on that list. 

* I did promise that I'll give the series a chance, and I'll stand by that promise. However, after several additional readings of the first issue, I can only say that I just like the art (seriously, it's gorgeous) so far, which makes me a tad bit sad. 
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