Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV
Image Comics, 2015
In a ’50s retro-styled dystopian future, women are no longer shunned, shamed, undermined, ridiculed, or ignored when at odds with the interests of the men in power. No, they’re much more efficiently shipped out of sight, out of mind, to the penal space colony commonly known as Bitch Planet! But now, a group of new arrivals have been offered the opportunity to win favor by forming their own team to compete in Earth’s most popular sport, Megaton. For amusement and novelty purposes only, of course. Still, with nothing to lose, the women hope to turn this small chance for unity and visibility to their advantage.
Being as concept-centric as it sounds, character development falls mostly by the wayside. In fact, I can and will write this entire review without mentioning a single name. The sports team plot also doesn’t come to much, at least not in this opening volume, and that lack of a satisfying, climactic feeling of fighting back is a bit disappointing.
In spite of the slightness of the storytelling, Bitch Planet shines in the sheer detail of its satire. It more than shines. It sparks and glows and blazes with the heat of a thousand suns. This comic is a finely-tuned, well-oiled, bullshit-calling machine.
Each issue ends with a page of parody oldschool comic ads for things like weight-loss intestinal parasites and agreeability-enhancing drugs, easily the funniest parts but also a sharp calling out of female-targeted marketing and its unending encouragement and exploitation of body hate and any other shred of an inferiority complex it can reach.
Meanwhile, the main storyline calls out not only the unfair, belittling social standards for what a woman should be (“Skinny!” “Deferential!” “Nurturing!” “Accommodating!”), but also the shifting, contradictory, no-win nature of those standards. Written into the charges briefly attached to each introduced inmate, charges including not only “infidelity” and “marital withholding” but “wanton obesity” and “seduction and disappointment,” mini-stories are succinctly told of women sent to Bitch Planet for being undesirable, for being desirable and willing, and for being desirable and unwilling, among a host of other offenses.
In the first few pages, and through a deliciously Twilight Zone-esque expectation fakeout, we’re even introduced to a woman condemned to Bitch Planet on an rush emergency warrant so that her husband can marry his much younger mistress, protesting all the way that she did everything right.
As one member of the new Bitch Planet Megaton team notes, about the sport but clearly not about the sport, “They change the rules when it suits them.”
Just like in real life, no matter how low the women are willing to stoop, no matter how many absurd double-standards they meet, there’s no surefire way to avoid getting sent to Bitch Planet. They’re sent there for any reason and every reason, but always ultimately for the same reason: because it’s convenient to someone more important.
While there’s certainly no pretense of subtlety to the commentary (and none needed), Bitch Planet completely avoids the common pitfall of “message” pieces, in which characters so often monologue at length about complex real world issues in painfully trite, oversimplified, and out-of-character ways. It barely discusses misogyny at all, in so many words, but has the restraint and artistry instead to show it on every page, starkly, honestly drawn out to its logical sci-fi conclusion, and the effect is glorious.
Yes or no to reading on in the series? With fingers crossed to see some characters properly blossom in this finely crafted universe, definitely yes.
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