I really don’t know where to start with Image Comics’ Bitch Planet.
That’s a good thing.
On the surface level, Bitch Planet is a feminist re-imaging of the exploitative women in prison film from the 60s and 70s. Book One, covering the first five issues, does have a good deal of those tropes playing out alongside the standard prison drama tropes. Much of Bitch Planet‘s critique of sexism is very much on the surface. Only the most willfully blind could miss it in an opening prologue where space is referred to as “the mother” and Earth as “the father,” showcasing a future society where even the term “Mother Nature” has been supplanted by the forces of sexism.
If that somehow gets by the reader, this future dystopia is run by a literal patriarchy, a group of men who carry the title of “Father”. Most of the “Fathers” seem to be white men, but not exclusively. Most of the inmates of the title prison seem to be minorities, though again not exclusively.
The basic plot is set on the title location, an all-woman prison where women are sent for various crimes. While some of those are actual crimes like murder and assault, other instances of listed crimes include having a bad attitude or being a bad mother. And that’s not getting into cases where a woman is sent there by her family for no clear reason at all. Transported naked, new inmates are treated to holographic lectures of another woman trying to gleam confessions or changes of attitude or whatever. And for all that the society is indeed male-dominated, there are also women helping to keep other women down.
And that’s one of the things I really appreciated about how the book does things. While the surface-level discussion of sexism is, as noted, blatantly obvious, there are a lot of other, smaller things going on to show just how deep this sexist (and racist) stuff has permeated the society. Issue 3 is a showcase for one inmate, Penny Rolle. Penny is a large, black woman, and sent for what looks like some sort of counseling session with a board of (mostly white) Fathers who list her crimes as being non-compliant in a variety of ways but seem to hold her weight as the worst of her various offenses. As a girl, Penny lived with her grandmother until one day the police took her grandma away for some reason. Penny is urged to straighten her hair, be nicer to boys, and refer to her grandmother by her grandfather’s full name. That last one struck me as another example of how the book can also be subtle in its sexism by simply denying a woman her own name. Penny, for her part, won’t sit with that.
The book also sprinkles in a variety of ads designed to look like cheap comic book ads from decades past, but here used to drive home the points the book is making.
There’s further reinforcement all over the book, both on Earth and in the prison.
And for all that the book showcases sexism, much of which may be thinly veiled allegory for today’s world, I would even go so far as to say the setting isn’t good for men. who aren’t “Fathers”. While it is true that a majority of the men in the series are total assholes when it comes to women or even each other, there’s a passing reference to what’s done with “pervs,” and an inmate’s father is reduced to tears knowing he may have to see his daughter soon after being pushed around by a “Father”. There’s even a sport that men are said to “love” that sounds like a cross between football and mixed-martial arts which has mandatory viewership (like The Hunger Games) and occasional lethal play. Lose of interest in the sport is leading the Fathers to come up with a novelty in the form of a female team made up of the prison inmates. As it is, the society is bad for everyone; it’s just much, much worse for women.
And even with all this going on, often in the background, I still haven’t found the time to talk about series protagonist Kamau Kogo. She may have actually volunteered to go to the prison. The story opens with her, Penny, and some others arriving at the prison, and the guards note one of the new inmates volunteered to go. What we find out about the strong-willed Kam suggests it’s probably her.
Book Two is due out next month, and apparently will give the reader some backstory on how things got this way due to something that happened to someone referred to as “President Bitch”. I know I’m going for that one when I can. In the meantime, writer Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro have a quality book on their hands. If anything, the weight of the themes involved make the plot largely irrelevant, and that’s about the book’s only real flaw. Nine out of ten squirrel murders.