Bitch Planet; Volume 2, President Bitch
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine De Landro
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Review by PeteR
It would be intolerably lazy to describe Bitch Planet as being a combination of Orange is the New Black mixed with Rollerball and The Longest Yard. I’m sure some vapid Hollywood type would use that as the pitch to sell the property to a movie studio, but it completely misses the point that writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro are trying to make.
Good science fiction weaves a tale about the future, an alternate reality or circumstance, while making social commentary about the world we live in. The universe of Bitch Planet is relentlessly patriarchal and misogynistic. Every facet of existence is viewed through the lens of how it positively affects (white) men and the corporations they work for. The only value women have is to reinforce masculine stereotypes and expectations about appearance and behavior.
Kamau Kogo, Penny Roll, and Meiko Maki are among the prisoners incarcerated at the off-world Auxiliary Compliance Outpost or as the non-corporate world calls it, Bitch Planet. The ACO is a for Profit prison. One of this society’s favorite pastimes is watching the Megaton games. There are different Megaton teams, all populated by men. In a corporate run, Orwellian society, not watching the Megaton games is practically seditious.
The CEO of the corporation that runs the ACO is pitched the idea of a contest between the female prisoners and the male guards. The goal of this match is twofold. First, it will be a must watch television spectacle, which will generate huge profits for ACO. The other reason is it will not so subtly reinforce that men are physically stronger and better tacticians them women. Kamau Kogo, Penny Roll, and Meiko Maki are some of the women chosen to be in the Bitch Planet games.
In order to hold the spectacle at the ACO, a stadium needs to be built. Prisoner Meiko Maki’s father Macko Maki, is tasked with building the arena. The corporation does not give him a choice about whether he can or cannot turn down the project. Macko and his wife Yume have been secretly educating young girls. To make his situation even more tenuous, Macko Maki previously has been tasked to design the space ship Polestar, “the pride of the Protectorate”. Maki deliberately built into the design of the Polestar a flaw that could cause it to explode. Trying to alleviate the hint of any suspicion of his treasonous acts, he is forced to accept the stadium assignment. The sole consolation to the assignment is it will give him an opportunity to visit his daughter Meiko.
Upon arriving at Bitch Planet Macko Maki learns that his daughter Meiko has died. He takes control of the power grid and opens all the cell doors to both Facility One and Facility Two causing a riot.
Not surprisingly, Transgender people are also imprisoned on Bitch Planet. Their crimes are gender falsification and deceit. Muenda Kogo, Kamau Kogo’s transgender sister, muses “We were the first to be sent away. We are always the first.” To emphasize that point, transgender people are imprisoned in Facility One while women are contained in Facility Two. This implies that Bitch Planet may have been originally created to dispose of gay or non-cisgender people who make men uncomfortable simply by existing. How did society come to be this way and what role did ex-President Eleanor Doane play in it?
Kelly Sue DeConnick is the writer of Bitch Planet. She has previously penned Captain Marvel, Osborn, and Ghost, among numerous other comics as well as being an English language translator for various Manga series. DeConnick skillfully navigates away from sensationalizing the standard women in prison troupes to make poignant observations about how females and minorities are treated in our culture.
The central theme of Bitch Planet is misogyny. This theme is portrayed not just in people’s actions but also in the language. Conversations among men are rife with particularly hurtful comments like “Never trust a woman, Bob. They lie like they were born for it.” The casual use of demeaning jokes and expressions like “Girls working construction. What could possibly go wrong?’ or “I take my coffee light and sweet, like my women.” are expected. The degrading culture is even on coffee cups that reads “Some mornings I wake grumpy and some mornings I just let her sleep.” This is the portrayal of appropriate behavior for men in the series.
One of the other central themes, along with misogyny of Bitch Planet is dominance. Dominance is a pressure that permeates the existence of almost everyone in Bitch Planet; men over women, White over everyone else. Upper class verses the lower classes. What rung on the corporate ladder someone is on. “We ran that speech of yours past our test audience. Smash hit. So I’m gonna give your speech and take all the credit. Ed, congrats.”
Bitch Planet’s art for issue #6 is done by Taki Soma. Art chores for Issues #7 through 10 are provided by Valentine De Landro. There are a many opportunities in Bitch Planet to objectify sex. There is nudity and lesbianism. There is a full frontal scene of pre-op transgender women. None of the art is used to titillate or appeal to lurid interests, but rather as a tool to emphasize the characters reality in a horrible environment.
Kelly Fitzpatrick, along with Bitch Planet has provided color for Doc Savage, Captain Kidd, Black Hood, Rat Queen and dozens of the titles during her career. The lettering is done by Clayton Cowles who is part of the Virtual Calligraphy studio. His credits include Black Bolt, Daredevil, Journey into Mystery and Uncanny Avengers.
Why you should buy this book? Bitch Planet is an important work. It is a remarkable social commentary while maintaining the action and suspense. Few comic books succeed in challenging the reader to reevaluate their own behaviors and beliefs
My only complaint with Bitch Planet Volume 2 is it does not include the text articles at the end of each of the individual comics. As brilliant and challenging as the comic is, it was these articles that forced me to think about my preconceived interpretations of society. I always thought saying to a women who was frowning “Smile. You’re so pretty when you smile.” was supportive. My generation was never taught that expression diminishes the validity of the woman’s emotions while asking her to conform to my expectation of beauty. How many men have said that during their professional career? Did any of the women, most of whom were outranked in the corporate structure, feel they were in a safe enough position to correct those men? This is not a matter of political correctness but rather treating people with the respect they deserve. In this era of date-rape drugs, removal of female contraception from health insurance, gender based pay inequity and body shaming, particularly for women, the articles in the back pages of the Bitch Planet magazine are essential reading about how one should comport themselves in modern society.
The term, “white male privilege” is tossed about a lot in today’s media. Bitch Planet takes that concept and drags it to it’s not so obvious conclusion.
Bitch Planet; Volume 2, President Bitch: Reprints issues #6 through 10 of Bitch Planet, the series. The book is scheduled for a May 31, 2017 release.