Portland writer and Eisner Award nominee Kelly Sue DeConnick is well-known for her feminist writing. Her skill has inspired a firm following, which has extended to her run of Captain Marvel and her original series Pretty Deadly.
Her new series, Bitch Planet—with an actual honest-to-god intelligent use of a gendered slur—follows this trend. The planet in Bitch Planet refers to the off world prison to which noncompliant women are banished.
A self-proclaimed lover of exploitation and women-in-prison films of the ’60s, DeConnick publicly admits how uncomfortable these movies make her.
And that is totally understandable, as it’s hard to find something to like that isn’t exploitative or otherwise problematic, but Bitch Planet is an answer to that discomfort. If something is wrong, remake it so it’s less awful.
Even Orange is the New Black has its problems in race and sexuality, and no matter how progressive it is there’s still space for criticism.
It’s too early to call Bitch Planet our comic book savior. So far we’ve only seen one issue, with the second poised to release on Jan. 14, but it’s already addressed a number of different problems inherent in the medium.
DeConnick admits that while comics are notorious for creating exploitative images for the sake of drumming up public disapproval, and thus benefit by straddling both the high and low road, Bitch Planet is a purposeful attempt to avoid that pitfall.
The issue even concludes with a four-page article about internalized oppression by Danielle Henderson, a tall woman of color who keeps a popular website, as well as an article by a staff writer for Rookie.
The only negative thing to say about the comic is that there are two black men who are seemingly orchestrating the prison as a whole, which is unsettling because black men are often pinned as the epitome of misogyny so as to discredit their experience in racism while shifting blame away from white men.
But it’s still too early in the series to really know the function of these men and who they are in Bitch Planet.
They also might be controlling the towering image of a woman that is essentially a fancy sci-fi intercom: an entirely pink, nun-habit-wearing giant with a huge gap between her thigh-high boots and panties, with boobs pouring over the top of her corset.
She tells Marian Collins, a woman put in the prison by her ex-husband’s complaints of her noncompliance, to “please step forward and confess your sins,” referring to her as girl and angel, as if she wasn’t a full grown woman in orange overalls.
And noncompliance is such an important issue for the women in Bitch Planet. Not only is it what sends these so-called radical women to a penal planet, but even the art surrounding every close-up of Marian Collins reinforces this issue.
While her husband Mr. Collins explains how he had an affair, Marian explains how she pushed him to it. He’s looking left and she’s looking right, but his panel is on the left and hers on the right, so that even though they should be looking at each other they end up looking opposite.
I’d be remiss if I left out Penelope Rolle. The first time she appears, her weight is labeled a gluttony on par with murder. And later when she’s given her assigned uniform, Penelope asks where she’s supposed to put her “other tit,” only to have a masked security guard tell her that the bright orange overalls were made with her “specific measurements” in mind.
There’s something inherently wonderful about hearing a fat black woman insisting that she knows her own size. It’s almost like strangers who hate you don’t know your body better than you do. Penelope knows this, clearly. Unfortunately, DeConnick says that Penelope won’t have much of a part in issue two, though she will feature prominently in issue three.