A friend of mine passed along this issue to me. She said she suspected it was brilliant but wanted some assurance that she wasn’t off-the-mark. She is not one to normally lack confidence in her reading of a text, but given the nature of the comic, I now understand why she was a bit unsure.
In Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard wrote that prisons are there to hide the fact that society itself is a prison, at its very nature carceral. Bitch Planet appears to be a prison that is built to reveal the fact that society is a prison.
Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine de Landro, is using the sci-fi sub-genre of women’s penitentiary exploitation to critique the contemporary systems oppressing women of all races, but especially women of color. It’s not critiquing the genre but, in fact, using it as a structure to critique our own capitalist “free state.”
That’s some tricky business. And it may be brilliant. Comics often further societal misogyny through the objectification of women–as sex objects, victims of villains’ violence, damsels in distress, or, in some of the best cases, superheroines with barely enough clothing to cover their unrealistically proportioned tits and ass. How does an author sell a comic that wants to critique and condemn that same system? Well, you could hide it in a traditionally misogynistic format which exploits nudity and violence against women while at the same time shows women as tough survivors. Yeah, okay, brilliant.
On the cover, a silhouetted woman is manacled but giving the finger with both upraised hands. The exploitation-styled text reads: “GIRL GANGS…CAGED AND ENRAGED!” It is an apt image for this comic that walks a razor-thin line between itself becoming exploitative and offering a critique. This is not a comic for the squeamish or prudish. In fact, though the comic exhibits aspects of Minority Report, Django Unchained, The Shawshank Redemption, and Cabin in the Woods, it most reminds me of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It is a structurally dense take-down of oppressive systems of society through a familiar genre. It even includes an essay and fake, thematic mail-in ads.
Now come the spoilers. I’m going to attempt a close reading of this comic, because it honestly has me fascinated, and as an English teacher, I don’t know a better way to solidify my thoughts on its meaning(s). However this particular blog post will only spoil the first page of the comic. Later parts will spoil the rest. I suggest you get your hands and eyes on this comic as soon as you can. Then come back for the full shake-down.
The opening panels depict a black woman rushing through a crowded, futuristic street. She asks to be excused and pardoned by the people she rushes between, apologizes profusely to another. Before her is seemingly projected the word “APOLOGIZE.” It is unclear whether this is a hologram from a corporation or government (or amalgamation of the two) or a visualization of her conscience. The text matches that of billboard screens shining down on the streets, signs urging dieting, purchasable fixes to problems, and, above all, compliance. “BECAUSE HE SAID SO.” One projected screen says, “You’re hungry.” Another says, “You’re fat.” These are the paradoxes of capitalist, fascist society. A drone flies overhead, seemingly a police vehicle as designated by its red and blue lights. It insinuates that non-compliance is dealt with swiftly.
The woman is rushing to work. Her male manager is complaining about her lateness, giving a countdown to when she’ll be fired and he’ll do the job for her. She bursts into the recording studio just in time, asking him to tell her who she will be today as she places the headset on and begins to record a message for the sleeping passengers on the way to Bitch Planet. She is not non-compliant. She apologizes, she rushes to meet someone else’s schedule, she conforms her identity to the whims of her male manager’s instruction. Not a moment is spent determining the cause of her lateness–whether this is a character trait or the consequence of some personal emergency. She is there simply to fill a role compliantly.
This is the “free world” the comic introduces us to before setting us off to the penitentiary world of Bitch Planet. But the repressive elements are clear. The bars of this society are seen in the standards of beauty and compliance, and the men are the gatekeepers.