Thanks to a recent complementary mention on Her Story Arc, I’m finally prioritizing the analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. These things can be a bit overwhelming at the outset, and I’ve been putting it off. But no more! Let’s dig into this thing already! All things will be spoiled, at least regarding the first few pages, so be warned. If you’d like my spoiler-free review instead, click here.
Here’s the opening page for perusal. Note the way the figures tell a story all of their own, adjacent to but reinforcing the main story.
The voice on the sound system, emanating through the back room of a formal dinner convention. Before we get the scene, we get the behind-the-scenes. Notably all of the cooks and servers are brown skinned, suggesting how race plays into class in this society. The one white man seems to be the manager. We see him sexually condescend/harass two waitresses–first encouraging one to smile and then patting another’s ass. The women are servile to the manager and the high class people out in the convention. The manager feels entitled to manage not just their work but also their selves–smiles and ass pats are his to take. Meanwhile, two of the cooks appear to get into some sort of fight.
All of this is narrated with the speech from the dining room all about the bores and the bored and the “psychology of tribes.” This introduces the main themes: first, the divisions of society like race, class, and gender, and second, the entertainment of society to keep these groups subdued (they get restless and rebellious when bored). Ironically, the speaker quotes Byron, a subversive in many ways, to make his point. This is one of the ways the voices of power in Bitch Planet deconstruct their own talking points.
We follow a server out into the convention hall where we can now see large projections of the speaker, a jowly white man in his 50’s. The audience is largely white men. Most of the women in attendance are servers sporting short, strapless gold dresses, but there are a few women in ballgowns, presumably wives. All of the waitresses show their teeth only through large smiles.
The speaker is talking about Duemila, more frequently known as Megaton, but even his introduction of the game’s name reinforces the dichotomy of peoples, though there isn’t much consequence attached to this particular division. He goes on to discuss that everyone there is from all corners of the Earth and all tiers of the economic ladder. One wonders who he is speaking to–is this being televised? The folks in this room seem pretty uniform in both geographical and economical background. I can’t imagine he’s considering the cooks in the back room as part of his audience. So there is a sense of denial of how imbalanced this society is. Perhaps the speaker is in denial or perhaps he’s just hoping to maintain the denial the audience members have, a brainwashing that helps them feel more diverse and egalitarian than they really are. I imagine these are the kind of people who insist they don’t see color and that women already have equal rights, so could we all please just shut up about inequality already.
But that’s not the only hypocrisy on the double-page spread, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, there is an important reveal about the moral truths the Fathers espouse: there are five in total and one of them is that humans have an “ancient drive to form an us and pit it against a them.” The Fathers believe we are categorizing fighters, constantly finding a clan and then moving against another clan. It seems a convenient belief, allowing ethnic, gender, and class warfare to be accepted truths rather than flaws in the system that could be corrected. He goes on to explain that Megaton is the outlet for this drive–two teams war on the field, creating one victor and one civilized humanity. And here’s that hypocrisy I mentioned (or is it a paradox?). By watching televised violence, the audience becomes civilized.
The next page offers the speaker when he’s not on the stage. We get to see the man behind the speech, and we find that he is enamored with his own power. When he calls a man named Brandon over to discuss the waning engagement with Megaton, he reprimands him immediately for using his first name, Ed, rather than calling him Father Josephson. When Brandon attempts to defend the choice, Josephson gets back on the us and them theme: “We are not equals, Brandon. We are not friends. Address me by my title or I will have you cited for disrespect.” Josephson solidifies the power imbalance by threatening Brandon with, essentially, non-compliance, though I don’t exactly know if that term crosses genders. It is an interesting example of how damaging gender expectations of women also can damage men. The assumption is that making women submissive automatically makes men dominant, but that requires only a dichotomy–two groups. Society is far more complex with hierarchies upon hierarchies.
Josephson wants Brandon to do something about the falling engagement in Megaton, but there’s another story going on in the background in women’s fashion. A series of women are shown, presumably attendees of the convention, since they wear ballgowns not the short, gold dresses of the waitresses. Most of these fancily dressed women are sporting accessories that cover their mouths. One appears to have a kind of bandage wrapped around her mouth and through her hair. Another wears a veil. A third wears a color-matched surgical mask-type cover. A fourth’s accessory only partially covers her mouth. The symbolism of the fashion is clear–compliance equates to silence for women. Be seen and not heard. Look pretty and keep your mouth shut.
The final page before the title spread focuses keenly on our Mr. Roberto Solanza approaching Josephson with a solution to his engagement problem. The focus on this introduction suggests this is a turning point in the narrative. This meeting between Solanza and Josephson will start the story down a path that will change everything. My students would call it the inciting incident. With some subtle humor, Solanza’s introduction to Josephson plays with the dual names thing–Duemila to the urbane/Megaton to everyone else–when Josephson hears Solanza’s title and immediately connects him with “Bitch Planet” rather than using the official A.C.O.