In Bitch Planet Issue 3, Kelly Sue DeConnick teams with guest artist Robert Wilson IV to present the events that lead to Penny Rolle landing in the eponymous outpost penitentiary. Did she kill someone considering her frequent entries into melee with guards? Did she do something equally dangerous within society? Well, yes, but not at all what a reader might expect. Spoilers ahead! If you’d like to read part 1 of this analysis, click here. You can find part 2 here.
Back in the judgement room of the present, Penny is standing with her hands up while black, armored guards apply sensors to her face and forehead. The judges explain that this is an experiment and then go on to spout some scientific mumbo-jumbo like you’d find in your basic sci-fi setting. The upshot here is that these sensors will read electrical impulses through her body and interpret via algorithms what Penny sees in her mind’s eye. One of the judges is quite excited by the scientific advancement and possibilities of this technology. He fails to understand that this is a violation of Penny’s body and privacy. She is clearly not so excited.
“What pictures are you trying to get out of my head?” One judge says, “Nothing private, of course.” Another puts forth, “We want to see how you see your ideal self.” I end up wondering how this isn’t the most private of all information we store in our brains. But this is the disconnect of the Fathers to individuals. They believe the body is public and theirs to make compliant. An individual’s sense of self is of less value than the Father’s sense of that person’s self. Siebertling related as much on the previous page when she told Penny, “You need to learn to see yourself through the Fathers’ eyes.” The judges intend to use this information to compare where she is to where she wants to be and make a treatment plan from it.
“How long since you imagined what your life could be like if you were more compliant, Penelope?” one judge asks. “How long since you prioritized how others see you?” The guards have brought out something shrouded in cloth and placed it in front of Penny. She responds to the judge’s questions with a simple, “I dunno…” This takes us into the next flashback.
The bridge into the flashback finishes Penny’s answer, “…s’been a while.” Penny is working in a bakery and having a minor fight with a curl that doesn’t want to stay in her headkerchief. It’s that hair metaphor again. The bandanna keeps most of her hair out of the way, but part of it just doesn’t want to comply.
She wipes off the sneeze-guard in front of the muffins to reveal an overweight white man with hands and face pressed up against the glass. “We need the Feed,” he says, surprising Penny to say the least.
It’s initially unclear whether the Feed he refers to is food-related. He admonishes her for opening late, pointing out it’s the second morning in a row and if her muffins weren’t so good he’d talk to her “old man about this.” Although previously Penny had been apologizing, now she laughs a little and states she’s “state-sponsored.” This makes me think of old school patriarchies where women couldn’t go anywhere without consent and protection of a father, brother, or husband. Could not she just open a bakery on her own? Apparently not, since the expectations is a man owns the business, and when that isn’t met, we find the government sponsors it. The man takes a moment to find the words but then has the last word by saying, “All the more reason to be on the ball, all right? Feeds up by 7 a.m.”
We finally see what the Feed is referring to with a shot of a large screen television. A blonde woman, dressed in pink like some cross of the Bitch Planet holograms and Mother Siebertling, announces, “…more on that breaking story after these messages on The Feed!” It’s unclear whether this man is just a big The Feed fan or there is some requirement by the Fathers for everyone in society to watch The Feed. I suspect, like with many aspects of this society, there is an encouraged compulsion by the government without them ever putting forth in so many words that it is law. But not watching The Feed might be an indicator of non-compliance, and thus watching would be one way for citizens to keep themselves safe from too much Fatherly attention.
In the background is Penny’s infamous tattoo–Born Big–painted on the wall. Clearly this is the name of her shop, a personal stamp on a state-sponsored bakery.
The woman behind the man wanting his 7 a.m. Feed makes a snide remark. “God forbid folks use their private screens and leave the rest of us in peace.” The man points his finger in the air: “Private screens don’t build community.” The woman rolls her eyes at this, and the man calls her on it. “Did you just roll your eyes at me?” “…No,” the woman responds, but as he walks away, fear is clear in her stance and facial expression. This man could turn her in by filing a complaint about her non-compliance. Penny attempts to prevent this by offering the man a free muffin, “grandma’s recipe–with a thanks for The Feed reminder.”
- The Feed is running a story on a parasitic worm diet. The guest calls getting a gastrointestinal parasite a “dream come true.” Meanwhile, a overly smiley young woman asks for a “sugar-free, salt-free, gluten-free muffin and three plates.” Both of these story elements highlight the lengths women will go to for thinness. Both are surface level absurd, but half of all teenage girls participate in unhealthy eating habits in the name of weight loss. 25% of college women binge and purge to control weight. And parasites aren’t nearly as “unsightly” as vomiting.
- The man who complained about the late opening is now sitting with another white guy. He opens conversation by judging Penny’s appearance, noting it’s no surprise she’s state-sponsored. “Who wants to come home to that?” His table mate begins spouting racist stereotypes about sexual preferences. He calls black people “skins” and gives some of the oldest stereotypes–they like them big, they’re animalistic, wild.
Penny’s getting angrier and angrier, taking out her violent tendencies on the dough she’s kneeding. But in the midst of this chaotic cutting from one flawed aspect of human perception to another, The Feed has dropped in a tidbit that will become important: “We’ll update a developing story on a terrorist arrest 16 years in the making.”
To be continued in part 4.