In Bitch Planet Issue 4, Kelly Sue DeConnick is back together with artist Valentine De Landro to pick back up the main storyline of Kamau and the forming of the Bitch Planet Megaton team. I do hope they make athletic jerseys for us fans. Spoilers ahead for the first handful of pages. If you haven’t read the issue yet, get on that!
The issue kicks off at, Megaton star, Ricky Fontenot’s funeral. World-building aspects include a floating, glowing capsule like a giant pill that apparently holds Ricky’s remains. Two floating purple balls hover over the proceedings, perhaps cameras recording the event for the Feed. The priest commends Ricky back to the Universal Mother but urges the living to work through the pain of loss to gain our Father’s grace.
The similarities in Christian beliefs of a Father God and the government set-up of the Fathers council are highlighted through the funeral proceedings. The old school vision of the Earth as being the comforting mother are here, but that mother is passive, just a pair of open arms with which to gather us in.
The main action of the quick scene centers on Father Josephson–another reference to the Christianity, since Joseph’s son was Jesus–and Roberto (now Bert) Solanza. First, Josephson takes a phone call at the funeral, showing his lack of real respect for the mourners. Numbers are up thanks to Ricky’s death, and this excites Josephson. Next Solanza shows up, clearly at the request of Josephson. Solanza attempts to whisper, as indicated by the gray text, but Josephson appears to talk at normal volume, again showing his disregard for the funeral going on just behind him. Josephson explains that their presence elevates the occasion, a gift only trumped by the death settlement for the family. The statement is condescending. Solanza changes the subject and explains that funding for the Bitch Planet Megaton team is in place, and while Josephson is clearly pleased by this, he tells Solanza to stop smiling–the cameras are watching.
What this scene makes clear is that Josephson, and by extension the Fathers, do not have respect for human life or suffering. They are only concerned with their own success, power, and fortune. Ricky is a means to an end, as all life is beyond themselves. Though Ricky’s mother is having a heartfelt moment of remorse and loss, Josephson believes it is the status and death settlement that matter. He’s missing the point, or perhaps he never had access to it. Perhaps he has not known familial love and loyalty. If not, he will play as a foil to both Penny and Kamau in the narrative.
The title page spread features a short conversation between our Bitch Planet Operators. Schiti asks, “You ever feel sorry them? The NCs, I mean? Ever wonder what if it had gone down different–” The other cuts him off: “Can’t let yourself think like that, man. Don’t put yourself in their place. Just watch.” Meanwhile the title logo is backed by a green hologram feed of the many levels of the penitentiary.
The short conversation itself speaks volumes. First, there is the allusion to the event that allowed for this designation of NC’s in the first place, a historical moment when women essentially lost. Second, there are some who still sympathize with the women, while others see that kind of connection as futile.
But the call to “just watch,” combined with the previous page’s mention of the cameras watching give us a major theme of this issue: voyeurism and truth. Who is watching? Who is being watched? And how can the watcher be manipulated.
Kamau is sitting on the floor of her cell looking through dossiers of other prisoners, attempting to put together the team of 2000 lbs. The art in the top panel gives a top-down perspective. In film, this is called a god’s eye angle. It often suggests a vulnerability, even to the hand of fate. Here de Landro has also under-laid the text of what Kamau sees, a litany of names, crimes of non-compliance, and weights. The crimes are especially intriguing: malicious manipulation, political incitement, terminal hysteria, seduction and disappointment, development and distribution of gender propaganda, fetal murder, patrilineal dishonor, blood crimes, obesity, cyber infidelity, ego dysmorphia, marital neglect, mockery. Of course, versions of many of these crimes are prosecuted today. Valentine De Landro recently pointed out in an interview that the future of Bitch Planet is only one step ahead, not five.
Kamau looks at a specific weight page: 180-210 lbs. She puts the report down, rests her head on her hand. She looks tired, defeated. “Where are you…?” she asks. We later find out she’s searching for her sister, who might be the mystery prisoner that comes up later in the issue. Furthermore, this gives reason to think Kamau might be the “volunteer” the Operatives mention in Issue #1. If so, she volunteers to find and protect or help her sister. Which means that the Megaton team would be an inside job inside this other inside job? Tricky.
At this point, another prisoner comes by with the library cart. “The word of God?” she asks. Kamau politely declines, but the woman insists. “Take it. It’s meant for you.” Kamau says she’s not a believer, but the woman says, “Everybody likes a good story.” “Whose story is it?” Kamau insightfully asks. “Ours,” the woman replies and quietly adds, “Good news: it all works out in the end.”
This dialogue attaches nicely to the Christianity of the funeral. Kamau doesn’t recognize the Bible in whatever form it may now exist as her story. That’s HIS story. But the other prisoner suggests this book is different. As we’ll soon find out, this Bible has been subverted to pass along the messages of prisoners to each other. The word of God has been twisted to serve the revolutionary community of women in Bitch Planet.
The other prisoner leaves. Kamau turns away from the camera that spies on her. We get a view of the Operator watching Kamau, but she just appears like she’s reading the book in bed to his eye. Manipulation of the camera enables the communication she’ll discover. Inside the book there are numerous messages to and from other prisoners. The one for Kamau indicates she has an ally with information. That ally wants to meet in the showers. The note is marked by a hand-drawn eye. Again, the eye reinforces that theme of voyeurism and truth.