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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 5)


Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist), Image Comics

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 11-12 Overview

The scrimmage between the NC team and the guards begins and sees its first score. An injury on the field creates a different score to be settled.

Like with the previous pages depicting the team, these are given the two-page spread to emphasize the space of setting and give room for the many bodies in panels. De Landro creates a symmetrical mirroring of left and right on the double-page to emphasize the two sides of the game, the reactive antagonism within the story, as well as spotlight the Liu twins.


Cells 1 & 2 stretch the entire width of the two pages, establishing the space of the arena which appears to be a modified exercise yard and then the pre-game posturing of the two teams. An announcer tells us who they are: “The A.C.O. Naughty N.C.s versus the A.C.O. Grappling Guards.” The guards have their arms up in postures of bravado. This practice bout is for “education and entertainment.” The entertainment part is clear, but who is being educated and in what way is ambiguous. Certainly the NC team is still learning how to be better players, but they’re also about to learn (again) that the rules made and enforced by others will always be used (sometimes quite flexibly) against them.

For the rest of the analysis, click through to PopOptiq.

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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 4)


Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist), Image Comics

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 9-10 Overview

With the turn of a page, the issue takes us back to the conversation between Father Josephson and Makoto “Mack” Maki. Gone are the assistant and the video screen. Tonally this scene is more intimate and more subdued. Emphasis has to be on the emotional shifts, and they are subtle. Maki keeps his internal thoughts and emotions tightly guarded, and Valentine De Landro has to subtly show them and cannot risk distraction.

These pages show a literary communion. Josephson’s goal, by sharing drinks, is to bring them together in service of his plans for the ACO team and the financial betterment of the Duemila conference. However, at every panel break, we see the tension of the communion. Maki doesn’t want to be involved, and it is only through manipulative coersion that Josephson succeeds. BP5-9-10-full

Page 9

Cell 1: Josephson is foregrounded, though we see only his torso. He’s taking up space, being afforded, visually, a casual importance. He pours two drinks, an act of communion to connect on the issue at hand. Maki sits on the couch behind him, visually much smaller, facing away from Josephson slightly. Even in this long shot De Landro expresses Maki’s worry through the tilt of his eyebrows. He says, “Six weeks isn’t a lot of time.”


Read the rest of my analysis over at PopOptiq!

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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 3)

BitchPlanet05CoverIn Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 5-6

The 2-page title spread and credits. This spread juxtaposes the lofty diction of the Fathers’ decree of their punishment with the faces of the newly formed ACO Megaton Team. And as they are in the action of the story, the two are at odds.

The Fathers’ liken these women, “beyond correction or castigation,” to an illness–cancer–which must be cut out of the body before it is destroyed. Feminism here, the revolt against the expectations of women in society, is cast as a serious threat to society, not a force that might strengthen it by elevating the oppressed to fully participate and contribute. To keep their hold over society, the Fathers’ law is pitched with a mythic or biblical diction. Though these women are being cast out, the Mother is called upon to give their souls mercy. The Mother is the only salvation left to them.


Asserting against the Fathers’ word is the collage of faces. The mix of facial features, skin tones, and expressions gives image to the term “intersectional.” What is striking is the diversity of the team, and yet, each has an expression of contained aggression–some serious, others with a slight smirk or raised eyebrow to suggest a tinge of enjoyment. They come from different places, carrying with them the punishment of various crimes, but now they are a team.

For the rest of the article, click through to PopOptiq.


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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 2)

BitchPlanet05CoverIn Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Page 3-4

We step back from the screen to see who is watching: Father Josephson. He has a conversation with his wife before meeting with Makoto Maki who will later be revealed as Meiko’s father.

Of note on this two-page spread is the color transition repeated in the background of most panels. Blue on top, pink on bottom. The gradient is tempered with a gray to make it more subtle, but the connotative effect reinforces the hegemonic power divide that is the backbone of the series. Blue, the color of boys, on top of pink, the color of girls. Men are in power, even in the background color.BP5-3-4

Cell 1 continues world-building the Feed. The meteorologist, a pretty, big-busted woman in a strapless pink dress, predicts record-breaking heat on the west coast and mentions water-rationing. Additional text on the screen warns that people in arrears on taxes could have their water turned off–a harsh punishment that could cost lives in record-breaking heat. But this society lives and dies by its rules. Josephson riffs on the report, bridging smoothly from the Feed to his office. He’s apparently in “hot water” with the Mrs. and has his assistant get her on the phone, not using her first name but referring to her as Mrs. Josephson.

For the rest of my analysis, click through to the feature on PopOptiq!



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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 1)

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.


Kamau pictured in deep purple and red, shown to contrast the top of the cover which remains the normal pink tones. Combined with the text “STEEL YOURSELF FOR HEARTBREAK” and “WHICH WIP WILL RIP?!,” the cover coloring and heavy foreshadowing set a dark tone for the issue which will pay off emotionally later with Meiko’s death. The exploitative hype of the text fits the women-in-prison exploitation genre and functions similar to their characteristic trailers’ scintillating text and montage of violence and nudity.

Page 1

Opening the story is a full page of 12 panels depicting the Feed’s pre-season news coverage of Duemila. The panels switch back and forth between the Feed host and the Sports commentator in the field. Like most news channels, breaking news headlines and stock prices scroll at the bottom of the frame.BP5-1ALL

Cell 1 depicts the host of the program, a woman with pink hair and a purple dress. Her text bubbles are pink. The effect is to align her with the holograms used on Bitch Planet to inform and control the NC’s. The newscaster has a similar job for society at large. She informs in a particular way that works to control the populace. The journalism of this world, and ours for the most part, no longer serves the people, if it ever did. It serves the money. If the news sells ads through content or audience numbers, it plays.

Read the rest of my analysis (700+ more words!) over at PopOptiq!


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Book Review – Death in the Shape of a Young Girl: Women’s Political Violence in the Red Army Faction

Death in the Shape of a Young Girl: Women’s Political Violence in the Red Army Faction by Patricia Melzer

Death in the Shape of a Young Girl

In the early 1970s, a number of West German left-wing activists took up arms, believing that revolution would lead to social change. In the years to come, the bombings, shootings, kidnappings and bank robberies of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and Movement 2nd June dominated newspaper headlines and polarized legislative debates. Half of the terrorists declaring war on the West German state were women who understood their violent political actions to be part of their liberation from restrictive gender norms. As women participating in a brand of systematic violence usually associated with masculinity, they presented a cultural paradox, and their political decisions were viewed as gender transgressions by the state, the public, and even the burgeoning women’s movement, which considered violence as patriarchal and unfeminist.

Death in the Shape of a Young Girl questions this separation of political violence from feminist politics and offers a new understanding of left-wing female terrorists’ actions as feminist practices that challenged existing gender ideologies. Patricia Melzer draws on archival sources, unpublished letters, and interviews with former activists to paint a fresh and interdisciplinary picture of West Germany’s most notorious political group, from feminist responses to sexist media coverage of female terrorists to the gendered nature of their infamous hunger strikes while in prison. Placing the controversial actions of the Red Army Faction into the context of feminist politics, Death in the Shape of a Young Girl offers an innovative and engaging cultural history that foregrounds how gender shapes our perception of women’s political choices and of any kind of political violence.

I picked this up because, well, I mean, just look at it. Sure, like a lot of academic work it looks dry and specific and maybe even a little esoteric. Which, really, if you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time should ring some bells. Anti-capitalist gender nonconformity in a revolutionary context. With endnotes? Forgive me while I squee.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s be serious for a moment. One’s opinions about feminism, resistance versus the status quo, and even violence tend to calcify if one doesn’t continuously interrogate and investigate alternative and especially contrary opinions. Given the chance to read up on feminist political activism in cold war Germany I reckoned I could learn a lot.

And I did. I read through the book and wanted to say something erudite and impressive about it and all kinds of things happened and it never came together. I recently reread a few chapters and the thing is, I don’t have to. Patricia Melzer does that. Her primary sources do that.

I have to tell you that this book is absolutely worth reading. The scholarship is outstanding. The research is thorough, extensive, detailed, and nuanced. And the writing is engaging, authoritative, and even exciting at times.

That’s rare. I spent a long time in a library with more than six million books desperately wishing folks would stop reusing stock phrases and repeating themselves every chapter to pad out their word counts. I’ve read novels recently with less trust in their readers, less forward momentum, and clunkier phrasing.

That’s all great, you might say, but what about the subject matter? At it’s heart, this is a discussion of praxis and identity. What is a feminist versus what does a feminist do. The women of the RAF were engaged in political action that simultaneously expressed their feminism and challenged everyone else’s. The book shows how the metanarrative of the pacifist feminine was part of their revolutionary discussions. However it also points out that the popular media latched onto and reverberated that meme and placed it at the front of the discussion.

Thus we get the title, taken from a newspaper article positing that citizens might now need to fear confrontation with death in the shape of a young girl. ‘Cause girls aren’t violent, right? Mainstream feminism has traditionally defined violence as symbolic and symptomatic of patriarchy, reifying and reinforcing existing power structures even when it’s deployed in opposition.

The book tracks how that became common knowledge and mounts a strong challenge at the same time. It’s a concrete investigation of particular situation that nonetheless informs many others including our own. Take Ta-Nehisi Coates’ meditations on the establishment’s exaltation of the pacifism in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Or Anita Sarkeesian’s flat out dismissal of the most recent George Miller movie as simply not feminist because it foregrounded violent resistance.

Death in the Shape of a Young Girl problematizes the gender essentialism inherent in the notion that women are not violent and that political violence is therefore necessarily unfeminist. It proposes an examination of all feminist practices rather than the idealization of a feminist subject. And it challenges the reader toward the critical examination of historical contexts and practical results.

It’ll destabilize you. You should read it.

Recommended for fans of “We Have Always Fought,” The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

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Wisecrack’s Newest: ‘Boss Bitches of History’

Let’s not bury the lead: Wisecrack’s brand new video series Boss Bitches of History is developed, written, and hosted by porn stars. But these are no ordinary porn stars (I can only surmise, though my experience and insider knowledge is extremely limited.) Ela Darling has a masters degree in library science. Her co-host Sovereign Syre has a masters in creative writing and a background in sociology. Are these the new millennial adult entertaintresses? Highly educated but also in total control of their sexual selves? That sounds feminist AF.bbofhistory

If so, they may be the perfect hosts for the new show which focuses on a “boss bitch” of history in the Wisecrack way. I’ve been a fan of Wisecrack’s edutainment videos since I first saw Thug Notes: Pride and Prejudice.  When they added Earthling Cinema and 8-Bit Philosophy, I was tickled. These guys know how to make a fun but informative video. Now they’re giving us the greatest “give zero f**ks” women in history–yes, please!

The new comedic series is dedicated to celebrating emboldened women throughout the ages who bucked the system and boldly faced the sexist hegemony of their time.

One difference from the other shows to be aware of. There is sexual innuendo and some cussing. This isn’t a show that will likely find its way into history classrooms, except perhaps at the expense of the teacher’s job. History teachers: for now, stick with John Green.

But in your off time, after you put the kids to bed, do enjoy Boss Bitches. The first two episodes are out and embedded below.



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Book Review: Only Ever Yours

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Where women are created for the pleasure of men, beaOnly Ever Yoursuty is the first duty of every girl. In Louise O’Neill’s world of Only Every Yours women are no longer born naturally, girls (called “eves”) are raised in Schools and trained in the arts of pleasing men until they come of age. Freida and Isabel are best friends. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year, they expect to be selected as companions–wives to powerful men. All they have to do is ensure they stay in the top ten beautiful girls in their year. The alternatives–life as a concubine, or a chastity (teaching endless generations of girls)–are too horrible to contemplate.
But as the intensity of final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. Isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty–her only asset–in peril. And then into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. Freida must fight for her future–even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known.

This is absolutely a recommended read. I say that up front because talking about it might be frightening. I’ve read a lot of YA. I was reading it before it was a genre, or a marketing position. And I’ve continued reading some of the best and most popular examples of the coalescing form.

Only Ever Yours is more like those earlier titles now subsumed under the Young Adult umbrella. It’s a frank exploration of the life and experience of a teen coming of age in a speculative environment. But it lacks the expected love triangle, the organized and triumphant rebellion, the blueprint for a better way which is just our way really.

Instead, the setting is our way extrapolated out maybe one or two standard deviations. Humanity experienced a crisis that lead to a reorganization of society. That reorganization was strictly patriarchal. Women are grown in batches, raised from toddlers in a hall of mirrors wearing full makeup and the latest fashions. They are encouraged and expected to compete in a daily public beauty competition judged by the boys they will one day have a chance of being chosen by.

Our protagonist is #630, frieda. The women’s names are all lower cased. They’ll be discarded when they come of age. Their teachers, the chastities, women deemed too unattractive for male, refer to them by their numbers. A typical heroine would be bright enough to see through her lifetime of lies, immune to her conditioning, and cunning enough to escape.

frieda can’t read. She’s desperate to maintain her interpersonal relationships at almost any cost. She loathes herself. And she has a sleeping disorder. Nonetheless she is different from her peers. She’s almost as disoriented by this chauvinist dystopia as the reader and that is perhaps the novel’s greatest strength.

She struggles to fit in, to act appropriately, to do the right thing. As she understands it. She makes mistakes and we, readers, suffer far more than she does.

Only Ever Yours presents a truly terrifying future not far removed from our own. O’Neill relentlessly excavates what it means to be a woman in a culture of objectification. It’s sharp, poignant satire with no easy out. 

This book will haunt you.

Recommended for fans of Friedrich Engels, Tina Fey, and George Orwell.

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Comic Review: Bitch Planet #1 Part V

BitchPlanet_01-1_300_462If you’re coming to this post cold, know that this is spoiler-filled. You can find the earlier installments here: Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. I began this series shortly after reading Bitch Planet #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick for the first time and needing to process the content to reach satisfaction. Hopefully I’m helping some others out during this process as well.

Page 17-18

The cross-cutting ends and the narrative returns to Bitch Planet where Marian is being quite literally looked down upon by The Catholic. “I have forgiven you. But you must forgive yourself, Marian. Penance is a gift to the sinner. Your pain will be your salvation.” So she’s that kind of Catholic. In the second panel, featured behind the lips and speech bubble of the The Catholic is what the internet tells me is a “coffin” torture device of medieval times. The sinner would be placed in the coffin for many hours depending on the crime, often in a public square to be made example of, or even out in the sun where the person would slowly die while animals ate their flesh. Gruesome. But on theme since the Catholic church was often behind the use of these items during pushes like the Inquisition to punish and destroy blasphemers and witches. Adulterers too. Generally speaking, the non-compliant, since that’s all it often took to be declared a witch at such times.

Two guards start to put Marian in the coffin. “What is that thing? What are you going to do to me?” she demands of them. Meanwhile, one of the other prisoners, a woman wearing a red bandanna, declares, “I’m going down there.” “To do what?” another asks. “To do something. To not stand up here watching…” The other prisoners who were watching from the area above see her move into the fray with Marian. “What’s wrong with her?” one asks. “What’s wrong with us?” another responds. Like with Penny’s start of the riot, the women need a leader to step forward to organize them, but it is not a leader who tells them what to do, but one who will model what to do so that the others might follow.

The woman in the red bandanna clearly doesn’t have a plan. Instead she simply starts with a distraction: “Hey! Hey! That stick make you feel like a big man?!” Her taunt is necessarily gendered. These non-compliant women are threats to the societal power of masculinity. The guards tell her it isn’t her business, call her girl. Their rejoinder reverses the gendered taunt: Yes, we are men with big sticks (dicks). Adults with power. You are a child with a sexuality to be concealed and controlled.

But at the far right of the panel is that “born BIG” tattoo. Penny’s ready to start another fight. Now, that’s a distraction.

Marian repeats her leifmotif–“I don’t belong here.” Behind her the wild haired woman grabs her hand and tells her to stay behind her. Penny continues to distract the guards. A subset panel transitions between Bitch Planet and Earth. The operator reports: “I’ve got a message about the Collins woman.” The Earth panel shows an overhead shot of Mr. Collins and Mr. Solanza. Solanza is saying, “Mr. Collins, your wife…” His speech bubble hangs over the shadow of a new person to the scene. We think the message to the Operator is to get Marian Collins out of Bitch Planet. Perhaps that shadow belongs to Solanza’s secretary…

Page 19-20

But, no, this is the horrifying reveal, the payoff to all that cross-cutting earlier.

The shadow woman runs into Mr. Collins’ arms, and he yells, “DAWN!” This is his mistress, now his new wife. All of this negotiating has been for her benefit, not Marian’s. The two exchange nausea-inducing love cliches. Solanza explains that since Mr. Collins had paid for bureaucratic expediency, the warrant for Marian was never marked fulfilled. The new Mrs. Collins (Dawn) was picked up after a second warrant was issued for the same address.

“I understand. I shouldn’t have tried to circumvent–” Mr. Collins begins. Dawn breaks in, “We just wanted to start our lives together!” The new start, as connoted in Dawn’s name, was predicated on sending the old Mrs. Collins far, far away. But apparently that’s not enough. Solanza responds to her statement, “And now you shall, my dear. And as a courtesy…”

The next page cuts back to the Operators and Bitch Planet with continuing dialogue from Solanza. “…[W]ith no admission of culpability…” (Mr. Collins’ culpability or the government’s?) The Operator announces and opens a “red window” for Marian Collins. “…[T]he Council of Fathers has approved certain steps being taken…” A guard gets the message from the Operator and hands a knife to a black, female hand. “The blonde,” he instructs her. “…[T]o ensure the two of you need never worry about this sort of thing again.” The wild-haired woman stands defensive guard over a crouched Marian as four guards with batons consider closing in. Why don’t they close in? Because they have orders to wait, most certainly.knife kamau protecting

Continued in Part VI.


Comic Review: Bitch Planet #1 Part II

BitchPlanet_01-1_300_462As I mentioned in the previous post, here there be spoilers. Find Part I here.

Pages 2-3

The spread on pages 2-3 depicts the transition from the “free world” to incarceration via the voice recording by our nameless page 1 woman. Although she is supposed to be a “history teacher,” she is presenting a revisionary creation myth. No longer is Earth “Mother Earth.” Now that life on other planets is possible, space has become the Mother. Earth is the Father that is casting these women out. They have trespassed against the Father through gluttony, pride, weakness, and wickedness. The six naked female transports have sinned against the Patriarchy. Their sins include radicalism and murder. Radicalism seems to include extreme obesity, suggesting that one’s body is perceived as a place of rebellion.

One woman voluntarily chose to go to prison, and the two black men monitoring the prisoners label her crazy. She appears to be the only one awake. Her alertness makes her seem more aware of what’s happening here. Perhaps she’s the sane one, choosing to shuttle off to a women’s prison rather than stay in the “free world.”

They have been deemed beyond correction or redemption. They must be removed from Earth, “lest [their] sickness spread.”

Page 4-5

The title page continues the recording, telling us their sentence is life with the only possibility of mercy after death.bptitle

Page 6

The women arrive at the “Auxilary Compliance Outpost,” the official name for Bitch Planet. They are wet and naked, as if reborn after their space travel. They look up at a female hologram greeting them and instructing them towards stalls with uniforms. She ends her speech with, “Non-compliance is not recommended.” An incoming prisoner states, “I hate that bitch.” Another replies, “We all do. That’s why they use her.” The hologram displays the body type often found in comic books–bulbous lips and boobs, cleavage from sternum to armpits, barely there clothing, big hair. She is pink and white, and her oversized image makes the page as a whole mostly pink. Juxtaposed with the naked prisoners, the hologram’s sexualization is obvious and absurd. Her sexiness is out of context and thus made ridiculous.

Who is she supposed to be seducing? The prisoners, of course–who else? Like the models in a women’s magazine, she is meant to seduce them into compliance. They are meant to look at her and want to look like her. Through purchase of cosmetics, high heels, corsets, and skirts which will limit their movements, through diet which will make them physically weaker. If that is unattainable, they are meant to hate themselves for not looking like her and undermine their own confidence and power.

Page 7

PennyIn contrast to page 6, page 7 is blue and green. The focus is on an extremely obese black prisoner named Penelope Rolle. She is the antithesis of the hologram’s “beauty.” Penny might stand as tall as the hologram–she’s easily a foot taller than the guards. She is muscular and fat with a half shaved head and a tattoo on her bicep that reads, “born BIG.” She receives a uniform that she identifies as too small for her body–“Where am I supposed to put my OTHER tit?” The guard tells her the uniforms were constructed specifically for their body measurements. Penelope talks back, saying the uniform “ain’t gonna fit.” Another guard tells her to put the uniform on and proceed down the concourse. Penelope gets insistent: “Bitch, I know my size!” Behind her a guard raises his club to hit her over the back of the head. Another prisoner covers her eyes.

Penny’s size is threatening to the society of Earth, and it continues to be a point of non-compliance at the prison. But the uniform won’t fit because her size is more than her measurements. Her power is in her non-compliance with the beauty standards, her absolute confidence of who she is–with no reference to her value to men. Her obesity does not equate to weakness. She exudes strength.

Page 8

The top panel brings the expected clubbing by the guard. He knocks Penny down, cracks her skull, makes her bleed.

Unlike the woman who covered her face to avoid seeing this abuse of power, a new woman with wild hair and a confident stance calls out the guard: “She didn’t raise a hand to you.” “And now she won’t. Any questions?” he responds. But now Penny is getting up behind him. “Yeah…” she begins, “Where’m I s’posed to put my tits?!” She hits him so hard, it knocks off his mask and helmet.

By removing his helmet, she also diminishes his power. He is no longer an uncanny authority figure. Now he is just a man.

Penny’s name connotes the smallest amount in US currency, the least of the capitalist system. Certainly that’s how Earth society values her. She might be dismissed on Earth, insulted and viewed condescendingly, but her power comes from within, not within the system.

Her show of power incites a riot in the prison. Naked female bodies throwing kicks and punches against, black-clad, faceless male guards. One of the two men monitoring the situation declare this is a new record: 2 minutes. Yes, Penny is powerful. No wonder she was declared non-compliant and shipped off planet. Her “disease”–female power–spreads quickly.

The other monitoring man jokes, “Cue the innocent. Which one is it gonna be?” A blonde, white woman attempts to flee the melee. “I don’t belong here. I don’t deserve this. You have to help me, please–” Traditionally protected by patriarchal society, as long as she stays compliant, this woman assumes asking for help will work. The answer she receives shows the truth of the system. A guard cracks her on the back of the head, because now she has been deemed non-compliant, her traditional Western beauty will not save her. The panels go black–her point of view becomes the transition back to Earth. “…No one deserves this.”

To be continued in Part III.