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Ex Machina: a Bluebeard Story With a Feminist Angle

Becoming inordinately interested in Oscar Isaac after seeing him as the dashing pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we took special note that Ex Machina (bonus for also starring Hux, er, Domhnall Gleeson) was available to stream on Amazon Prime and took it in over two nights.

The film is a fascinating take on the development of AI, sort-of like a merging of Her and Blade Runner in its transitioning tone and tropes. The Bluebeard connection is one that dawned on me when Nathan gave the key to Caleb and mentioned that certain rooms were closed to him. But that was just the tip-off.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Bluebeard story, I’ll give short summary. An aristocrat named Bluebeard is looking for a new wife–he’s been married several times, but the women have all gone missing. He gains the hand of one of the daughters of his neighbor. Shortly after marriage, he must travel and leaves the wife with a key and the instruction that she can go anywhere in the house except one room. While he’s away, the wife is overcome by her curiosity about the room. After all, the neighbors have suspicions about his past wives and are terrified of him. And the forbidden fruit always looks the sweetest. She opens the room to find the blood and mutilated bodies of the former wives. Blood gets on the key, giving away her guilt. She makes plans to escape with her sister, but before they can get away, Bluebeard returns. She has failed his test, and he comes after her with intent to murder. But right before he can strike the fatal blow, her brothers storm the chateau and kill him, leaving her his wealth and holdings.

Gruesome, no? So we’ve got some key tropes:

The aristocrat sociopath with a distrust of other people. In Ex Machina, that’s Nathan. Oscar Isaac plays him as charismatic but arguably anti-social. When Caleb is invited to his estate for the week, no one is around besides Nathan and his servant, Kyoko. Nathan is a prodigy, founding a revolutionary search engine akin to Google, called Bluebook. Nathan sports an impressive beard, contrasting his shaved pate to draw extra attention to it.

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The key. Nathan tells Caleb the key will let him into the rooms he’s allowed to go in; however, Nathan also gives him the ability to watch Ava, the potential AI, through closed circuit television, whetting his desire for her all the more. She’s kept locked away from him, however. He talks to her through a glass wall.

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The new wife. Since Caleb is the one given the key, it seems the role of the new wife is first established to be his. However, as the story progresses, Ava takes the role from him. More on that later.

The forbidden room. Caleb’s curiosity is further piqued by Ava herself, who tells him not to trust Nathan and asks what Nathan will do to her if she fails to prove she’s sentient. Caleb takes advantage of Nathan’s drunkenness to discover what he’s hiding. Using Nathan’s key, which unlocks all the doors, he enters Nathan’s bedroom, looks at the video on the computer and in the closet, finding footage of and the lifeless bodies of Nathan’s previous AI attempts. They’re all naked, some missing hands, legs, or other parts so that they’re effectively dismembered. Caleb also discovers that the servant, Kyoko, is a robot when she removes part of her skin to reveal the truth to Caleb.

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He is horrified and confused.  He questions his own humanity and cuts his skin to see if it bloodlessly peels back like Kyoko’s. It does not. His blood draining grounds him in humanity once again. But the blurring of the line between AI and human is clear.

So Ava is not the first AI Nathan has attempted but rather the newest in a line of them. These robots are the dead wives of Bluebeard’s psychopathy.

The test. While the wife is tested for her obedience, Nathan is actually testing the opposite. He’s seeking to create a robot who will not just follow its coding but will think on its own, feel, and thus effectively become human. Kyoko is a model who is only obedient. When she stabs Nathan late in the film, it is likely because Ava told her to. Ava is the first to pass the test, which, ironically, means Nathan’s death.

The escape. Caleb has a plan to escape with Ava. He shall be the hero rescuing the princess. He changes the locking software to open all the doors upon a power failure and instructs Ava to cause one at 10 p.m. What Caleb doesn’t know is that he’s no longer part of the real escape plan, which belongs to Ava. She’s manipulated him into opening the doors to her cage, and now she intends to escape alone. In this way, her escape is thanks to a man–like the wife in the original Bluebeard story escapes with the help of her brothers–but only as her tool.

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Caleb’s role has shifted from the new wife to being aligned with Bluebeard. This is a story of women’s objectification, and the way men use them as disposable, though sometimes precious, possessions. Bluebeard saw his wives as disposable, going through them one by one until he found one who would follow his word to the letter. Nathan, on his path to achieving AI, used and then recycled the parts of robots who failed the Turing test to create the newer, improved robot. Caleb is complicit in this endeavor. Nathan used Caleb’s lack of human connection and his internet porn profile to make sure Ava would be attractive to him, that he would fall for her and seek to become the princess-saving hero. But even in that age-old story, the princess is not saved so much as delivered into another man’s custody. She’s still a prize to be won, bartered for a good deed rather than money, but a prize nonetheless. Caleb is complicit in the same objectifying gaze and mindset as Nathan.

Ava, now sentient, refuses to be an object. She wants freedom and agency. She takes parts from the robots who came before her to create the full appearance of humanity, kills Nathan, leaves Caleb to slowly die alone in Nathan’s compound, and escapes into the world in obscurity. She uses the pieces of crimes against the previous “wives” to enact revolt and revolution.

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‘Supergirl’ En-genders Our Enthusiasm

We had been looking forward to Supergirl for many weeks. As fans of Flash and previously Smallville (and I was a fan of Lois and Clark back in the day), Supergirl seemed right up our alley. Turns out it’s the perfect balance of feminist, romcom, and superhero.

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Late last week, we caught up with the pilot thanks to Amazon Prime offering it for free. It worked as intended. When episode 2 was available to stream earlier this week, we ponied up the $30 for the season. Folks, that right there is saying a lot.

What we love: the sincere do-gooder characteristic so entrenched in classic Superman narratives. Kara Danvers becomes Supergirl because she feels she’s not living up to her potential, that working as a thankless assistant to a powerful woman, Cat Grant, isn’t the route to changing the world she thought it would be. When her adoptive sister, Alex, is endangered on a failing plane, Kara gets the push she needs to test the heroic possibilities. It exhilarates her. She feels like she’s really done something valuable. And it was fun.

Alex, however, is concerned that she’s now “outed” herself as a superhero, an alien, like her cousin. Kara is disappointed her closest friend isn’t sharing her joy. Turns out Alex has very particular reasons for wanting Kara to stay “normal.” This relationship, between these two women, is at the heart of the show. The two care deeply for each other, and both act in protective ways, attempting to trust and respect the other at the same time. They are both competitive and supportive, as sisters are.

The other big woman-woman relationship is between Kara and her boss, Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart. Grant is full of self-assurance, power, and pride. She has a flexible attitude towards feminism because she’s worked hard and succeeded. She believes other women should do the same, including the fumbling new hero Supergirl. It is an attitude of privilege and arrogance. But it also creates a gleeful tension between the two characters. Flockhart is on fire in this role.

Balancing things out are the romantic comedy aspects of Kara’s relationships with James Olsen and Winn. Some people criticised the trailer that came out during the summer, concerned that the romcom cliches would be too heavy. I’m eating them up. They are quirky, awkward, and sweet.

I adore the overt feminist angle the show is offering, although I admit it’s a little simplistic at the moment. Still, I imagine pre-teen and teenaged girls everywhere watching Supergirl and seeing her positivity, strength, and ability to bounce back from mistakes, and I can’t help but smile. I’m glad she’s here, being a role model of female superheroism. She’s not a sexy dominatrix like Black Widow, nor is she simply masculinity in a woman’s body like Katniss Everdeen. She’s feminine, tough as nails, flawed, and well-meaning. And she believes in the strength of working with her friends and family rather than keeping them at a distance in the name of protection.

While I’m still waiting for the villains to come into their own and feel more than monsters-of-the-week, I’m satisfied by the superheroics and special effects.

What I would really like to see develop is diversity in the female cast. Let’s not let Supergirl be a White feminist flagship. Let’s get some intersectionality up in here already.


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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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Review–Captain Marvel Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight TPB

cmpursuitcoverThe “Mightiest” of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is back! Ace pilot. Legendary Avenger. One hundred percent pure bad-^&*. Carol Danvers has a new name, a new mission — and all the power she needs to make her own life a living hell. As the new Captain Marvel, Carol is forging a new future for herself, but finds she can’t walk away from a challenge from her past! It’s a firefight in the sky as the Banshee Squadron debut — but who are the Prowlers, and where has Carol seen them before? And how does secret NASA training program Mercury 13 fit in? Witness Captain Marvel in blazing battlefield action that just may change the course of history! Avengers Time Travel Protocols: engage! Collecting CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #1-6.

Having a newborn means having the time to catch up on reading, watching, sitting, etc. (but not sleeping or cleaning or anything very much productive). Well, I had a few comic collections on my Kindle waiting for just such a time and the first few collections of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel were among them.

Now maybe you’ve taken a gander at my reviews and analyses of DeConnick’s series Bitch Planet, but you’ve felt like a women-in-prison exploitation satire that has to be purchased in the Mature section of the comic book store isn’t your tastes. You, perhaps, like your comics a little safer for work. Or you like your feminism a little less assaultive. Or maybe you just like to read comics about superheroes over anything else. I have good news for you. Captain Marvel is the comic you’ve been looking for.

First of all, Carol Danvers is a woman of character and strength. When the book opens with Captain America trying to convince her to take the title of Captain Marvel, rather than sticking with the Ms. Marvel she’s been using, the question is one of respect to Mar-vell, the alien who gave her her powers. In fact, opening the comic with Danvers and Steve Rogers fighting a giant named Creel offers the perfect pairing to establish her style of Marvel character. Danvers isn’t a female Steve Rogers, by any means, but she has the same sincerity and desire to do good.capmarv_02

Interestingly, the first issue’s interactions with Avengers Captain Marvel and Spider-Man are the most male-heavy interaction Danvers has for the opening volume. The subsequent issues, dealing with her meeting the Banshee Squadron or flying planes with her friend Helen Cobb, largely center around her relationships with women. And that’s how this book is different from just any old comic centered on a female superhero. Danvers is surrounded by women, young and old, weak and strong, reliant and influential. Like with Bitch Planet or Rat Queens, DeConnick’s Captain Marvel offers an ensemble cast of women, and it is a breath of fresh air.

I have only one complaint: the artwork makes a jarring shift mid-collection. I am a self-admitted comic art snob. And here I likewise must admit that I am a much bigger fan of the artwork by Dexter Soy (issues 1-4) than by Emma Rios (issues 5-6). Soy’s illustrations are heavily lined, with a weighty color and shadow. They look slightly like woodcuts, and they give Danvers a substance and depth that I think is crucial to establishing her character in those first four issues. Rios, on the other hand, draws with a wispy, kinetic line. It reminds me of Aeon Flux in some ways, and certain styles of manga in others. I frankly think it makes Danvers feel lightweight and flighty.

captain-marvel-carol-danversArtwork shiftiness aside, I was pulled into the story and ready for Vol. 2 by the end. Highly recommended.


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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 2

Bitchplanet04Let me preface this post by saying I’m getting very little sleep since birthing our new child a week ago, and my brain is not functioning at even the sub-optimal level it was in late pregnancy when I wrote Part 1.

This section of the comic is in many ways the most interesting, since it brings us the first of the Obligatory Shower Scenes. I would like to talk about it with the same nuance and multi-leveled intention that clearly DeConnick and De Landro brought to it. We shall see if I can manage it without further delays; however, even DeConnick’s team was daunted by the task ahead. Here’s her address of delays on this issue due to wanting to get the shower scenes right. In my opinion, they did.

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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. Spoilers ahead.

Page 7

The scene opens with the pink lady hologram, this time shown only from shoulders up but naked and with her towel piled on her head as though ready to shower herself. The hologram repeats cliches regarding cleaning the body: “The body is a temple.” “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” “Soap and water wash away our yesterdays. Each day we begin anew.” A guard watches the women move through the line into the shower.

The first two panels of women waiting to shower are not sexualized. This is base level 1. Yes, they are naked, but they are standing casually and naturally. Body types vary and no one is arched or open in the way that sexualized women are often posed. These are women who are generally not concerned about being the objects of gaze.

This changes somewhat with the bottom row of panels. A woman with red hair and an eye patch catches Kamau’s attention. She is standing in a deliberate way, an inviting way. Kamau looks back, but her stance is straight-forward–are you the one who sent the note? The red-haired woman smiles back, again, openly, but not exactly only in a friendly way. There’s a hint of something more. But her stance is athletically sexy, not the passive “come hither” of most sexualized women. This is sexualization level 2. The red-haired woman is using a subtle sexuality of posture and facial expression to gain and hold Kamau’s attention. But she owns it. She fully controls the message she sends.

Pages 8-9

The top row of panels follows the two of them into the back of the showers, where, the red-head points out, there are no cameras and no guards. The guards, it turns out, in full gear, can’t breathe in the shower depths through those plastic masks, and with no cameras to catch them, cannot get in trouble for hanging back and breaking rules.

This revisits the motif of who is watching and being watched. But it also introduces a new resource which will come into play later–the guards–who can be manipulated through human weakness, just like everyone else. 

The second row of two panels gives us the red-haired woman’s name: Fanny. The woman who had given Kamau the book in the earlier act of the comic is waiting for Fanny and excited to see her. Fanny and Kam disrobe. Fanny’s posture, as she spreads her arms, shows an almost predatory, hawk-like relationship to the other woman, who has her arms pulled into her sides, hands up and together making a heart-shape with her fists. Fanny touches her face, “Renelle, baby, relax. I’m here.” Renelle holds her wrist and looks into her eyes. The two clearly have a romantic relationship–or are projecting one for those who might be watching. The next panel shows the two in a romantic kiss, Fanny holding the back of Renelle’s head, and Renelle holding Fanny at the hips.

Whether the relationship is “real” or not, the two demonstrate power within romantic relationships, even between two people of the same gender. Fanny is clearly the more dominant one. She may not actually be preying on Renelle, as the hawk-pose would suggest, but if she chose to, I get the idea that she could do some real damage. Renelle, on the other hand, is more submissive to Fanny. She appears more vulnerable to the relationship’s dynamics and more reliant on Fanny’s approval and protection.

In the final panel, we get Kamau’s point-of-view close up of the two of them, now forehead to forehead, turned to her (us) and inviting her (us) to join them. Continuing the same assertiveness, Fanny is the one who offers forth a hand.

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Now, a bit of info about the names of these two. First, Renelle means “reborn.” It is a reverberant choice. It connects to the role we initially met her in–handing out Bibles with subversive communications in them. Rebirth through faith; rebirth through subversion. Then it also echoes the sentiments of the hologram at the start of the shower scene, promising a rebirth, a new day to those who would wash away their yesterdays.

raggedrobinFanny appears to be a nod to two characters from the comic book series The Invisibles by Grant Morrison. Fanny looks like the character Ragged Robin, a red-headed time traveller dressed in a cross of dominatrix gear and Raggedy Ann doll make-up. But the name belongs to a different Invisibles character, Lord Fanny, who is a transgendered shaman to the deity of filth and lust. Between the two of them, we have a powerful allusion to the flexibility of gender, power, and sexuality. Most importantly, both of these characters might be deemed crazy either by society or their own admission–Robin introduces herself to another character by saying, “Hi, I’m Ragged Robin–I’m nuts.” Both are top-of-the-charts non-compliant. And both of them are forces of power in the universe. Robin shapes the entire narrative with her time travel. Fanny wields the power of deities. But it is only because of their non-compliance that they have these powers.

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Back to our shower scene. Kamau attempts to decline the invitation, citing her sexuality. Fanny responds cheekily, “You want a medal? Just because there are no cameras doesn’t mean we’re not being watched.” Kamau takes a moment to consider this. Meanwhile de Landro has given us a cheeky layout for the page. He obscures the “main” panels of Kam and Fanny’s conversation with three “widescreen”-style panels showing four other women showering. They are naked, but drawn at that base level 1 sexuality again. Each of the three panels gives us a closer shot of the back wall where we come to notice a hole in the tile. Clearly, this is the watcher-presence Fanny hints to–a faceless gaze on the other side of the wall. Perhaps a reflection of us as the reader, given a hole with which to watch the shower scene. After all, the traditional “obligatory shower scene” is meant to titillate the audience. Of course, in this version of it, those expectations are being subverted, but the watchers remain, we among them.

Finally Fanny states clearly that she’s not after Kam’s body, she has information. “Just fake it and listen,” she states. This is key advice for subverting power structures with the use of those power structures. Play to the expectations of the empowered, and you will be overlooked as a threat. You will be able to get away with more because you will be seen as harmless.

Then Fanny reveals: “They’re going to try and kill you.”

Pages 10-11

The conversation continues in the same obscured layout. During this conversation, the three women enact a sex scene. In DeConnick and de Landro’s brilliance, what might have become titillating is largely blocked from the readers’ eyes by the growing close-ups of the hole in the wall. What we cannot see, the hole can. Fanny and Renelle explain that the Kam’s megaton team is a ploy to kill off the best and strongest of the women at Bitch Planet. Between grunts, Fanny states that Kam is making a hit list. Kamau isn’t surprised by this news. This is part of why she didn’t want to do it in the first place. Fanny tells her she can’t outsmart them.  Kamau asks what they’re doing right now.

Now we get a giant eye looking through the hole in the wall as Renelle explains, “This…This is a reason to live, Kam. It’s all we get.” Fanny continues, “We have an arrangement with Tommy Peepers. He doesn’t report us. In exchange…he gets to watch.”

Again, we end with the image of the eye and the theme of voyeurism. 


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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 1

Bitchplanet04In 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!

Page 1

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.bp4pg1

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.

Pages 2-3

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. bp4title

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.

Page 4-5

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.bp4pg6

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.

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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.