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

BitchPlanet05Cover

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.

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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.

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-5/


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

BitchPlanet05Cover

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!

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-4/


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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.

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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.

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-3/

 


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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!

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-2/

 

BP5-4-11


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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.

BitchPlanet05CoverCover

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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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 4

Bitchplanet04Here you go–the final installment of the a deeper look at Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet #4. For previous installments, see Part 1Part 2. and Part 3. Spoilers for the biggest, baddest ass-kickery and reveals of the issue.

Page 16-17

We get a repeat of the final bit of the Duemila intro vid from the last page for emphasis: “…or showmanship.” I can only imagine this emphasis is to foreshadow how Kam and team might win over the populace when they begin to play. They’re not going to be able to compete on quite the same athleticism level as professionally trained teams, but they are going to be able to put on a show like nothing the audience has seen before. We get a taste of just that on the next page.

Kamau tells Whitney to give her the list of prisoners she’s requested for her team. Whitney dislikes her tone. Whitney has a need to maintain the hierarchy of power, and with Kam already leveraging her position to make requests/demands, Whitney wants to maintain whatever true or illusory authority she still has. Kamau flexes her power again when she sees that not all of her requests have been honored and pushes Whitney to honor her choices. Whitney tells the guards to send over two of the missing: Penny and Meiko, both outside of the ideal weight choice for players, one over, one under. A third choice’s name has been X-ed out. Whitney explains that prisoner doesn’t exist, was a glitch in the register. Kam watches Whitney’s face closely when she says this but doesn’t question the explanation.

Penny walks over explaining she doesn’t run, and Kam explains the strategy: “I don’t need you to run. I need you to stop anyone from getting to Meiko.” Then we get the joy of seeing this in action. The play begins, and four women rush to get to Meiko. Penny dwarfs them all, gathering the four in her arms and carrying them away from Meiko. Penny laughs. Kamau comments on Meiko’s running: “Damn. Like a cheetah, that girl.” Whitney questions the strategy: “What happened to one-on-one?” “Penny happened,” Kamau explains. Meiko joyfully scores, yelling, “Suck it, chumps!” while she runs to the goal. Penny and Meiko have joy and pride on their faces. It’s a beautiful moment.Bitch Penny 01

The different strategy, questioned by Whitney, is what is going to give Kamau’s team a chance. If the Bitch Planet team were to attempt to replicate how the men play, they’d have little or no chance. It would be as embarrassing as Kamau first assumed it would be when Whitney approached her with the proposition. They need to play to their own strengths and play as a team. And this is a metaphor for how women might regain power within society–playing a different game than the men and working together to beat them.

Pages 18-19

Obligatory Shower Scene #2

After practice, the team is in the showers. The mood for the winning team, including Penny and Meiko, is celebratory. Penny exclaims, “Did y’all see my girl here? Like a bullet–pew pew pew pew!” And here I can’t help but notice the word choice connoting Meiko as a weapon. Taken with the earlier issue’s reveal that Meiko designed the ship that Megaton will be played on, I wonder if this isn’t more foreshadowing of how Duemila will parallel the war at large for women’s rights.

Kamau turns on the shower closest to the guard. And as Kam likely planned, the steam gets under the guard’s mask, and she ends up leaving by the end of the page. Meanwhile, we have more Penny and Meiko bonding as they continue to celebrate their win. Two other prisoners look on, seemingly disgusted by the display. Were they on the other team that got beat? Or are they disturbed by Penny’s naked body bear-hugging Meiko, also naked? As we’ve seen before in issue #1, not all women, not even all Bitch Planet prisoners, stand in solidarity. They may have all been convicted of crimes against the patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean they are all on board to fight it.

Again, this is a shower scene that is not sexually objectifying the women depicted. They are naked but not posed in any sexual way. Instead, each stands doing something–fists up declaring victory, high fives, hugs, simply standing watching. This is a strong contrast to the next part of the shower scene. Suddenly the depiction is turned on its head and de Landro gives us the gaze as Kamau goes to the back shower and turns on the water in front of the hole in the wall.

Now there is a voyeuristic gaze on Kam’s body. Her curves are accentuated. In a few panels, her back seems overly arched to push out her breasts. Twice de Landro draws an extra panel to show the hole. There’s no eye seen, yet, but each panel shows the hole in tighter close-up. Someone is watching.

Pages 20-21

And now we get the closest thing to a true “obligatory shower scene” from the exploitation genre. Kamau is shown full-on sexually. Touching herself, moaning, dripping with water, biting lip. This is performance masturbation–that of movies and late-night television–done for an audience. That audience is us. But it’s also for Tommy Peepers. Once his eye appears, Kamau says, “Gotcha.” This performance has been to catch him. Perhaps us too. We get to experience the gaze and have it be twisted and turned back on us. That’s a pretty keen effect of the different levels of sexualization offered to us by de Landro. Kudos.

Now Kamau springs into action, showing her lineage from the fantastic Pam Grier. She jumps up to grasp just beneath the shower head, pulls it out of the wall, and then uses it to break the tiling of the wall and expose Tommy Peepers. This is some serious Wonder Woman super-powered awesomeness.

Pages 22-23

Kamau hooks the watching guard, pulls him through the wall, kicks him in the nuts, then puts him in a headlock.

Then she really gets the upper hand. She has used her sexuality, in fact, her sexualization, against the man who objectified her. She has caught him in her trap, and now she pulls from him his name: Rick Weldon. She shows him clearly where he stands. She has intimate details of the three freckles on his penis. Unless he wants to be jailed for perversion, he follows her orders. “It means I own you,” Kam says, which is a pretty marvelous turn–making him the object of her ownership. She instructs him in the story he’ll tell about how the damage here happened, and that he’ll fix it all up and no more looking at the girls.

But that’s all preamble, because what she really wants is a Megaton Team Patrol guard in her pocket. They’re partners now, she says. “First assignment, partner–get this shit cleaned up. Then you’re going to help me find my sister.”

Whoa.

So with that reveal, a few things fall into place. The person Kam was searching for in the register of players was her sister. Perhaps, even, hers was the name that was X-ed out on the team roster Kam had made. But this info also indicates that Kamau is likely the volunteer prisoner from the first issue, and the reason that she volunteered was to find her sister. That’s an incredibly cool reveal.


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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 3

Bitchplanet04Now we return you to your irregularly scheduled programming: a deeper look at Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet #4. For previous installments, see Part 1 and Part 2. As you might imagine, spoilers ahead.

Page 12

Operator 1 asks Operator 2 (Schiti) what they’ve got for Megaton rules. “Hailey and Kailey,” Schiti responds. “Oh, God. All right,” the first begrudges. And they roll it.

Megaton 101

If there was any doubt that this comic has a strong satirical aspect, the intro to Duemila video should clearly put it to rest. The title is “Il Mondo del (The World of) Duemila for Dummies Women with Hailey & Kailey.” And on the screen, two disembodied faces with oversized mouths and pink hues say hello to each other: “Hi, Kailey!” “Hi, Hailey!” When the title screen becomes background and we see the two women in a medium long shot, they are shaped and dressed like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. They begin by simply discussing the proper name for the game, but then go on to express how tickled your men will be when you fool them into thinking you share their passion for Megaton and that you’ll help him succeed at the office.

There are a number of assumptions and stereotypes in this video. 1) Women are dummies (see title). 2) Women would not have any reason to care about Megaton for themselves; they should only care about the effect caring, or pretending to do so, will have on their husbands or potential male mates. 3) Proper attire for a woman wanting to convince men of her dedication to Megaton (and them) is a push-up halter top and short skirt.

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Pages 13

The inmates are being shown this video on Bitch Planet. Kamau questions the choice with SO Whitney. “Best we could do, I’m afraid,” she responds. Kam asks about the other requests, to which Whitney says, “We’ve made a good faith gesture. Now it’s your turn.” The tension of whose play it is builds a game motif that stacks with the rules of Megaton. I can’t help think of Baudrillard with this: the simulacra of Megaton is used by the Fathers to hide the fact that society is a game.

Kamau knows this, but so does Whitney. Kamau’s next move is to ask why Whitney doesn’t wear the protective, plastic mask the other guards do. Kam mentions “protectorate militia don’t wear them,” indicating to Whitney that Kamau recognizes her as militia. Whitney says her office requires certain sacrifices, that “exposed skin builds trust.” But Kamau refutes that: “No one trusts you.” Whitney responds simply, “You will.”

The exposed skin comment makes me think of Hailey and Kailey. Which really just highlights the question of when exposed skin creates trust and when it shows vulnerability and are they different or just two ways of expressing the same idea. A scantily clad woman looks vulnerable. She gives an image of powerlessness through that exposure. Whitney’s exposure is finely measured out to promote trust but not powerlessness.

Meanwhile the guards are setting up barriers along the open gym floor.

Pages 14-15

Back to the video in a two-page spread. Now Hailey and Kailey are getting into the rules of the game. The two of them are captured in cheerleader poses. Meanwhile, the rest of the bodies in the video are male athletes. They are also wearing halter tops and short shorts. It shows off their muscles. The effect isn’t quite the same as with the women–the skin exposure doesn’t make them look vulnerable, largely because they are drawn in athletic poses accentuating their muscles. But don’t be mistaken, they are still objectified. These men are entertainers. They can gain judges favor through athleticism or showmanship. They are tools for making money and focusing society. They distract society from recognizing that their lives are also a game.

Duemila rules


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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.

Page 6

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.


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Comic Review: Bitch Planet #4

Bitchplanet_04Is there any greater compliment for art of any sort than to say that when I finished reading Bitch Planet #4, I felt energized. Indeed I was all fired up despite being on day 4 of some sort of intestinal bug and in week 34 of pregnancy. From a comic book.

So kudos to Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine deLandro for an issue that keeps upping the ante and pace of the first two (BP #3 was a kind of origin story issue out of the regular plot’s timeline). Kudos to DeConnick for a letter to the readership addressing the backlash of a few vocal male fans on Twitter to readers permanently tattooing themselves with the NC logo. Kudos to Mikki Kendall for a spot-on, insightful essay on the many hierarchies of oppression in culture and how feminism needs to look straight into its dark recesses to better support its overlooked and undersupported members. Kudos to a wonderful collection of reader feedback that not only shows the book due love but also builds a community of voices.

Cover to cover, this issue just spins!

As advertised in the last issue, #4 offers the genre exploitative shower scene. In fact, there are two. And according to the letter to readers from DeConnick, getting them right was what pushed back publication on this issue. Artist deLandro spoke to the difficulty of balancing the female form, the sexuality, and mastering the use of male gaze in a wonderful interview at Comicosity: Game Changers. DeLandro offers up his experience in drawing the women of Bitch Planet:

I’m trying to avoid that salaciousness. It was harder in the beginning, but now it’s becoming a little more natural to draw the women and not try to sexualize them. It’s one of those things I thought would be easy until I had to do it. I realized that I have a lot of bad habits, looking [at] attractive women and translating that to the page. And it’s not that the women I’m drawing aren’t attractive, but it’s seeing them in a different way. Trying to translate that onto the page authentically is challenging.

The shower scenes have four different depictions of women in them–the break-down of which I’ll get into in my analysis of the issue in a coming post–and deLandro manages a continuum of non-sexualized to sexualized to masterful effect. I adore that deLandro has recognized his own habitual gaze and has been transformed by drawing this comic into an artist who can pull off the deft handling of the shower scenes. Even if it meant reworking it three times to make sure it was right. I’m a big fan of art as a process.

In addition, the issue offers the rules of Duemila as mansplained via Barbies. Kam continues to put together her team, which introduces tension and some secrets. The info graphic explanation of the rules in both satirically hilarious and ironically disturbing.

BP4Duemila

And the final pages offer a satisfying action scene in the style of Pam Grier with the cherry on top of a character reveal.

This issue is not to be missed!