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Bitch Planet #3 Analysis Part 4

BitchPlanet_03 coverIn Bitch Planet Issue 3, Kelly Sue DeConnick teams with guest artist Robert Wilson IV to present the events that lead to Penny Rolle landing in the eponymous outpost penitentiary. Did she kill someone considering her frequent entries into melee with guards? Did she do something equally dangerous within society? Well, yes, but not at all what a reader might expect. Spoilers ahead! If you’d like to read part 1 of this analysis, click here. You can find part 2 here. And part 3 here.

Pages 20-21

The two infuriating conversations continue. The woman who ordered the absurd muffin to split three ways is now calorie counting with her two companions. 15 calories each. One brags that she “evac’d 12 ounces two days in a row” using a toilet scale. The blond remarks that she envys her bowls. Gross. The other, a brunette, says she’d trade them for the blond’s hair. This is what compliant women do–deflect praise with another compliment, saying my good isn’t as good as your good. Also gross.  Intercut is the racist man at the other table finishing his analogy from the previous page, spelling out oh so clearly that having sex with a “skin” is akin to the same with a baboon. (Wow. What a total douchebag.)bp3 p20

The dough cannot absorb Penny’s rage. She busts out from behind the counter, cracks the screen playing The Feed, and yells at both tables to get out. The racist calls her a crazy bitch. The guy who had complained about the late open tells her he’s calling the cops on her–“Your life is over!” “Good!” Penny responds and cracks the racist’s jaw with her rolling pin. “I didn’t much like this life anyway.”

This is, of course, the act that is going to get her thrown into Bitch Planet. But I’m not sure Bitch Planet is any worse than what her life was like before. In some ways, the outpost is more straightforward about its expectations. It’s more real, despite the giant pink holograms.

Pages 22-23

The three women are in panic. Penny repeats to them to get out. She adds, “And take the muffins!”

But that’s not the important part of this page, just a funny closing to the previous bit of action. The Feed is still playing, though the screen is now cracked in the shape of a spider’s web. They’ve come back to the story of the terrorist arrest. The image of a large, muscular white man with blond, curly hair, including a ringlet that hangs in his face just like Penny’s is shown while snippets of info get presented: “44-year old,” “gender terrorist,” miscegenation,” and “the size of an oak.” This has to be Penny’s father. She looks at the screen in shock and dismay. Then she touches that non-compliant lock of hair. Now the government has everyone in her family. She’s alone.

Also, I want to know more about how I can become a gender terrorist.

Back in the present, the guards are finishing hooking up the ideal-self-image machine. The images of the judges has been replaced by images from her past. The woman from The Feed, one of the split muffin women, a woman who must be Penny’s mother, Penny’s father, the guy who threatened turned her in to the cops. It is unclear if she is visually zoning out the judges or the machine has read these memories and is projecting them.

Penny begins to think, “I wish you could see me…”

The judges’ voices now come in as a broadcast, at a distance. They tell her it’s time, that “visualization is key to achieving our objectives,” that they are trying to help her. She exclaims, “No!” and emphasizes how much this is a violation of her mind by the government.

Penny then finishes the thought, “…the way I see myself.” I’m unclear whether this is her own thought or an echo of a mentor, like her mother.

Page 24

The final page reveals that her “Idealized Actualization” is the exact woman she already is, except laughing heartily and without the machine hooked to her.

The judges are surprised. One asks if this is a mistake. Another says to send her to the outpost, that this is a waste of time.

Penny thinks back to her grandmother’s words: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” She adds, “I ain’t broke…And you bastards ain’t never gonna break me.” The issue ends with the great Penny smile we know and love.

Now, I wasn’t surprised by the reveal. But that didn’t matter much, because when it comes to women and self-image, having an idealized self-image that matches what we really are is akin to a superpower. It is truly difficult to accept our bodies as they are without any caveats or wishes that some small part wasn’t different. The images of media we are surrounded by continually point us to an image that a minuscule number of women can actually meet. So here we have a mixed race woman who doesn’t meet any of the beauty standards of her society. She’s been robbed of her family, but she is confident in who she is. She has both the body and the mind of an oak, inherited from that family she remains loyal to.

Seriously, she is my hero. And her powers of self-acceptance are rival to the combination of flight, invulnerability, and strength Wonder Woman has.

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Bitch Planet #3 Analysis Part 3

BitchPlanet_03 coverIn Bitch Planet Issue 3, Kelly Sue DeConnick teams with guest artist Robert Wilson IV to present the events that lead to Penny Rolle landing in the eponymous outpost penitentiary. Did she kill someone considering her frequent entries into melee with guards? Did she do something equally dangerous within society? Well, yes, but not at all what a reader might expect. Spoilers ahead! If you’d like to read part 1 of this analysis, click here. You can find part 2 here.

Pages 14-15

Back in the judgement room of the present, Penny is standing with her hands up while black, armored guards apply sensors to her face and forehead. The judges explain that this is an experiment and then go on to spout some scientific mumbo-jumbo like you’d find in your basic sci-fi setting. The upshot here is that these sensors will read electrical impulses through her body and interpret via algorithms what Penny sees in her mind’s eye. One of the judges is quite excited by the scientific advancement and possibilities of this technology. He fails to understand that this is a violation of Penny’s body and privacy. She is clearly not so excited.

“What pictures are you trying to get out of my head?” One judge says, “Nothing private, of course.” Another puts forth, “We want to see how you see your ideal self.” I end up wondering how this isn’t the most private of all information we store in our brains. But this is the disconnect of the Fathers to individuals. They believe the body is public and theirs to make compliant. An individual’s sense of self is of less value than the Father’s sense of that person’s self. Siebertling related as much on the previous page when she told Penny, “You need to learn to see yourself through the Fathers’ eyes.” The judges intend to use this information to compare where she is to where she wants to be and make a treatment plan from it.

“How long since you imagined what your life could be like if you were more compliant, Penelope?” one judge asks. “How long since you prioritized how others see you?” The guards have brought out something shrouded in cloth and placed it in front of Penny. She responds to the judge’s questions with a simple, “I dunno…” This takes us into the next flashback.

Pages 16-17

The bridge into the flashback finishes Penny’s answer, “…s’been a while.” Penny is working in a bakery and having a minor fight with a curl that doesn’t want to stay in her headkerchief. It’s that hair metaphor again. The bandanna keeps most of her hair out of the way, but part of it just doesn’t want to comply.

She wipes off the sneeze-guard in front of the muffins to reveal an overweight white man with hands and face pressed up against the glass. “We need the Feed,” he says, surprising Penny to say the least.

It’s initially unclear whether the Feed he refers to is food-related. He admonishes her for opening late, pointing out it’s the second morning in a row and if her muffins weren’t so good he’d talk to her “old man about this.” Although previously Penny had been apologizing, now she laughs a little and states she’s “state-sponsored.” This makes me think of old school patriarchies where women couldn’t go anywhere without consent and protection of a father, brother, or husband. Could not she just open a bakery on her own? Apparently not, since the expectations is a man owns the business, and when that isn’t met, we find the government sponsors it. The man takes a moment to find the words but then has the last word by saying, “All the more reason to be on the ball, all right? Feeds up by 7 a.m.”

We finally see what the Feed is referring to with a shot of a large screen television. A blonde woman, dressed in pink like some cross of the Bitch Planet holograms and Mother Siebertling, announces, “…more on that breaking story after these messages on The Feed!” It’s unclear whether this man is just a big The Feed fan or there is some requirement by the Fathers for everyone in society to watch The Feed. I suspect, like with many aspects of this society, there is an encouraged compulsion by the government without them ever putting forth in so many words that it is law. But not watching The Feed might be an indicator of non-compliance, and thus watching would be one way for citizens to keep themselves safe from too much Fatherly attention.

In the background is Penny’s infamous tattoo–Born Big–painted on the wall. Clearly this is the name of her shop, a personal stamp on a state-sponsored bakery.

Page 18-19

The woman behind the man wanting his 7 a.m. Feed makes a snide remark. “God forbid folks use their private screens and leave the rest of us in peace.” The man points his finger in the air: “Private screens don’t build community.” The woman rolls her eyes at this, and the man calls her on it. “Did you just roll your eyes at me?” “…No,” the woman responds, but as he walks away, fear is clear in her stance and facial expression. This man could turn her in by filing a complaint about her non-compliance. Penny attempts to prevent this by offering the man a free muffin, “grandma’s recipe–with a thanks for The Feed reminder.”

bp p18It’s tough imagining Penny lasting many days in a row eating crow at the hands of douchebags. The rest of these two pages make that crystal clear with two complementary motifs.

  1. The Feed is running a story on a parasitic worm diet. The guest calls getting a gastrointestinal parasite a “dream come true.” Meanwhile, a overly smiley young woman asks for a “sugar-free, salt-free, gluten-free muffin and three plates.” Both of these story elements highlight the lengths women will go to for thinness. Both are surface level absurd, but half of all teenage girls participate in unhealthy eating habits in the name of weight loss. 25% of college women binge and purge to control weight. And parasites aren’t nearly as “unsightly” as vomiting.
  2. The man who complained about the late opening is now sitting with another white guy. He opens conversation by judging Penny’s appearance, noting it’s no surprise she’s state-sponsored. “Who wants to come home to that?” His table mate begins spouting racist stereotypes about sexual preferences. He calls black people “skins” and gives some of the oldest stereotypes–they like them big, they’re animalistic, wild.

bp3 p19fullPenny’s getting angrier and angrier, taking out her violent tendencies on the dough she’s kneeding. But in the midst of this chaotic cutting from one flawed aspect of human perception to another, The Feed has dropped in a tidbit that will become important: “We’ll update a developing story on a terrorist arrest 16 years in the making.”

To be continued in part 4.


Bitch Planet #3 Analysis Part 2

BitchPlanet_03 coverIn Bitch Planet Issue 3, Kelly Sue DeConnick teams with guest artist Robert Wilson IV to present the events that lead to Penny Rolle landing in the eponymous outpost penitentiary. Did she kill someone considering her frequent entries into melee with guards? Did she do something equally dangerous within society? Well, yes, but not at all what a reader might expect. Spoilers ahead! If you’d like to read part 1 of this analysis, click here.

Pages 8-9

Penny is clearly getting more angry as one of the judges gives us the culmination of the previous pages’ story: “You were adopted by the state when you were…nine–” “Eight,” she corrects. Another judge sarcastically praises God that she speaks. Penny continues to reshape their version of events: “I was eight years old when they took me.” Of course, this is our understanding of the event as well, since we clearly saw that it wasn’t necessity that put her in state care. She had a family who lovingly took care of her, but the Fathers ripped her away from her home.

Although not explicitly related, this makes me think of Native American children who were pulled from their homes and sent to BIA boarding schools. In one tribe, the Utes of Colorado and Utah, the net effect of being confined to a reservation and the loss of their children was a 50% suicide rate in adults. Our US Government did that. This is part of why Bitch Planet rings so true. History and current portrayals and treatment of women show it to be entirely plausible.

One of the judges corrects her. “Took you in. Penelope, everything your Fathers have done has been for your protection. You were a child. The woman who birthed you–” Penny interrupts, full of anger, “My mother. You’re talking about my mother!” The inset of the judge, matched to Penny’s enraged eye line, covers his mouth and seems to reevaluate Penny’s condition. Although the Fathers see Penny’s mother as “a very sad case…delusional, and dangerous, refus[ing] to see the truth before her,” Penny, as we already know, saw her mother as strong. There is a bond and love there that changing the semantics of won’t change. The judge reveals his new evaluation: “And quite frankly, we are concerned that you are too far gone down that same path.”

Seeing that the previous judge is failing to reach Penny, another shifts the groups’ line of questioning. “Are you happy, Penelope?” Another continues, “All we want is to help you be happy. Why do you insist on making your own life so difficult? Why must you be so angry?” Happiness, for these men, is a compliant smile. Penny was happy, living with her grandma. Perhaps she was happy with her mother too. But those things have been taken from her. Others’ ideas of what is appropriate for women in society have been repeatedly forced upon her, and when she attempts to just be herself, to be happy, society steps in to correct her in the myriad ways they do–shaming, contempt, pity, and charges of non-compliance. Penny’s eyes are featured again, this time with increasing anger at the hypocrisy in front of her. The eyes take us into another flashback. The bridge between pages is people yelling, “Penelope!” at her.

Pages 10-11

Again we have the large half-tone dots to indicate the shift in time. Penelope, now looking more like her grandmother from the previous flashback with shoulder-length curls and an impressive height, is standing over a boy she has just bloodied the nose and blackened the eye of. A blonde teacher or administrator, named Mother Siebertling, calls her into her office. This is apparently high school. Though the mostly white crowd of other students were initially disturbed by Penny’s show of violence, as Siebertling takes Penny away, they watch with smirks on their faces.

This scene resonates strongly with Bitch Planet. Siebertling is similar, though corporeal, to the pink hologram of the Catholic nun. Like most high schools, this one is a microcosm of society, and this is our introduction to how society at large might view and respond to Penny. We’ll see more of this in upcoming pages.

In Siebertling’s office, there’s an interesting cross-role presented in Siebertling. She is the mistress here, thus making her similar to the administrative holograms at the prison outpost, but the various pictures featured behind her desk remind me of the pictures shown to Kamau of Marian’s life while they were attempting to break Kamau into confessing (absent, of course, are the sex pictures). This is a reminder that while Siebertling is the administrator here, she is also under the same oppressive rules of society we see on all the other women. She is middle-management. Her non-compliance would be met harshly. Luckily, she seems to fit the perfect standard of beauty and femininity–blonde, blue-eyed, thin, white, clothing that shows her figure and skin.

Siebertling opens the conversation with a question parallel to the ones the judges were asking: “Why can you not control these violent impulses of yours?” “He was talking about my grandma.” “Ahhhh. Mrs. Chester Alexander rears her fat ugly head once again.” Reading this condescending, judgmental, and patriarchal (Grandma is identified in reference to her relationship to her husband, which gives her two masculine names) dismissal of Penny’s grandmother, I can’t help but ironically note the impressive control over violent tendencies Penny is showing in the face of Siebertling. Rather than get angry outwardly, Penny merely corrects Siebertling by saying, “…Bertha…” She goes on to explain that Grandma was “Alberta” but liked to be called “Bertha.” Siebertling condescendingly and unsympathetically states that once again “Mrs. Chester Alexander doesn’t get what she wants.”

I find it interesting that “Bertha” is a name frequently connected to fat women. And certainly, Penny’s grandma fits that description. But by wanting to be called this, Bertha is owning that identity and refusing to feel shame about it. It seems similar to taking a racial slur or demeaning label and re-contextualizing it to take ownership of it. You know, like the comic does with the word “bitch.” (wink)bp3 p11

Page 12-13

Siebertling goes on to tell Penny that blind loyalty is the act of a fool. “You’re not a fool…are you?” Then we learn that this is because the boy Penny punched was teasing her about the arrest of Bertha, news that she might not have known previously. Siebertling says she had wanted to keep the news of the arrest from Penny. She condescendingly states, “I’m sorry that I failed you.” It sorta needs a “#sorrynotsorry” tagged on it.

In the background is a set of Greek letters indicating Siebertling’s membership in a sorority. Sororities are society’s acceptable representations of sisterhood, playing into traditional views of beauty, femininity, and gender roles. They’re not revolutionary sisterhoods. In fact, much of the violence perpetrated by men on women on college campuses happens within the Greek organizations. More amusingly, her sorority seems to be ZOD. As in “kneel before.” bp3 p12

Then the scene oddly turns to Penny’s hair. If it weren’t for the fact that Siebertling puts on a pair of surgical gloves, this might seem like a nurturing turn, like Siebertling was a mother combing her child’s hair. “What are we going to do with this hair of yours, hm?” she asks Penny rhetorically with a brush in her hand. Bertha’s words echo in Penny’s head: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Penny asks Siebertling what’s wrong with it. Siebertling says “nothing” but then goes on to describe all the things wrong with it. In doing so, she sets up a clear metaphor between the hair and Penny. “It refuses to behave.” Some of the metaphorically elements are a little on the nose, but they tell us more about Penny. “What’s it supposed to do?” Penny asks. “Either curl up or lay down, perhaps?” Siebertling answers, suggesting Penny ought to conform to society’s expectations–submit. Then Siebertling goes on to give us a hint to a reveal to come: “It’s not black or white, good or bad. Folks don’t know what to make of it because they don’t know what it is.” Substitute “you” for “it,” and we’re just talking about Penny. We find out later her father was white. Because she doesn’t conform to society’s standards, Penny is difficult to label or understand. In short, Penny is marginalized on a couple of levels.

Penny knows Siebertling is talking about her, not her hair. “Why folks gotta say what I am, Mother? Ain’t it enough to know who I am?” True freedom of identity would focus on who she is. But this is a society of judgement, evaluation, and punishment. As far as this society is concerned, only one label really applies to Penny–non-compliant. Siebertling drops the hair metaphor: “No, Penny. It doesn’t work like that. You need to learn to see yourself through the Father’s eyes. And I will teach you, Penny. I will teach you, if it kills us both.” bp3 p13

Obviously, this is a threatening statement, and the question Siebertling next asks–“You know what comes next, don’t you?”–coupled with the shadow stance over Penny underline the threat. This is the punishment for Penny’s violent outburst. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to read the inset image to get a concrete idea of what that threat is. Is the tool Siebertling picks up a razor to shave her hair? The “tzt” sound effect seems to say so. Or is it a hair straightener to bring her hair in line? Thus the punishment is more moral than physical? I’d love to have a clearer picture of what happens next.

Siebertling’s message is clear, and it’s one that has repeated throughout this issue. Penny’s sense of self needs to submit to the Fathers’ view of her.


Bitch Planet #3 Analysis Part 1

BitchPlanet_03 coverIn Bitch Planet Issue 3, Kelly Sue DeConnick teams with guest artist Robert Wilson IV to present the events that lead to Penny Rolle landing in the eponymous outpost penitentiary. Did she kill someone considering her frequent entries into melee with guards? Did she do something equally dangerous within society? Well, yes, but not at all what a reader might expect. Spoilers ahead!

Page 1

Penny stands solid and tall, fists clenched, stance wide, ready to defend herself. She dwarfs the two guards flanking her behind barred panels which turn out to be screens of the same sort we saw in Issue 2’s scene of Kamau being tortured. Robert Wilson IV, our guest artist, has drawn lines leading out from Penny, emphasizing her strength of presence and will. As she stands here, she thinks, “I can’t see you, but I feel you judging me.” An inset image of a close up on her eye gives her gaze importance before we move to the next few pages where she will be looked at, judged by at least 40 eyes.

Pages 2-3

All 40 eyes belong to men. Most are white, but there appear to be at least two black men. These are not her peers, though this is clearly a trial. What is Penny on trial for? “Insubordination, assault, assault, assault, repeated citations for aesthetic offenses, capillary disfigurement, wanton obesity.” The judge reading these charges finishes by commenting, “Good God, woman.” Although I personally think it ought to be “Good God-woman.”

The men on the screens around him have varying looks of shock, disbelief, and disgust on their faces. One actually shields his eyes from her image. Attention is given to him by placing him just above the inset of Penny’s eye. I suspect he’s blocking her because she offends him, but it is a similar pose to when one wants to block a light that’s too bright. And certainly Penny is that, a light that shines far too brightly for their designation of womanhood, a group of people that should be pretty only by their standards, who should confine themselves to an acceptable size and shape. Penny is not that. She is the size of the sun and just as shiny.bp3page2

I’m at a loss for what capillary disfigurement might be, whether she disfigured herself (seems unlike her character) or if she disfigured someone else’s. In any case, the judge continues his shaming of Penny by asking, “What have you done to yourself?” His tone is condescending, and Penny’s eye, a repeat of the close up from the previous page, narrows in response.

Another judge asks, “Penelope…Do you know why you’re here?” At this question, Penny closes her eyes, head tipping downward, a grimace on her face. She does not answer, but clearly the question has pushed her from angry defiance into a different emotional territory. A third judge tells her, “You’re being given a chance, Penelope. A ‘thank you’ would be nice.” The judge who read the offenses says, “Penelope, your Fathers love you. It pains us to see you like this.” Another judge adds, “All we want to do is help you. Penny’s eyes remain closed at these words though her grimace is gone. Their condescension and hypocrisy have pushed back whatever pain was coming toward the surface. She thinks merely, “Help.” A word whose connotations of support and care don’t apply in this situation, not from these men. The ambiguity of it standing alone builds suspense as we move into flashback territory on the next pages. Does Penny want help? Surely not from these men, but perhaps from somewhere else?

Page 4-5

The word “…help” gets repeated as transition into a flashback of Penny as a child. She’s looks around 9 or 10 (though we will later find out she’s only 8), a large child but pre-pubescent. The style of art has changed to visually indicate the flashback. Rather than the solid-looking colors of the present, the flashback has a large half-tone dot pattern. Penny is baking with her grandma. Penny is stirring batter. Her grandmother asks, “Your arm tired? You need Grandma’s help?” Even at this age, Penny is independent. “I can do it,” she states. Her grandmother then plants a line that will come back to have powerful resonance later in the issue: “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” She continues, “But it’s okay if you want some help.” Penny softens, “Maybe you could do the rest of this one.” Grandma knowingly “mm-hm”s. Penny doesn’t want to be soft though: “I’m pretty strong though.” Grandma offers encouragement: “You keep working as hard as you do and you’ll be as big and strong as an oak. Like your daddy.” And here we get a sense of something tender to the touch about the subject of parents when Penny responds, looking down, “My mom is strong.” Grandma is momentarily without words. Then she merely confirms the statement. What’s the story behind this moment? Given the society and future Penny, perhaps Mom has been declared non-compliant too based on aspects of her strength. Bitch-Planet-3 Penny and Grandma

But the moment is gone. Grandma has noticed Penny is accidentally dipping her curls in the batter. It creates a moment of both tension and humor. The humor is the slapstick of the batter flying around the kitchen while Grandma tries to get Penny to hold still to keep from spraying the batter every which way. But there’s a tension in the moment as well. A well-meaning response to an accidental situation creating an even worse set of problems. I end up wondering what this moment might be analogous to. Something with Penny’s mother or father?

Pages 6-7

The humor is increased on the next page as Penny begins to giggle and Grandma starts a food fight in return. What we learn from this scene: Grandma is supportive, helpful, forgiving, and fun. This makes the next page all the more painful when Grandma goes outside to see what the dog is barking at, sees four armed men charging for the door. They are a S.W.A.T.-like team. Their vehicles are armored with police lights on top. These are the police and they are coming after a baking grandmother and her granddaughter. Grandma, eyes wide, body frozen in a dog-petting crouch, says simply, “Penny…RUN.”

Grandma understands the threat these men pose. What happens to her is left a mystery. Does she get taken into police custody and jailed? Is she killed as she attempts to protect and allow Penny to escape? I can imagine both of these scenarios playing out.

The sudden shift of mood over these pages is heart-breaking–loving fun to destructive menace. Penny had a stable, loving home-life, but because her grandmother was obese–we don’t get any further indication of how she might be non-compliant or a threat to society–Penny is taken by the government.

But most crucial to these pages is the contrast between the “help” and “love” offered by the Council–one that comes with condescension and expectations of conformation and compliance–and the actual help and love offered by Penny’s grandmother. Penny was taken, but what was taken from her by the Fathers can never be recovered. Penny is technically the criminal here, but the crime against Penny is clear in these pages and hits as hard (or more so) than the crime against Marian by her husband and Solanza in the first issue. Mmm, that’s some good irony.

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Bitch Planet #2 Analysis Part 4

bitchplanet_2_cvrHere’s the finale of the analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. Spoilers for pages 17-24. If you’d like to see Part I, click here. For Part II, go here. For Part III, here.

Pages 17-21

This section all takes place in what seems to be the prison’s exercise room. The foreground and background tell two different but mirroring stories. As does the room as a setting. Kamau is running on a treadmill, though since it doesn’t have noticeable controls, I assume the speed is set by the controllers of the prison. Even in exercise, the women cannot choose their own speed. Perhaps they are assigned an exercise too. We see Violet and then Penny join Kamau, but Penny falls behind the speed and is threatened by a guard in the background. More on that later. Meanwhile, in the way back, large groups of women are doing group stretching. A ginormous screen shows them a woman with pink hair, leotard, and leg warmers and a magazine-ideal body type leading the group through the exercises. She bends and poses in ways that accentuate her chest and butt in sexy ways. She is an exercise model of the patriarchy, of the Fathers.

Violet is there to encourage Kamau to accept the offer of making a Megaton team. Kamau asks, “You think there’s a win there? Getting your ass handed to you on the feed to teach the world a lesson in compliance.” Kamau sees it as a probable public flogging. Their loss would be used by the Fathers to further acceptance of compliance rules. Violet sees it differently. “Doesn’t have to go down like that. Women lose if they play the game the way the men play. Distribute the weight right, pick the right players, and we could win. I’ve put together a roster for you. Our movement–” Kamau interrupts to point out she’s not part of this movement, and Violet points out that Kamau should be part of it. Violet sees the Megaton field as another place to be non-compliant. Women lose if they play by the men’s rules. But women don’t have to play by those rules. Women could win if they used their assets correctly and focused their resources. Kamau is not convinced. Violet finally asks, “What do we lose if we try?” to which Kamau responds, “Our dignity.”

Meanwhile, Penny, who has been threatened by the guard, has taken the guard’s baton and turned it on him. Three more guards, all in silhouette, join the melee. At the end of the conversation with Kamau, Violet noticed Penny is now being overpowered by the guards and leaves to join that background melee. There is a question hanging around the melee now–if Penny loses this battle, does she lose her dignity? Or is it less dignified to simply play by the rules the guards lay out without fighting back?meikosproposal

Now Meiko joins Kamau on the treadmills. She too says Kamau should do it. Kamau says, “There’s no way to win.” “Who cares?” Meiko responds. “I care. I’m not dancing for the entertainment of the Council,” Kamau says. Clearly Kamau doesn’t want to be anyone’s puppet. That’s a loss of dignity. But Meiko’s got more specific goals wherein a loss of dignity to could be a means to an end. She asks to be put on the team. Kamau points out she’s tiny, not an athletic asset. Meiko says to use Penny to balance her. Meiko shows her hand: the big finale will be on a ship and half the council will be in attendance–if something happened… And we fill in the blank–half of the council could be wiped out in one blow. “So what?” Kamau doesn’t see what this has to do with a NC team in Megaton. “I designed that ship,” Meiko reveals. And that bit of information changes everything. Kamau stops running.


Meanwhile, Penny’s melee has grown. It appears that one whole group of stretchers has joined the fray. Penny’s resistance to running at the required speed has turned into a prison riot. And the mirroring of the foreground and background shows just how a single act can change the whole group dynamic. Meiko’s suggestion to sabotage the ship on live television, if it is successful, could be exactly like this. Women and men who are oppressed and marginalized by the compliance rules could see this as a call to enter the fray and change society’s dynamic.

Page 22

Kamau has requested escort to Specials. Specials accepts. We see that Operative Whitney has a woman in a back room cuffed to a table with blood on her legs. Whitney has blood on her gloves. Is she torturing the woman? Punishing? The ambiguity is frightening.

Kamau says she’ll make the team but that she has conditions. She wants her assets freed and made available to her family. She also wants a list of all the inmates with their stats and weights. Finally, she wants the name of Marian’s real killer. Whitney tells Kamau that she killed Marian, and Kam begins to walk away, saying she’s out. Whitney backtracks, says she’ll make the call.bp2acceptance

We see Kamau exercising some power in this interaction, though Whitney makes it clear Kamau’s powers are limited. Still Whitney commits to at least attempting to get these things for Kamau, and that’s not nothing. Kamau deftly navigates the subtly art of playing hard to get. If she’s in for Meiko’s plan, then Kamau might have just gone in seemingly reading to play their game their way. But instead she does a kind of dance about conditions with Whitney that gains her things she wants and also makes her sudden willingness to go forward with Megaton less suspect.

Page 23-24

Back on Earth, Father Josephson’s office. He is interrupted by the news that Ricky Fontenot, star athlete of the Megaton games has died on the field on national television. Half the world watching. Josephson, while initially playing the sympathy card, immediately wants to see the feed of coverage and is delighted to find that this tragic news has increased the engagement of the people. Ratings are through the roof. His smile, genuine, mirrors the smile of the newscaster, fake, while video of Ricky’s mother crying and grimacing plays behind him. But his back is to her. His concern is with his ratings. With engagement. Ricky’s death serves a purpose in the framework of his goals.

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Bitch Planet #2 Analysis Part 3

Here’s more of the continuing analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. Spoilers for pages 12-16. If you’d like to see Part I, click here. For Part II, go here.

Pages 12-13

Special Operative Whitney enters the room and introduces herself to Kamau. Her dialogue subtly sets up a power inequity: she calls Kamau the diminutive “Kam” but calls herself “Miss Whitney,” suggesting power through formality and use of last name. Whitney looks like she just walked out of Halo, wearing her full body armor and club. Kamau doesn’t know what to say, but she takes on a fighting stance in response to Whitney’s appearance.

Reading that this isn’t going to be an effective approach to Kamau, the Operative overrides the current room configuration and runs “Southern Georgia Morning.” The holographic configuration, temperature, and relative humidity change to mimic the program’s title. Whitney offers Kamau some sweet tea. Yes, Kamau would be thirsty after 18 hours of solitary without rest, food, or drink. But Kamau distrusts the tea. Whitney points out that if they had wanted to drug her, they wouldn’t need to slip it into tea. Kamau drinks greedily, letting the tea run down her chin in her need to get it in fast.

The initial assumption by both Kamau and reader is that Whitney figures Kamau is from Georgia, this is meant to make her feel at ease and at home. But Kamau points out that she’s not from Georgia–so was this a stereotypical assumption by the Operative? “No, but…” Whitney begins as she takes off her helmet, an initial act of making herself more visible, vulnerable, and relatable.

Pages 14-15

“I am,” Whitney finishes, giving Kamau a smile while doves fly on the screens behind her. The intended message is clear: she comes in peace, she is a friend, she is showing her personal side to establish that friendship. However, this effect is undermined by the heavy shadow employed artistically on her face. It suggests ulterior motive or split personality.

Kamau is not taken in. She tells Whitney she didn’t kill Marian Collins, but Whitney throws her for a loop by saying she’s not here for a confession but to offer an opportunity. The Operative goes on to give us some welcome background on Kamau: she was a professional athlete before the New Protectorate. What a name…New Protectorate. It suggests some protection-motivated New Deal. Of course, from what we’ve seen, it amounts to fascism. Given it’s supposed purpose of protection, it likely became law through fear–like how the Patriot Act saw little resistance after 9/11. Kamau is annoyed at the Operative’s use of questions to confirm information she already knows.

The Operative goes on to say, “The Fathers are big fans. Not of you specifically of course–that’s absurd–of sport, in general. Sport builds character. The ancient Greeks believed athletic prowess an indicator of moral authority.” Whitney tack here is odd. On the one hand, she’s attempting to build Kamau up with the line about sports building character, to feed her ego a bit before dropping the proposal. But on the other hand, her deliberate reference to the Fathers being fans of Kamau as an absurdity belittles Kamau, showing that the Fathers are above Kamau. Taken together, Whitney appears to want Kamau in a middle ground–confident but malleable.

Again, Kamau is not taken in by the Operative’s tricks. bp 2 14

Her critique of the Fathers’ assumptions about sports building character maligns their specific penis-oriented style of patriarchy.

Meanwhile, in the background of this conversation, Operative Whitney has been idly playing with or feeding nuts to a holographic squirrel. This changes at the top of page 15 when another squirrel comes along to fight over the nuts. There is biting and bloodshed. One squirrel survives, one does not.

Foregrounding the change in squirrel niceties is a shift in the conversation to Megaton, though it is not named. Whitney begins by parroting the opening speech by Father Josephson. But she goes on to make a direct analogy to society: “Order, fairness, structure…and of course, the spoils to the victor…These are the tenets on which our society is formed.” I wonder what society she’s talking about, throwing “fairness” in. Kamau likewise has a cynical view of it: “That’s why viewing is compulsory. Indoctrination.” But Whitney corrects her, saying, “Nothing is compulsory. Free will is paramount. But free will comes with the burden of consequences, Kam. No good Father has ever promised otherwise.”bp 2 15

Interesting thought, that. What’s free will do in the face of overwhelming consequences? Where does free will go when propaganda and re-programming are unavoidable? It seems like free will here survives only through a technicality.

Then Whitney goes on to spout some true paradoxical propaganda: “What you mistake for cruelty is, in actuality, love, expressed in–” Kamau cuts her off, recognizing the lies for what they are–doublespeak. “Love look like a dead squirrel to you?” Kamau’s question points directly at a “love” that is filled with violence. The dead squirrel is a metaphor for the abusive relationship between Fathers and society, especially women.

Whitney attempts to clarify what she was saying, but Kamau wants to cut to the chase, pushing Whitney to do so through a threat of physical violence that no one would confuse for an act of love. Finally Whitney says it: “We want you to form a team.”

Page 16

Whitney offers a two-prong case: the prison is expensive and the women need purpose. Duemila could be the dual solution. The irony and injustice is not missed on Kamau: “You want a bunch of girls to get their asses beat to pay for the system that locks them up.” Whitney tries to explain that the Council is not anti-women, but Kamau flat out refuses. Whitney tries again, this time saying that a meaningful gesture like this could garner her special consideration regarding her crime. Kamau insists she didn’t kill anyone and she certainly doesn’t need Whitney to tell her what’s in her best interest.

Now, we don’t know why Kamau is on Bitch Planet in the first place. Though it seems unlikely, she might even be the one in the transport during Issue #1 who voluntarily signed up.

Finally Operative Whitney pulls her trump card. “You have a brother, I believe?” Kamau is momentarily stunned, then says, “No. No, I don’t.” But clearly Whitney has touched a nerve. Kamau falls silent and turns to the wall (a literal manifestation of the one she’s now up against). Whitney pulls back on the helmet and leaves Kamau to her weighing of options.


Bitch Planet #2 Analysis Part 2

Here comes the continuing analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. Spoilers for pages 6-11! If you’d like to see Part I, click here.

Pages 6-7

The title page repeats the imagery from Issue #1 of the women entering Bitch Planet, having been stripped of clothing, showered, they’re now greeted by one of the Barbie-pink hologram women. The unattributed dialogue bridges the two scenes. It could be the welcome greeting to the women, but it also seems to be a continuation of the conversation between Solanza and Father Josephson: “Tell us how you can be of service…The Fathers are deeply invested in the betterment of us all.” The dual purpose these lines serve emphasizes the hypocrisy of the Fathers as well as the system at Bitch Planet. These women are not better off. The system does not look to their betterment in any way most of us would understand.

bitch-planet title

Pages 8-9

In fact, in the next scene we see Bitch Planet’s system attempting to break Kamau and convince her that she was the one who killed Marian last issue. We find out that she’s been in solitary for 18 hours without sleep, food, or water. They’re moving on to phase 2 of breaking her, which entails the “confession module.”

Confession module comes to her in the form of a large, pink (as always) dominatrix-style hologram. The hologram uses a classic guilt strategy to elicit the confession. The hologram points out that Marian’s death has left a motherless son, that she leaves behind a brother and sister, that Marian will never see her boy grow to be a man. The hologram then pulls out a bunch of insulting accusations: Was Kamau jealous of Marian’s beauty or her skin? Is Kamau an animal? These are racial stereotypes repurposed for the module.

confession module 1

It is interesting that no mention of Mr. Collins is made–after all, Kamau doesn’t know that Mr. Collins is an unfaithful, duplicitous d-bag–but he is pictured on some of the screens behind the hologram, flashing pictures of Marian’s life. In fact, the array of pictures we get on the screens seems off for the module’s purposes. We get one picture of her baby son, a couple more with various family members. We get one garish shot of her eating. Two more explicit sex shots. It is unclear how some of these pictures are meant to work on Kamau. It perhaps shows more about what obsesses the system: for women, eating, family, sex. There is a shopping picture but no indication of her at work. The view is invasive and limiting, just like society’s eye.

confession module 2

Pages 10-11

The module goes in for the kill, demanding, “Why would you kill her?”

But the module has not worked on Kamau. She is not brain-washed. She is not broken. She responds, “No. Stop. You lie!” then punches a screen, shattering the glass and symbolically breaking through the propaganda and untruths they’ve been feeding her. This is a symbol for the many women in this comic book, and throughout the world, who see the expectations of the Fathers or the patriarchy, especially through mediated images and ideas, and see them for the lies, propaganda, and untruths that they are. Kamau is going to be set up as a champion for non-compliance in the plot, but she is resonates as an idea for non-compliance in the larger culture, both theirs and ours.

The men who run the modules are impressed. They’ve never seen a woman like Kamau up against the module, and they’ve never seen someone break the “shatter-proof” glass. This elicits an order that surprises Schiti–transfer room 6 to specials. This means sending in a special operative. A woman. Flesh and blood, not light and reflection. Her name is Whitney. She is dressed in full combat gear. Clearly, she expects violence to ensue. And clearly Kamau has presented a very special case.


Bitch Planet #2 Analysis Part 1

Thanks to a recent complementary mention on Her Story Arc, I’m finally prioritizing the analysis of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet #2. These things can be a bit overwhelming at the outset, and I’ve been putting it off. But no more! Let’s dig into this thing already! All things will be spoiled, at least regarding the first few pages, so be warned. If you’d like my spoiler-free review instead, click here.

Page 1

Here’s the opening page for perusal. Note the way the figures tell a story all of their own, adjacent to but reinforcing the main story.


The voice on the sound system, emanating through the back room of a formal dinner convention. Before we get the scene, we get the behind-the-scenes. Notably all of the cooks and servers are brown skinned, suggesting how race plays into class in this society. The one white man seems to be the manager. We see him sexually condescend/harass two waitresses–first encouraging one to smile and then patting another’s ass. The women are servile to the manager and the high class people out in the convention. The manager feels entitled to manage not just their work but also their selves–smiles and ass pats are his to take. Meanwhile, two of the cooks appear to get into some sort of fight.

All of this is narrated with the speech from the dining room all about the bores and the bored and the “psychology of tribes.” This introduces the main themes: first, the divisions of society like race, class, and gender, and second, the entertainment of society to keep these groups subdued (they get restless and rebellious when bored). Ironically, the speaker quotes Byron, a subversive in many ways, to make his point. This is one of the ways the voices of power in Bitch Planet deconstruct their own talking points.

Page 2-3

We follow a server out into the convention hall where we can now see large projections of the speaker, a jowly white man in his 50’s. The audience is largely white men. Most of the women in attendance are servers sporting short, strapless gold dresses, but there are a few women in ballgowns, presumably wives. All of the waitresses show their teeth only through large smiles.

The speaker is talking about Duemila, more frequently known as Megaton, but even his introduction of the game’s name reinforces the dichotomy of peoples, though there isn’t much consequence attached to this particular division. He goes on to discuss that everyone there is from all corners of the Earth and all tiers of the economic ladder. One wonders who he is speaking to–is this being televised? The folks in this room seem pretty uniform in both geographical and economical background. I can’t imagine he’s considering the cooks in the back room as part of his audience. So there is a sense of denial of how imbalanced this society is. Perhaps the speaker is in denial or perhaps he’s just hoping to maintain the denial the audience members have, a brainwashing that helps them feel more diverse and egalitarian than they really are. I imagine these are the kind of people who insist they don’t see color and that women already have equal rights, so could we all please just shut up about inequality already.

But that’s not the only hypocrisy on the double-page spread, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, there is an important reveal about the moral truths the Fathers espouse: there are five in total and one of them is that humans have an “ancient drive to form an us and pit it against a them.” The Fathers believe we are categorizing fighters, constantly finding a clan and then moving against another clan. It seems a convenient belief, allowing ethnic, gender, and class warfare to be accepted truths rather than flaws in the system that could be corrected.  He goes on to explain that Megaton is the outlet for this drive–two teams war on the field, creating one victor and one civilized humanity. And here’s that hypocrisy I mentioned (or is it a paradox?). By watching televised violence, the audience becomes civilized.


Page 4

The next page offers the speaker when he’s not on the stage. We get to see the man behind the speech, and we find that he is enamored with his own power. When he calls a man named Brandon over to discuss the waning engagement with Megaton, he reprimands him immediately for using his first name, Ed, rather than calling him Father Josephson. When Brandon attempts to defend the choice, Josephson gets back on the us and them theme: “We are not equals, Brandon. We are not friends. Address me by my title or I will have you cited for disrespect.” Josephson solidifies the power imbalance by threatening Brandon with, essentially, non-compliance, though I don’t exactly know if that term crosses genders. It is an interesting example of how damaging gender expectations of women also can damage men. The assumption is that making women submissive automatically makes men dominant, but that requires only a dichotomy–two groups. Society is far more complex with hierarchies upon hierarchies.

Josephson wants Brandon to do something about the falling engagement in Megaton, but there’s another story going on in the background in women’s fashion. A series of women are shown, presumably attendees of the convention, since they wear ballgowns not the short, gold dresses of the waitresses. Most of these fancily dressed women are sporting accessories that cover their mouths. One appears to have a kind of bandage wrapped around her mouth and through her hair. Another wears a veil. A third wears a color-matched surgical mask-type cover. A fourth’s accessory only partially covers her mouth. The symbolism of the fashion is clear–compliance equates to silence for women. Be seen and not heard. Look pretty and keep your mouth shut.

Page 5

The final page before the title spread focuses keenly on our Mr. Roberto Solanza approaching Josephson with a solution to his engagement problem. The focus on this introduction suggests this is a turning point in the narrative. This meeting between Solanza and Josephson will start the story down a path that will change everything. My students would call it the inciting incident. With some subtle humor, Solanza’s introduction to Josephson plays with the dual names thing–Duemila to the urbane/Megaton to everyone else–when Josephson hears Solanza’s title and immediately connects him with “Bitch Planet” rather than using the official A.C.O.