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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.

DeConnickShowerSceneDelay

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.

joinus

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.

lordfanny

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!


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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.


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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.


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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.