Let 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fanny 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.
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.”
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.”