Graphic Novels, Tough Chicks: Vol. 11

Banner

Graphic Novels, Tough Chicks is an original feature that celebrates the amazing female characters that abound in graphic novels. While many people still associate this particular form with a male readership, certain graphic novels empower women and combat feminine stereotypes through illustration and text. Tough chicks resist injustice, fight for their beliefs, and they donโ€™t take flak from nobody. These women are capable of fighting their own battles, both literally and figuratively.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1 CoverBitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Authors & Illustrator: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Feminist

Publisher: Image Comics on October 7, 2015

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

My thanks to Image and NetGalley for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation. In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

As soon as I heard about BITCH PLANET last year, I knew that I needed to read it. A feminist, sci-fi comic inspired by exploitation and blaxploitation films of the 1970s? Sign me the hell up, people. It’s safe to say that my expectations were very high, and BITCH PLANET VOL. 1 didn’t let me down!

In this dystopian vision of the future, women’s behaviour is governed by what can only be termed an Orwellian slant on the Stepford Wives. Women who are deemed non-compliant – which can be anything ranging from “aesthetic infractions” like piercings or unusual hairstyles to “subordination” or more classic crimes like assault – are incarcerated on Bitch Planet, without trial. Bitch Planet is a maximum security prison planet where prisoners are brainwashed by artificial intelligence entities and constantly surveilled by corrupt guards; there are multiple instances of prison violence in BITCH PLANET VOL. 1, so be aware if you’re upset by mild gore.

While it’s far from subtle, this indictment of the prison system viewed through a sci-fi lens is very thought-provoking. DeConnick and De Landro do an excellent job exposing how women of colour and working class women are overrepresented in prison, and pose some theories as to why that may be. Spoiler alert: systemic racism and oppression is involved.

Bitch Planet Vol.1 Excerpt 1
Image: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

One character in particular stuck out for me in this respect: Penny Rolle, a giant black woman with no education who loves herself and feels no shame about who she is. The male guards on Bitch Planet cannot fathom how a woman like Penny – who doesn’t conform to normalized standards of beauty and femininity – has nothing she wants to change about herself. She is 100% badass and exactly the kind of character I envisioned when I first started Graphic Novels, Tough Chicks. More Penny, ASAP!

The plot of BITCH PLANET VOL. 1 is driven by the game Megaton and it’s flagging ratings, a crushing financial blow to The Council of Fathers who govern the New Protectorate. Although we don’t see any official Megaton matches in this volume, it’s pretty clear that the reality-TV bloodsport bears a lot of similarities to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. A very popular sport, Megaton is used to control the masses and keep them thinking about something other than the injustice of their society. When the prisoners on Bitch Planet are invited to participate in the previously all-male games, they know that they’re being set up for further exploitation to improve Megaton ratings. But if playing the game (literally and figuratively) may allow these women to escape incarceration and send a message to the patriarchal system that’s brought them there, is it worth it? Thought-provoking stuff!

Image: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Image: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

Besides the characters themselves, my favourite aspect of the comic is the back page ads included at the end of each individual issue (pictured above). They have an old-school comic book feel to them, advertising satirical products like x ray specs to help you “see through your man” or lessons in “gynotism” to help you hypnotize your man to help you compete with other women. Check out the note about pay increases in the above panel…just amazing. Clever and incisive, these faux-ads have an element of the ridiculous that breaks up the tension of the comic itself while staying on-message.

The women of Bitch Planet refuse to conform and be compliant, regardless of the personal cost. And that cost is high. At times very grim, BITCH PLANET VOL. 1 is nonetheless hopeful, suggesting that there are victories to be had when women work together to fight oppression. If you don’t mind in-your-face and unapologetically unsubtle social commentary, then BITCH PLANET VOL. 1 is for you.

Have you read any good comics or graphic novels lately? What do you think of social commentary in SFF? Do you plan to read BITCH PLANET? Sound off in the comments!

Related Posts

  • I was just listening to the women on the Fangirl Happy Hour podcast discuss (and gush) about this comic today. It sounds very in your face and thought-provoking and I definitely will be picking it up!

    • Pretty much everyone everywhere is talking about Bitch Planet! It’s DEFINITELY in your face, but holy cow is it ever worth it! I really loved it and can’t wait to see where the next volume takes us.

  • I absolutely love Kelly Sue DeConnick. This one has intrigued me for a while, but I haven’t heard too much about it. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed. I’m definitely going to have to pick it up soon.

    • I’ve only read Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly, but so far I’m a big Kelly Sue DeConnick fan too! I really loved this one, but word to the wise: it’s pretty intense! Don’t make the same mistake I did and refrain from reading it on public transit, haha.

      • Haha, that’s exactly the mistake I made with Pretty Deadly. Very awkward to read the sex scene in that one with a little old lady giving me side-eye on the bus. ๐Ÿ˜›

  • I really need to add this to my graphic novel plans this year! Thanks so much for reviewing it, Danya! I’ve read several rave reviews, and yours makes me want to read it even more:-)

    • It’s so interesting and cool! You’re very welcome, it was a lot of fun to write this review (and also helped my NetGalley ratio, haha!). Hopefully you get a chance to read it, and enjoy it!

  • Hey I was just planning on adding this to my to-buy-next graphic novels list! Been hearing lots of good things about it. Not sure how I feel about it now though…I mean, I love social commentary in comics, movies, books etc., but maybe not so much when it’s as in-your-face as you describe!

    • Hmmm…I’d still recommend you try it out, but you’re right that those who prefer a lighter hand with social commentary seem to enjoy this less (based on what I’ve seen on Goodreads, anyway). Maybe sign it out from the library?

  • I have not read it, but then I only read the few my library gets :/

    • Graphic novels are so expensive, so I get most of mine from the library too. That’s why I’m happy to see so many on NetGalley these days!

  • Huh, this definitely sounds like something I’ll read someday – I think I just need to ease myself in the graphic novel scene a bit further before attempting something as message-heavy. I mean, this medium is doubly effective because it offers both verbal and visual messages and I kind of have to process that slowly if that makes sense.
    I still have Saga 4 & 5 to get to first, I really like the story, I’m so glad I listened to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I think you’d really like this one, Kaja! I know how much you love feminist literature, haha. ๐Ÿ™‚ Graphic novels can be so intimidating, I still feel like kind of a poser when it comes to graphic novels (especially since some people have a truly encyclopedic knowledge about them) so I get why you want to take it slow.

      YAY, I’m so happy you’re enjoying Saga! There’s a reason why the entire internet loves that series. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • I had seen the cover of this all over the place but actually hadn’t taken any time or effort to find out what it’s about… now though I don’t know why. This sounds totally awesome and I want to buy it. My birthday is in a couple of months and this will definitely be at the top of my gift list, it sounds awesome. I may just have myself a graphic novel list based on all the recommendations you keep putting on here that I haven’t gotten around to reading. I mean, this needs to be bought for the feminist message and the insanely awesome sounding women alone. Hopefully I won’t feel like the messages are being shoved down my throat (there is such a thing as being too full on, a strong message is good, but beating me around the face with it is unnecessary).

    • I admit that the title captured my attention immediately – as it’s supposed to do, I guess! Then I heard a lot of really great things about Bitch Planet from trusted internet sources, saw it up for grabs on NG, and nabbed it. I’ll definitely be buying my own copy of this one! Ooooh a graphic novel list, that sounds like fun! Maybe I’ll send you something in a Twitter DM, haha. I hope you get some amazing birthday gifts! My friends and family never buy me books as gifts anymore, which I understand but still…I always want books! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Hmmm, I’m not sure what you’ll think about the strength of this message then. There are some subtler aspects of the message, but the whole “patriarchy oppresses us” thing is pretty intense, haha.

      • And the title is good at capturing your attention, that is definitely true, shock factor is perfect for getting you to look into things properly. To be honest, I never get books as gifts anymore, unless I write a very specific list for friends and family and drop obvious hints as to which I want most. Normally I can’t be bothered with the effort involved, but with my birthday being just a couple of months after Christmas I think it may be the easiest option because I don’t want anything else.

        I’m hoping that since I’m forewarned about the obvious message I’ll not get put off by it, but I’ll let you know.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    ha ha! OK, those panels definitely peaked my interest. This sounds like a lot of fun.