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 don’t take flak from nobody. These women are capable of fighting their own battles, both literally and figuratively.
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.
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!
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.