Bitch Planet? You’re already living on it. Proud comic nerd Kate McCabe tells us why Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s series is essential reading.
Comic fans. We’re the worst sort of nerds, sometimes. There’s a real told-you-so kind of joy that comes with being in on the ground floor with what you just know is going to be the Next Big Thing in pop culture.
After all, how many currently beloved film and television properties were actually born out of comics? Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy, Snowpiercer, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, etc. One of these days, when Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman becomes an Emmy-award winning HBO series, we’ll be nauseous with dizziness from the cloud-bothering height of our horses. (Horses which are all named Comet, Argo, or Artax.)
With Bitch Planet, published by Image Comics, Kelly Sue DeConnick – whom you may know from her successful quest to make Ms Marvel a relevant and top-tier Marvel character again – has authored what is likely to be the Next Big Thing, and it’s a glorious combination of The Longest Yard, The Hunger Games and A League of Their Own. And exploitation films, the sensational style and tone of which grab you from cover to cover. Pencilled by Valentine De Landro in one of those modern ‘just enough’ styles, the story told is one of a million injustices faced by women (and, sometimes directly, sometimes inadvertently, by men).
What we know so far: it’s the near future, a dystopia where somehow the patriarchy has become even worse for women all over the globe. Women can be imprisoned for any act of non-compliance. The scale of offence is endless and veers from frivolous body issues, such as wanton obesity, to violent crime. Any woman who can’t be effectively reformed is shipped off to ‘Bitch Planet’, a final destination from which people do not return. The story starts as a batch of new recruits is dropped off at the remote and otherworldly outpost.
“Harking back to the glory days of comics, not only is there an actual letters column but there’s a mock novelty advertisement section called ‘Hey Kids, Patriarchy’.”
In an effective editorial decision, the cast mostly comprises ethnic minorities. The characters we get to know the most over the first few issues include: Kamau Kogo, an instantly recognisable leader; Penny Rolle, an absolute steamroller of a woman, and Meiko Maki, slight and stealthy. None of them are white. This is as important as it is relevant. Black women are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. They also remain underserved and under-represented by most media.
As we come to understand more of the behind-the-curtain machinations of this world’s government, we also learn about the inmates and how they wound up incarcerated. In fact, the current plan is to highlight a particular character’s backstory every third issue. Penny Rolle’s is thrilling.
In an underdoggish plot twist, Kamau is asked to form a Bitch Planet ‘Duemila’ team. Duemila (aka Megaton) has its roots in an old Italian version of football called Calcio Fiorentino. The sport is hugely celebrated and is traditionally played ONLY by men. As such, it’s meant to play out like a demeaning novelty or exhibition match. Naturally, we’re all desperately hoping that the women of Bitch Planet will unleash their Billie Jean Kings on the opposing Bobby Riggs.
The story is enough bang for your buck, but the back pages are also a true delight. Harking back to the glory days of comics, not only is there an actual letters column but there’s a mock novelty advertisement section (some of the items ARE actually for sale and yes I want to buy them) called ‘Hey Kids, Patriarchy’. Plus, a highly worthwhile essay column, ‘Bitches Be Like…’ featuring guest writers that have so far included Lindy West and Tasha Fierce.
The concept of being ‘non-compliant’ is important to this book, and it’s a theme that has instantly resonated with its readership. Check out the hashtag #noncompliant on Twitter and gaze upon the stream of tattoos. Being ‘non-compliant’ is dangerous.
The world of Bitch Planet is one where a constant newsfeed tells its citizens how they should behave and what they should value. Men leave their wives and blame them for their failures. Girls are commodified. Women are asked to apologise for wanting to control their own bodies. Step out of line and you will be punished.
Like all good dystopic fiction, Bitch Planet comes with its own lightbulb moment, that moment where you’re able to connect the seemingly far-fetched sci-fi concept with the life you are currently living. For the readers of Bitch Planet it’s easier than most. As perfectly captured by Bitches Be Like… essayist Danielle Henderson: Bitch Planet? You’re already living on it.
It’s a perfect time to jump on board with Bitch Planet, a bimonthly comic, as the first five issues have recently been collected as a trade paperback.
For maximum comic-devouring enjoyment, I always score my reading session with a playlist. Here’s my Suggested Reading Playlist for Bitch Planet:5206 Views
Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.