December 17, 2014

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Subverted Expectations in Bitch Planet #1

Bitch Planet #1
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Drawn by Valentine De Landro
Colored by Cris Peter
Published by Image Comics


Bitch Planet #1 is not what you probably expect it to be. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's women prison comic book could easily be a screed against the patriarchy that sadly exists in our world. It could be a cunning spoof of women-in-prison movies, having fun with the genre but adding little to any conversation. It could be just another science fiction story, so wrapped up in its setting that it forgets to any real plot or characters.

Bitch Planet could come from a place of anger and there is probably some of that behind this comic. Unfortunately this world is a man's world and DeConnick and De Landro use one of the inmates and her ex husband to demonstrate that. She in the offworld prison and he in some type of administrators office, both trying to plead their case to the authorities, describing his affair and each of their culpabilities in driving him into another, younger woman's arms. DeConnick and De Landro intermix their pleas of leniency, making you think that both the man and the woman are begging for the same thing. Only they are as far away in what they want as they are physically at this point and the husband ends up getting everything that he wants while the woman only gets the coldness and violence of Bitch Planet.

That anger exists in this book, where a man gets what he wants and the wronged wife gets punished for being cheated on. If that isn't an attack on the way that things are, I don't know what it. But DeConnick and De Landro bring something more than anger to this story; they bring sadness to it. It may not be resignation but while they acknowledge the way things are, they're also mourning the loss of it being able to be any other way. That one-time couple, who probably were in love once upon a time, look like they still may be in love thanks to the distance that DeConnick and De Landro throw between the characters and the readers. The way they construct the scene, the back and forth between the man and the woman trick you into thinking that their goals are the same. It's easy to see these pages and think that the husband knows and repents his sins against his wife. So why is she in prison and he gets what he wants and gets to go on with his life, a free man?

It's that way that the creators are subverting many different genres in this issue. Think about women-in-prison stories and you half expect something lurid and voyeuristic but there's nothing like that in this book. There's nudity but it's not sexualized. It's not even emotional; it just is a state of being unclothed in this book as the prisoners settle into their new life on Bitch Planet. The nudity represents the loss of freedom as the women transition from one state to another. After whatever they were before, housewives or criminals or something else, they're now becoming inmates. The nudity is just a passing phase in this comic, getting the characters from Point A to Point B. There's nothing sexy about that. De Lando draws women with all kinds of real body types and he draws them realistically.

In this women's prison, the only sexualized figure is the virtual warden/mother superior who gives the cheated wife a chance to confess her sins. This computer creation, shaded in seductive pink, walks around the prison with high heeled boots, a perfectly rounded butt, an impossibly small waist and two too perfectly shaped breasts. This computer program is the creation of men but how could they be so disconnected from any kind of women to think that this would be an authority figure for the female prisoners? In every way, she intentionally sticks out like a sore thumb in this book, an accusation of the male-dominated ideal of womanly beauty.

That's the sadness of this book. We see real women and constructed women and we place the constructed, imaginary woman in a position of power and authority over the real women. DeConnick and De Landro do an excellent job in setting the stage with Bitch Planet #1. They set up the expectations and then immediately subvert them time and time again.