June 26, 2017

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Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1 Shows the Perils of Collaboration

Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1
Windows by Cheryl Lynn Eaton (words) and Maria Frolich (art)
Without and Within by Andrew Aydin (words) and Joanna Estep (art)
The Invisible Woman by Conley Lyons (words), Craig Yeung (line art), 
and Marco D'Alfonso (color art)
Published by Image Comics


While the main arc and creators of Bitch Planet takes a behind-the-deadline break, a rotating cast of creators steps in to tell stories from within the world created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro which are every bit as harrowing, and feel like they're a razor's edge from being a part of our reality, not science fiction.

When Bitch Planet began, it was obviously meant to be a statement about what could happen if women were basically reduced to property. My biggest critique of the series, which I generally liked, was that sometimes it felt just a bit too unsubtle in its presentation.

Then we elected a sexual predator as President, and have a Congress hell-bent on making women's lives miserable, to say nothing of the States, which are amazingly even worse. Bitch Planet has gone from being a cautionary tale to something that feels like we're one more Republican wave election from bring into reality, albeit with camps here at home instead of in space.

That's why I think the stories in Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1 really resonated with me as I was reading them. Based mostly here on Earth, they feel very much like stories of things that could actually happen instead of fiction. While there is still some speculative elements that put them squarely in the world created by DeConnick and De Landro, there's not a lot separating what's happening here to what we could read about now, in 2017.

Take the first story, Windows. A woman works in a position dominated by men, and uses her position to put other women in their place. As soon as she runs afoul of a man, however, she's knocked down. She'll never be equal to a man. What I really appreciate about Eaton's and Frolich's story is that instead of merely focusing on how the protagonist was wrong, we also see her realize this and take action accordingly. It's both cautionary tale and a story of empowerment. I do wish there had been more motion in the art, however. I liked some of the perspective choices (placing the reader's eye at different spots instead of the standard views, for example) and the decision to use eyes as a focal point, but too often, these aggravated and aggressive figures are just standing around. It dulls the impact of the story a bit, at least for me.

From Windows
Continuing the theme of what happens to those who try to fit in in a world that's completely evil (are you listening, people who say both sides are equal?), Without and Within, written by John Lewis's aide, Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Joanna Estep, focuses on a political moment. While there are multiple women making sure the men are successful, it's clear that they are to be completely subservient. And when one man's needs are the busy female assistant, she's powerless to do anything, all while her male boss looks great for the camera. This was easily my least favorite of the three stories, because there's no agency for the young woman. She's shown as being powerless and having to agree to whatever the men decide. It's also the story that is least-tied into the world. You could tell this story as part of the current Congress, for example, and not have a single change, except for the drone reporters.

From Without and Within

On the other hand, I did like the way Estep chose to place almost every panel at an angle. When doing a story that features a lot of talking heads, it requires some effort to keep the art flowing. As there's no real action here--even the pass at the secretary is mild--Estep has to use her ability to show strong emotions on the characters' faces and find other ways to ensure the reader keeps turning the page.

In the final story, focusing on what it's like to work in an office where there are no rules about sexual harassment, a young woman does her best to get a promotion at work by getting a ridiculous haircut, in the hope that it will land her a promotion. Lyons, Yeung, and D'Alfonso hammer her with reality, doing it with some amazing visual work that makes this the highlight of the issue for me. From the opening where her absurdly large hair has the word RESPECT around it, which is only one of the times where Yeung plans a panel around the lettering. There's a strong desire to play with the visuals, combined with the same sort of panel manipulation that Estep uses, making this story easily the one that stands out the most from an artistic perspective. We don't need the dialogue to see how the main character changes her views, which is always a great thing to see in a comic.

From The Invisible Woman

Despite a few hitches here and there, Bitch Planet: Triple Feature continues in the same vein as the main series, allowing others to tell stories in this horrifying world that's not very far separated by our own. It's not perfect, but it's still a must-read comic, and the message of "Don't try to fit in when the world is broken, break it back until it's fixed" is one that everyone needs to be following today.