You know the old saying, men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Where then are the Non-Compliants from?
Why, Bitch Planet, of course.
Or rather, that is where they end up. It is where these women are sent who refuse to adhere to the standards of the patriarchal society that has taken root and taken over the future of Earth. Father Earth, as it is called. In this world, Earth is not the mother- the reaches of outer space are the Mother of the human race, and when Father Earth casts you out, you have no choice but to hope the Mother will receive you and heal you.
If you’re confused as to what I’m even talking about with all of this, let me back it up.
Wednesday, December 10, saw the launch of Image Comics’ latest work by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly), titled Bitch Planet. This book features her writing talents, as well art and covers by Valentine De Landro, colors by Cris Peters, and lettering by Clayton Cowles. Rated M for mature readers, the book takes a look at a sci-fi inspired vision of Earth’s future where women are judged for their compliance with a severe set of standards laid out for them by some unseen governing power, clearly patriarchal. Those who fail to comply are sent to an Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, affectionately dubbed ‘Bitch Planet’ by all those who have heard tell of its less than savory crowds of prisoners.
Think outer space Margaret Atwood pulp fiction with a little bit of Chicago and Orange is the New Black. The stakes are high and violent, even downright frightening.
I would call this book’s setting a dystopian future due to the society’s use of futuristic technology, but in some ways it is hauntingly similar to our modern world. The first page of the book is radically different than the rest, taking place in what looks like it could be Times Square in New York, except for the Orwellian omnipresence of slogans on glowing signposts like “This will fix you,” “Because he said so,” “We get by when we comply,” and quite simply, “OBEY.”
There are even advertisements for television shows such as “Accommodating Housewives,” and claims for products that make you “Eat Less, Poop More” in order for there to be “Less of you to Love.” The biggest indication we get that this is a futuristic setting is the use of rapid space transport as well as a few robotic appliances seen on the city street. Otherwise, it just seems like a crowded, modern city center with slightly threatening Macy’s ads on the marquees. It is here that we see just how strict the judgments passed on women are.
We are then introduced to the silhouettes of several women in a suspended animation stasis- all the women are of varying natural physiques, from thin to fat and sizes in between. These are Non-Compliants. Each of them is guilty of some crime – gluttony, pride, wickedness, and weakness, just to name a few.
Because they are too loud, too opinionated, too fat, too cowardly, too evil, too weak, too Non-Compliant, they are being sent off-world to the corrective Compliance outpost to be punished. They are stripped naked, cleaned, and made to wear overalls that bear the mark of the Non-Compliants. A holographic pink model greets them with a sinister smirk as they are reminded that non-compliance with prison guidelines is not recommended.
It is here we meet the zaftig Penny Rolle, a woman of color, who finds her provided overalls unable to accommodate her large breasts and refuses to wear them. A silver-masked guard strikes her preemptively, fearing she would lash out, for this, and shortly thereafter we see a riot that apparently sets a sort of prison record, having occurred 2 minutes after the arrival of the newest bunch of women.
Here in the mass of prisoners we see the true diversity of the women forced into the outpost – a great diversity, women of color comprising the visible majority. As cited in the back comments section of the book by Danielle Henderson, African-American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated. It is important to see these themes of race appearing in the work, as there are many types of women, clearly, not just those traditionally depicted by popular media.
The remainder of the issue focuses, however, on a white woman who appears to be middle-aged- Marian Collins, who believes she especially does not deserve to be in the prison. We learn that she has been made to feel as though it is her fault for her husband cheating on her, being undesirable and therefore Non-Compliant with the society’s standard of wives pleasing husbands.
Throughout this, we see the other women in the prison observing her and counting the number of guards. There is a great tension between these silver-masked centurions and the incarcerated women and it all culminates in a brawl over the life of Mrs. Collin s- her husband has given approval of his new wife (a young woman named Dawn), and therefore the old Mrs. Collins is to be killed.
Here we see Kamau Kogo, another woman of color who protected Penny in the first altercation with the guards, try to protect Marian from the guards who plan to slit her throat. Unfortunately, Kamau fails, but it is here in the end of the first issue that we see Marian was never meant to be the focus. The men behind the prison security cameras discern that prisoner Kamau looks like she’s the star of this show, and then the book ends, leaving the woman shrouded in mystery. A surprising, electrifying conclusion to the first issue.
While some may not be comfortable with the word ‘Bitch,’ rather choosing to call this book ‘B. Planet’ or ‘B*tch Planet,’ I believe there is something critical in DeConnick’s use of the raw, demeaning term in the title of her book. Show of internet hands: how many women have been called a bitch? Have heard others called by this name? Have called others by this name?
Yes, I know it means a female dog in the technical sense, but trust me, that’s not what this is about at all. Look at the types of women sent to this Bitch Planet in the first issue – women who were overweight, women who weren’t polite and submissive, women who had opinions of their own, women who didn’t exist to tend to their husband’s every need. And by this (the book’s) society’s standards, they’re bitches.
It is a terrible word, I agree. So why do we use it? Why do men and women alike think it is okay to use this word to refer to other women – Women who don’t fit the society’s fictional notion of “the perfect woman?” The perfect woman who is demure, polite, not too loud or too big or too much herself. But who is this woman perfect for? Herself? Her husband? Society?
DeConnick raises all these questions with her powerful and artful storytelling in a futuristic world not so different from our own. At least we haven’t developed the technology to ship women off-world for a correctional boot camp, because I’m almost afraid then this book would become a history rather than a dystopian future. There is an expression of anguish and rage in this book that she manages in a perfectly subtle way, but once you notice it, it doesn’t leave your mind even after the book is closed and back in its bag and board. I’m sure a lot of women out there can recognize and identify these aspects within their own lives as well, which makes the impact of this book hit even harder.
This all comes bound between retro-styled pink and yellow covers (by artist De Landro), with back pages reminiscent of old advertisements placed in comics, with cut-out ads for x-ray specs to “see through his intentions” and signature changes sure to “change your personality!” all brought under a banner that reads, “Hey Kids, Patriarchy!” While humorous, especially due to the pop-art nature of the back cover, once again these small bonus panels contribute to the idea that this fictional world DeConnick presents is not unlike our current society, for better or worse.
Themes of race, gender, and police brutality all appear in the first book and DeConnick hits all the right notes bringing them up within the scope of her created world. As the series progresses, I have no doubt these things will continue to evolve and inspire its audience to think a little harder and a little smarter about the way our society is built, and who it’s really meant to benefit. I’m calling Bitch Planet one of the books to watch for the upcoming year. In the right hands – the hands of conscious, critical readers who recognize the inequities in our world and want to change them – this book could spark some serious change.
Bitch Planet by DeConnick and De Landro is one of the most exhilarating, gut-punching, and thought-provoking first issues of the year for sure. If you like action sequences, character diversity, outer space, and the fight to dismantle the established gender and racial inequalities in our social system, I urge you to go out and buy this book immediately.
Non-compliance is not recommended.
(Bitch Planet is available at your local comic retailer as well as online for digital download at both Image Comics’ website and ComiXology.)