From the desk of Steve Paugh: If you haven’t caught up with De Landro and Deconnick’s Bitch Planet, read my reviews of Issues One, Two and Three. But be warned: they’ve ruffled a few feathers. Some people think I went off-topic. Others accused me of mansplaining Feminism. A few more even want to drink my “man-tears.” Which is creepy.
But hey, just as I have a right to voice my thoughts, others have equal leave to oppose them, however angrily. But I prefer direct dialogue to bitter whispers. After all, the only effective way to convince, or to learn, is to engage, not enrage. And I’ll admit I may have been guilty of the latter in my reviews, even if I didn’t mean to be.
That’s why we’ve decided to open the floor on Bitch Planet #4, and why I’ve invited my fellow Comic Bastards to take part in this group review. This is clearly an important book to a lot of readers, and I personally hope our approach will shed new light on the series, for me as much as anyone else. But before we get started, here’s a brief issue recap:
Bitch Planet #4 sees Kamau Kogo officially starting practice with her all-female sporting squad, but she catches wind that the prison planet’s “Powers-That-He” are planning something much more deadly for our hero. Throughout it all, we get a requisite prison shower scene made all the steamier by conspiracy; a brutally empowering beat-down that ends in a pseudo-phallic role reversal; and some broader strokes about the culture of obsession and violence within Bitch Planet’s society (and, thereby, our own).
Capped by Mikki Kendall’s (unfortunately) timely, but striking essay on racial politics within feminism, this is the best issue of Bitch Planet yet. I really enjoyed Deconnick’s action-packed, thickly-plotted storytelling and nuanced characterization this time, and for once felt it was not bogged down by the condescension of its earlier offerings.
I also like the concept of Duemila/Megaton: an amalgam sport combining American football, Mixed Martial Arts and American Gladiators’ Powerball…which sounds awesome. Too bad it’s damning commentary on the violent nature of such sports, as well as the society that enjoys them. Still, it’s a cool idea and works well in its Longest Yard framework, and as a stage for another type of confrontation. Kam’s preparation for that this issue, by “enlisting” Officer Weldon, was not only hard-as-fuck, it also ramps up the tension of the real battle that looms between Kam and her oppressors.
De Landro is back on art this issue and has benefitted from the delay, with quite a few fun visual tricks, like dynamic panelling (one involving a really weird-looking weiner) and engrossing, thick-lined figure work that only very occasionally falters against haste and barren backgrounds. But hot damn, the action in this issue - particularly near the end - is downright stupendous. He also gets a great assist from colorist Cris Peter, whose steady hand and clever atmospheric filtering really gave the art nice depth.
It was great to see this entire creative team firing on all cylinders this issue; it once again got me interested in a book I had already written off; too soon, it appears. It’s taken a few issues and a short delay to find its footing, but Bitch Planet finally feels like it’s on the right path by allowing the story to convey its message, rather than the other way around.
Every time I finish reading Bitch Planet I am left thinking back on the issue for days. Picking at the story, the characters, and the dialogue. It is also one of the few books that the following week I search for people talking about the past issue. To say I am hooked on this book would be an understatement. The video of Hailey and Kailey explaining the basics of the game of Megaton in the most pandering, demeaning, sexist way possible reminds me of the old informative videos of yore that told women the best way to act to “trick a man into wanting you”. The pair is annoying and somehow hilarious, I welcome their return in future issues.
This issue will likely be shorthanded as the obligatory shower scene issue. Since this is still a women's prison film turned into a comic, tropes must be met, yet like everything else in this book, the performance is what matters. The initial shower scene is not “sexy”, there are naked women having sex with each other, yeah, but it isn't the typical glamorized girl on girl scene. Two of the women involved actually care for each other, they are involved due to a connection that is more than just physical and not what is seen normally in such a scene. Kamau's involvement is just for deception so they can communicate while the one guard who is peeping doesn't get suspicious. The panels of the peeper also give off an uneasy feeling. The peeping guard's eye grows bigger on the page, invading the space of the women. Doing so makes it feel like we are also intruding where we shouldn't be. The later scene where Kamau distracts the guard in the shower by herself is the one glimpse of the male gaze in the issue. For a page we are viewing from the guard's perspective. When it returns to our normal view, Kamau's actions are no longer sexualized even though she is naked.
This issue has me once again going back to analyze everything. It is one of the more clever books on the shelves.
I didn't get the fervor over the first issue (and still don't). I also don't understand how it got such acclaim so quickly (It's awesome, I just don't get it). Anyway I'm not here to talk about the first issue or the whole series, I'm here to say my thoughts on issue #4.
There were things I liked in this issue. I like that we learn more about Megaton, which looks to be like Speedball (which I guess is generic violent future-sport). I enjoyed the putting of the team together thing that was much like The Longest Yard. I thought the scene in the showers at the end was pretty cool (reminded me of Porkys) and leads to some good interactions in future issues. Unlike issue one I wasn't confused about who was doing what which means the story was much clearer.
Bitch Planet #4 Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick Artist: Valentine De Landro Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/29/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital