By Robert Larson
This was the first issue of Bitch Planet that has failed to grab or affect me in a really strong way. Every issue is so visceral and so full of subtext, references to the present, and complicated intersectional feminism that I always have plenty to think about when I finish the issue. But I finished reading this particular issue, and it had no real impact on me. It just advances the plot, and it doesn’t even do that to the normal standards of Bitch Planet. Perhaps it’s just an off issue? I hope so. Warning: I will be discussing spoilers here.
We’re treated a bit of politics back on earth, as well as a good dose of casual sexism and the relationship between one politician and his wife. But that quickly fades into the background once we see the prison riot breaking out because of Makoto’s actions. Kamau works to keep Whitney and Eleanor Doane safe while navigating the riot. The administrators are facing their own personal crisis, as the segregated population of trans women might be mixed in with the general population, and this of course brings about a long-awaited reunion.
Perhaps my expectations were too high by the tag of this particular issue: “President Bitch.” It came out less than a week before the election in this country, and in an election year where gender is front and center as an issue. Everything in the last few months has highlighted how painfully relevant this book is. For me, it’s impossible to not understand Trump as a human avatar of male sexual entitlement, bullying, bigotry, and privilege. But Trump is weirdly absent from all of this: there’s a political rally at the beginning of the issue, but it all seems to circle back to the proposed games. That Trumpesque rhetoric isn’t here. Nor is there any commentary about this election or sexism in politics beyond what Bitch Planet has previously given us (which in all fairness is considerable).
Of course, the back matter of Bitch Planet tackles all of the issues that we’ve come to expect it to. I particularly enjoyed DeConnick’s reaction to the Trump video of a month ago, and her exhaustion with the fact that so many men only seem able to empathize with women as “mothers and daughters.” That bears repeating until people actually learn to empathize with women as human beings, and not solely because of a familial relationship.
No, it’s the riot that takes up the lion’s share of this issue. It’s certainly fun to see the prison fall into chaos, and as Penny Rolle’s #1 fan, I enjoy watching her kick wholesale ass without really even breaking a sweat. But punching and brawling is pretty standard comic book fare, and not why I’m reading this particular series. Perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most in the story proper was the threat of mixing the two prison populations, which is to say allowing trans women into the general population. From the perspective of the administrators, this is surely an existential threat, and it will make for good reading, but it doesn’t get quite as much attention into why. And I think the why is important, because Bitch Planet is so good at examining the assumptions and worldviews that inform 21st-century sexism.
And I’m still so unclear about how to Doane is supposed to fit into all of this. That might just be the production schedule of this book; by the time I picked this up, I could only barely remember who Doane was, and whether there were any clues about her from prior issues. I want to know where they’re going, especially because so little is really said in this issue…but knowing this book, I’m going to be waiting for a while.
Oh well. Bitch Planet will be back, and I have a feeling next issue will have some more answers.
Bitch Planet #9
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine DeLandro
Publisher: Image Comics