Bitch Planet #5 Review


Nineteen weeks ago, issue four of this series found our noncompliant protagonists gearing up to become a team and compete in Megaton, the violent arena sport dominating the attention of the patriarchy that sent them to the women’s prison. This issue is the team’s first scrimmage against a group of guards, ending with the violent death of one of the inmates and a sobering reminder of the stakes these women face.

There is so much to adore about this series. The seventies-inspired structure of tough Kamau Kogo infiltrating the satellite prison of Bitch Planet to find her lost sister works as well as it would have on a grind house cinema screen, and the characters reflect a vast array of ethnicities, ages, and gender expressions with individual voices and looks. The sports part of this book would normally be the part where this reviewer would roll his eyes and flip to the end, but the action never takes precedence over the plot or the message. As the players move across the field, captions explain many of these women’s “crimes,” now including possession of an extra chromosome, “seduction and disappointment,” being a “bad mother,” and the twins with “genetic error, interred at request of family.” DeConnick has done a stellar job gradually including more ways in which women are expected to conform in modern Western society, and the art backs her up. Valentine De Landro’s art showcases humans of diverse body types, and no woman is ever on the page for objectification. The colorist, Cris Peter, should receive special attention for the death at the end of the book. As the characters crowd around the body and check frantically for signs of life, everything stays in the gritty realism the book has carried. But as soon as a woman announces, “She’s dead, Kam,” the body becomes a white silhouette. This is a book that can barely afford to step into the fantastic, but this move is shocking and wonderful and takes nothing away from the efforts the creators make to reminds us how real societal sexism is.

At Dragon Con last weekend, Kelly Sue DeConnick was a buzzed-about panel guest, and when I saw her in a writers’ panel, she discussed how she writes for herself, her artistic collaborators, and her editor, and she markets by identifying the community that will respond to her authentic product. A DeConnick book is a DeConnick book, purely, openly, without pretense or apology. She has no malice nor manipulation, and this book is one of the best examples of what can happen when a creator puts his or her whole character onto the page. DeConnick’s fans are emphatic and have built a community that loves each other, that loves the meaning behind the pages, as much as it loves the woman who unites them. This issue’s back matter includes eight pages of letters with heartbreaking responses from the author, like a letter from a man who wonders if he can consider himself a feminist that prompts, “Welcome to the team. We’re glad to have you.” She then pulls her gender discussion into a racial context with a response that includes “It is on white folks to invest ourselves without co-opting the experience of oppression… if we think of systemic racism as a “black thing” and sidestep even the conversation, then we shoulder our brothers and sisters with yet another unjust burden… That is literally the price of our privilege.” This is a book written by a person who understands the power and responsibility of putting a creative work into the national discussion. We as readers are lucky to have this, and I hope her work survives in history classes when students laugh at how backward we all were about judging each other.

But the book drops just a little because of the first sentence in my review. I know I love this book. But it has been nineteen weeks since the fourth issue. For reference, the Secret Wars crossover began after the last issue came out. So this book is still terrific, but when DeConnick’s back matter includes how sad she was to kill off the character, I thought, “We’d met her before?” I love Penny Rolle. I love Kamau Kogo even if I can’t remember her name. And the book builds enough in this issue to make the death hurt a little. But if we as readers are supposed to mourn the loss of a series regular, we need to wait fewer than five months between issues. The last issue was nine weeks after the one before, explained as needing more time to make sure the sex scene escaped the male gaze, and I was more in love with this experience on reading that. This issue includes an appreciation for our “extraordinary patience,” and I’m not in the slightest bit angry. Take as long as you need if you’re going to continue putting out an almost-flawless book that bravely moves necessary dialogue into the popular sphere. But the unfortunate cost is that you lose character coherence, and I hope that future issues can either come out more regularly or can embrace this project as separate from the details of previous issues.

Catch up on previous Bitch Planet reviews here!

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