Bitch Planet #6 Review


It’s been sixteen weeks since the last issue of Bitch Planet came out, a crushing story about the first Megaton scrimmage between our noncompliant protagonists and the corrupt guards, culminating in the death of Meiko Maki. This issue takes a brief interlude to flesh out who this woman was, and it is as heartbreaking and thoughtful as readers have come to expect from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

Similar to the third issue focusing on Penny, this issue looks at Meiko’s life as a young girl in Japan, secretly helping her engineer father design a new battleship for the misogynistic protectorate. When he sabotages the plans, his boss blackmails him with an impossibly sleazy ultimatum – he can keep his job and status if he gives one of his young daughters to the man. Meiko and her sister, Mirai, go to violent lengths to protect their family, and this leads to her incarceration, a sexual assault by one of the prison guards, and her eventual murder on the sports field. This series has thoughtfully and directly explored aspects of feminism and the experience of women in Western culture, but this is the first time sexual violence has entered the conversation, and it has been needed.

The issue opens with a stark trigger warning, white text on black background: “Content advisory: The following is a flashback issue, concerning the events that led to Meiko Maki’s incarceration. It contains plot elements and images relating to sexual assault. We encourage you to evaluate your comfort level before deciding to continue. Bitch Planet‘s main narrative will resume next month with issue 7. The series recap therein will not recount the assault.” The next page continues the bold design with the text: “In a 2008 Department Of Justice survey of former prisoners, 1 in 6 female prisoners reported being sexually assaulted while incarcerated,” with a link to the survey results. The trigger warning in academic and popular media settings has been the subject of debate, with detractors believing it insulting, pampering, or otherwise limiting to the experience of the reader, but DeConnick’s phrasing on these two pages is respectful, challenging, and clear. Bitch Planet has built a strong following, and many of the readers have experience with sexual violence, and the creative team wants these readers to feel included but prepared. I have not experienced sexual trauma, but reading the warning like this allowed me to experience this book with an appreciation for people who have had to fear the flashbacks pulled from superficially safe material. In my day job, I am a psychiatrist, and I would feel comfortable recommending this to my trauma survivors if for nothing more than the mindful exercise of “evaluating their comfort levels.” As for the graphic depiction, the shower sex scene in issue four was much more explicit than the sexual assault in this, a handful of thumbnail panels on a busy background visualizing the character’s inner musical life, which is exactly right for a series that gives this much attention to the male/female gaze.

Meiko Maki did not stand out as distinct a character as the bombastic Penny Rolle or the potential series protagonist Kamau Kogo, not until her death.  Some of this is a result of the delays in shipping, but it would always have been hard to steal the spotlight from those two. I think the death was a shock, but I want to reread the series knowing this history.

The backmatter of Bitch Planet usually generates its own discussion, and this month, an engineering professor talks through the invisibility of gender schema (like who you envision when you read the term “librarian” or “mechanic”) and a Japanese artist discusses the political and cultural impact of her work bringing the vagina to visibility in her home country. In the letters page, DeConnick writes one of the clearest explanations I’ve read about the method and importance of pre-ordering books like Bitch Planet, and Danielle Henderson writes an impassioned but respectful debate against a male writer who sees feminism as a jab at “the male collective.” He uses legendary punk artist Kathleen Hanna as a talking point, and Henderson perfectly explains how Hanna’s work was about protecting people from physical and sexual violence, much like what happened to Meiko in this week’s issue – the interchange was hard to read as a cis-gendered man, but it has marked my view of the discussion forever.

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Find reviews of the previous five issues here!