BitchPlanet_vol1-1Welcome to Bitch Planet, where crime is aesthetic, gendered, sexual, political, and most certainly racialized. In a male-dominated world, women who are noncompliant with the law are exiled from Earth and sentenced to serve time in the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost (A.C.O.) otherwise known as Bitch Planet, a massive prison floating in space. They are sent here because authority figures fear that if they are allowed to remain on Earth, their “sickness” will spread to otherwise well-behaved women citizens. The main characters are charged with crimes such as political incitement, sexual deviancy, development and distribution of gender propaganda, marital neglect, malicious manipulation, and cyber infidelity. In prison, the women are treated in order to be reformed into compliant citizens (“How long since you prioritized how others see you?”) and are forced to compete in a violent, frequently fatal sport called Megaton in order to generate profit for the prison. Marginalized women take center stage in this book; the majority of prisoners are black and brown women, with a very small percentage of women being white. About a dozen women are introduced by name, forming the Megaton team led by Kam, one of the first main characters we meet.

This trade paperback collects single issues 1–5 of Bitch Planet and includes the covers and endpapers for each of these single issues in context rather than displayed at the end of the book as a gallery. A discussion guide of eight questions is included at the end of the book, covering major themes and referencing an essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw that can be perused as further reading. The covers and endpapers are drawn in a retro art style, full of trashy adverts for diet parasites and medication to change one’s personality. The comic is packaged for consumption much like a tabloid. The cover art drives this home with quotes like “Girl gangs…caged and enraged!”

The incredibly detailed art—expressive background characters, legible lettering instead of standard lorem ipsum—contributes to both the foreshadowing and worldbuilding. The characters don’t act as extras once they shift into the background of a scene, instead the action continues to follow them, and the world as a whole is informed by their actions. They do not become insignificant simply by shifting into the background. This gives the women power in an environment where the world is doing its best to strip them of it.

Following the flow of the layout did take some getting used to. I found myself reading dialogue out of order at times. Certain pages use very small panels to break up the art, though the art is meant to be read as if these strict borders were not present. The art is thus noncompliant to the rigid borders it is forced into, reinforcing the noncompliance of the women in the story.

The pacing of the art with the writing is very fluid and natural. I’ve often found DeConnick’s other work (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) to feel rushed and clipped, so reading Bitch Planet was a very welcome change of pace. The broken up panels and background details force you to slow your reading. This is anti-consumption, in a sense, in contrast to the tabloid presentation of the book as a whole. The discussion questions presented also further this goal, asking readers to not simply accept what they have just consumed, but to question it, digest it, and relate it to the world they live in.

Bitch Planet is targeted toward adults (rated M for Mature) but I think it would be suitable for older teens as well. It serves as a good introduction to learning about intersectional feminism, the prison industrial complex, and misogyny. Librarians should be aware that this book contains nudity, blood, death, violence, swearing, and some brief sexual content.

This story would appeal to fans of the first season of Orange is the New Black, readers looking for women-centered fiction, and readers who enjoy a classic dystopia.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV
ISBN: 9781632153661
Image Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: M

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

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