March 20, 2016

Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's been a lot of hype about this comic, so I decided to check it out. Now that I've read it, I think the hype is at least partially deserved. This book, collecting the first five issues of the comic, suffers a bit from what I think of as "setting-up" syndrome--that is, establishing the characters and world. This takes up pretty much the first three issues. Issues four and five have the beginning of a more coherent storyline, but the whole thing seems kind of awkward, and doesn't mesh terribly well.

Having said all that, I think there is tremendous potential here. In a horrifying dystopian future, the "fathers" (almost without exception white men) of the "Protectorate" arrest women (almost always women of color) for "non-compliance"--a term so broad as to be completely arbitrary, applied according to the whims of the white men in power--and ship them off to an offworld prison complex, AKA "Bitch Planet." We are slowly introduced to our main characters (Kamau Kogo, Meiko Maki, the fabulous Penelope Rolle) who are drafted to fight in a violent sport called "Megaton," which is obsessively watched back home on Earth. Unfortunately, while there is some backstory on the characters (particularly Penelope, in a wonderful montage where she asserts her self-image as a large, beautiful black woman), there is no worldbuilding to speak of. What is the Protectorate? Was there a war fought, and who won, and how did this world get to be the way it is?

Perhaps this isn't the point. This comic has a lot to say about the world today: feminism, intersectionality, patriarchy, male entitlement (the first issue has an asshole dumping his 41-year-old wife on Bitch Planet so he can be with a younger woman; the wife, Marian Collins, is subsequently killed), how society views women in general and in particular any women who doesn't fit in a "box." It's using the trappings of the future as a sometimes vicious comment on the world we are living in right now. Still, that leaves the overall story a bit thin; I think some background on this society would deepen it considerably.

Just as a comparison, since some other reviewers commented on it, I bought Issue #6 separately. In the back, after the issue's storyline concludes, there are feminist essays, letters from readers, and an interview with a Japanese woman who does "designer vagina art." These add tremendously to the issue as a whole, and it's too bad these weren't included in the paperback.

Nevertheless, this is a worthy read. Hopefully these initial bumps will smooth out as the story goes forward.

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