Bitch Planet Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine
It’s the first installment of Trade Review Sunday! Every week, I’ll be reviewing a different volume 1 of an ongoing series in hopes of sparking some interest in new readers. I’m going to try and not to spoil these reviews because I want you to support these creators and pick up their work. This week, we have the first volume of Bitch Planet written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Valentine De Landro.
I picked up this trade over a year ago when my LCS had a 50% off sale and I never got around to reading it until this week and now I totally understand all the praise it’s received. The best quick description I can give for this would be a sci fi, women in prison on a different planet, group gladiator match hodgepodge. It’s set in a dystopian reality where troublesome women are tired and punished for offenses ranging from murder to being overweight.
Bitch Planet is primarily set on the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost (A.O.C.) which is an off planet prison for “non-compliant” (NC) women. The prison is an interesting mixture of Orange is the New Black and the Running Man. The women prisoners are checked in and greeted by a corseted hologram nun before being issued uniforms and eventually confessing their transgressions to the hologram. From page 2, we get an abrupt crash course in how things are handled on Bitch Planet and this is also where we meet our two main characters Marian Collins and Penny Rolle. Without giving too much away, Marian is given an ultimatum and has to assemble a team to play the guards in Deumila, which is basically rugby with one on one fist fights.
I absolutely loved this. I thought it was a unique take on the prison system, dystopian futures, and oddly enough the Longest Yard. Each character, even the minor ones, are given a backstory of some kind which gives all of them more depth and makes it easier to care about what happens to them. The dialogue between prisoners and guards shows a real tension that I feel like would be difficult to capture accurately but this does a great job of showing us the animosity between the two groups. This book is a huge middle finger to the patriarchy as well as people who don’t believe that feminism is intersectional. The majority of these characters are women of color and I think that was used as a way to accurately represent our current prison system and as a way to show that feminism isn’t just an issue for white women. I know people often say they don’t like politics in their comic books and think things like this don’t have a place or audience, but I think books like this are important for the advancement of the comics industry. Even if you don’t agree with the political undertones in the story, there’s something for everyone here. The writing is incredibly well done, the dialogue is believable and and the entire tone and aesthetic that artist Valentine De Landro goes for just makes for an incredible package.
Aside from the storytelling, the back pages are one of my favorite things about Bitch Planet. Each single issue has fake and real products in the back pages with some absurdly hilarious captions. You can even order some of these products from the writer by old fashioned snail mail. It’s a great throwback to the old comics ads for X Ray Specs and Sea Monkeys of the 50s and 60s.
I love this book and I’d recommend it to anyone that loves sci-fi comics or someone that wants something new. I walked into this not knowing anything about it aside from what a bunch of angry nerds said and I was pleasantly surprised. There’s definitely a place for something like this and I think right now it’s more relevant than ever.