The press blurb for Bitch Planet #1 describes it as a ” highly anticipated women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation riff.” Nothing about that is false – that’s exactly what Bitch Planet is, on the surface – but it sells the book short, to some extent. Bitch Planet is certainly a “women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation riff”, but it’s so much more than that; that much is clear even from the first issue’s 24 pages.
At an unspecified point in the future, Earth has become some sort of authoritarian, 1984-esque society with strict rules about compliance, particularly when it comes to women. Those deemed “non-compliant” are sent to an off-world prison colony called the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, but better known by its slang name: Bitch Planet.
Issue one makes it clear where that name comes from, as it portrays the arrival of a new cohort of prisoners. A group of cold, scared, and angry women without so much as a piece of underwear to their name are “welcomed” to Bitch Planet (sorry – the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost) by an eerily happy, bright pink hologram. The hologram instructs the new inmates to locate their stalls according to ID numbers, where they’ll find their new prison garb, and Penelope, number 48-1230, soon finds that the uniform she’s been assigned is far too small. “The hell…? Where’m I supposed to put my other tit?” she says, in a shot prominently showing off a tattoo with the words “Born Big” on her burly left arm.
Not one to take something like this lying down, questions the sizing, only to be told that “uniforms are constructed for your specific measurements”, before getting hit by a guard, triggering a riot in the intake facility. “What was that, 2 minutes? I think We’ve set a new record,” says an official overseeing the arrival. Clearly, incidents like these aren’t uncommon.
Being the first issue, Bitch Planet #1 mainly serves to establish the characters and setting, something it does exceptionally well. It’s not really evident until the final pages who, of this group of Non-Compliants, is the star of the show – something that’s revealed with a fantastic twist that I won’t spoil for you here. Instead of a brief summary in the early pages outlining the situation, as is so common, Bitch Planet #1 shows readers the kind of world Earth has become. Shots of what looks like New York show police drones flying overhead. Electronic billboards say things like “BUY THIS – IT WILL FIX YOU” and “EAT LESS, POOP MORE – LESS OF YOU TO LOVE.”
This points to an important subtext in Bitch Planet #1 that will no doubt be a mainstay of the series as a whole – that of body image. Among the inmates, a huge range of body types can be seen – tall, short, slender, fat, muscular, dark-skinned, light-skinned, different hairstyles… Earth shows a stark contrast to this; the few women we do see there fit strictly into the mold of the “ideal”, at least according to Western beauty standards. The residents of Bitch Planet are non-compliant in more ways than one.
Aside from an excellent script that’s to be expected from someone of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s calibre, Valentine De Landro’s artwork is one of Bitch Planet’s standout features. It’s weirdly anachronistic, with limited colour palettes sharp, distinct shading, and dot-work background textures that look like something straight out of the ’40s that all somehow manage to feel modern and not even slightly dated. The shading, coupled with bold, angular linework and heavy contrast give every panel a sense of impact and vibrancy that’s underscored by the careful use of colours.
It’s not perfect – there are some pacing issues, for example – but Bitch Planet #1 is, overall, an excellent first issue in what is bound to be a fantastic series. Not only is it riveting reading with some of the best art I’ve seen of late, but the importance of challenging body image norms in comics, and in society at large, can’t be understated.
Bitch Planet #1 is created by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro, and published by Image Comics on December 10, 2014.
A physical copy of the comic, bought at the reviewer’s expense, was used for this review.