Thursday, December 11, 2014
"You will live out your lives in penitence and service here...may the mother have mercy on your souls."
Prison was designed as a deterrent. Unfortunately, it's become more of an extended stay for most, housing all manner of criminal (guilty or not) as a means of rehabilitating them for a return to society. Part of the prison routine is just that, a routine imposed by the guards. In Bitch Planet #1 from Image Comics, that routine is referred to as compliance and the prisoners are women. The issue is written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro, colored by Chris Peter and lettered by Clayton Cowles.
The Auxiliary Compliance Outpost was designed to house non-compliant women, but it has another name that's slightly more vulgar: Bitch Planet. It exists on another planet and relies on corporal punishment as a seemingly effective means of forcing compliance. It all sets up as the backdrop for the arrival of Marian Collins, a new inmate swearing her innocence amidst a veritable bonanza of organized chaos. Meanwhile, Marian's husband is on the outside making moves that will have a direct impact on Marian's treatment while incarcerated at Bitch Planet.
Good prison stories are always good reads and Bitch Planet #1 is certainly no exception. In fact, DeConnick's first issue is basically a template that other first issues should follow in terms of set-up and delivery. Marian's demeanor in the prison is very similar to that of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, as neither Marian nor Andy exhibit traits that would make one think they were prepared (physically or emotionally) for imprisonment. And where the first issue truly excels is in setting up Bitch Planet as a character itself for Marian and the others to interact with; DeConnick gives just enough information so that the reader somewhat understands the situation, but not enough where it's completely explained. The "reveal" at the end regarding Marian's husband is genuinely surprising and further sets the context for women being punished for being "non-compliant."
The art style does a fantastic job of offering characters are diverse, yet manage to exist together in a certain harmony. De Landro illustrates a lot of naked women throughout the book, using that as a means of truly showcasing a wide variety of body types and looks. It's refreshing in that it's not trying to use sex to sell the book; rather, it's perfect at offering a sober realization that women are often subjected to the whims of others holding authority over them. The women on Bitch Planet feel alive and unique, which offers a great contrast to the soulless, yes-men bureaucrats on the outside who manipulate the women and punish them for non-compliance. Peter imbues the work with an array of neons and emphatic shading that affords details like blood to be more pronounced and meaningful.
Bitch Planet #1 is an extremely satisfying first issue that does everything it should, including offering an ending that makes you more fully realize the true plight of the women on Bitch Planet. Regardless of the decades committed to gender equality, women still face an uphill battle in many regards and Bitch Planet #1 explores the concept of women "not coming to heel" as expected by society brilliantly. DeConnick has charged the script with an abundance of emotion; strong-will and refusal to accept the status quo on the part of the female characters and a "woe is me" attitude on the part of the men. De Landro's art is equally as electric, pitting silhouettes of fighters against more fully illustrated characters to emphasize the action. Bitch Planet #1 is a ruthlessly honest look at gender relations in society that shows no signs of abating in its assault on the norm in future issues.
Bitch Planet #1 is in stores now.