Title: Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Beautiful Machine
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Illustrator: Valentine De Landro
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: Borrowed a copy from the library
Earlier today I read an article on Jezebel about a man who shot a 3-year-old girl after her mother rejected his advances. The sad thing is that stories like this — where men get violent after women reject them — happen all the goddamn time. If you don’t read stories like that, there are others on the gender wage gap. Or on the whole idea of the second shift. Or on the entrenchment of tech-bro culture in Silicon Valley. Stories to invoke outrage are endless. The worst part is that, at this point, it’s typical for our outrage to be mingled with a sense of world-weary fatigue.
Bitch Planet is a comic book that transforms that fatigue back into a howl of rage.
In a not-so-implausible world where “non-compliant” or “NC” women (aka: those who are too fat, too ugly, too sexually unwilling, too mouthy) get shipped off to a prison planet in space, a group of such NCs are offered the chance to participate in a deadly contact sport called “megaton” (which is normally played by men only) in order to gain a scrap of respect. Of course, the religious overlords responsible for determining a woman’s level of compliance are more than happy to partner up with the corporate overlords looking for the next big ratings magnet. Global audience engagement has been flagging and the ratings that such a mixed-sex game would generate are too tempting to ignore.
Into this confluence of backstage jockeying arrives Kamau Kogo, a new arrival on Bitch Planet who’s been offered the unheard of chance to lead an all-woman megaton team. But she knows that the odds are stacked against her, so she’s got to find an unconventional strategy to win.
Well, where better to find players who can break a game’s rules than a space station full of women who’ve been exiled for breaking the rules of society?
Bitch Planet, Vol 1 is a collection of the comic’s first 5 issues. I’ve been thinking a lot about the volume’s subtitle, “Beautiful Machine.” There are a lot of ways you can interpret that phrase. The society of Bitch Planet operates on strict, unyielding logic to achieve a certain result: the entrenchment of male entitlement, consumer capitalist culture, and the hemming in of women so that only a small number of socially-acceptable roles are available to them. Is it beautiful? On the surface, maybe, but on the inside it’s rotten. It may be a pretty machine, but it’s a hateful one too.
What about our bodies? Are they machines? Legs pump like pistons, muscles require food like cars require fuel. We move, we breathe, we emit exhaust/exude exhaustion. And if there is a single person on Bitch Planet that embodies non-compliance, it’s Penelope Rolle, an extremely large, extremely strong, and extremely violent baker who’s had everything — her family, her livelihood — stripped away from her. Watching Penelope fight and steamroll her opponents on the field is its own form of beauty.
I have really mixed feelings about Bitch Planet, Vol 1. I want to read the rest of the series and see how things turn out. Will Kamau manage to subvert the system? Is there an overarching plot point behind the pulpy, fake ads at the end of each issue? However, my appreciation of the comic’s aesthetic and the points its making about society are just that: appreciation, rather than true enjoyment. This is a comic that has Things To Say. But I’m also tired, so tired, of living in the kind of world that makes comics like this necessary in the first place.