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Bitch Planet #1 Review

"Caged Heat"

There may not be a more perfect title to a recent comic book than Bitch Planet, the new Image Comics series from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro that updates the 1970’s “women-in-prison” exploitation movie trope into the futuristic sci-fi genre. The premise is fundamentally great: a popular writer taking a known but not obvious genre and then reworking it, within a different genre, into a feminist adventure story. So the question is does it work? Is Bitch Planet totally bitchin’ or not?

 

Bitch Planet #1 p1

 

As with any new series, it’s a little difficult to tell from one issue how Bitch Planet will play out. Still, DeConnick and De Lando have offered a promising start, full of fire, intrigue, and surprises, even if the central story is still a little murky. The basic set-up is clear: Bitch Planet #1 is set in a futuristic world that seems utopia on the surface but is actually dystopian because free will and choice have been curbed. People can get into real trouble from some authority (though it’s not yet clear what the authority is – the government? a dictatorship?) if as “non-compliant.” Women who are labeled “non-compliant” get shipped to a correctional planet for women, officially called the “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost” but nicknamed “Bitch Planet.”

 

The story immediately jumps into the action at the prison, where there are riots and shady characters. We’re really introduced to three main female prisoners: Marian Collins, a woman whose husband sold her out to make way for his mistress; Penny Rolle, an exceptionally large woman with a temper to match; and Kamau Kogo, who has good fighting skills and what appear to be good intentions. Surprisingly, one of these characters is killed off at the end of the first issue. This gives the series unpredictability, though it also makes it a little difficult to figure out the overarching story.

 

Bitch Planet #1 p2

 

Even though Orange is the New Black has already told a modern feminist take on women’s prison, it is much more a dramedy. Bitch Planet, on the other hand, wants to go much more in the trashy B-movie action direction. It’s similar to what Quentin Tarantino has done with old movie genres but with a more political motive. Considering that two of the characters we’re introduced to in Bitch Planet #1 are black or of mixed race, I’m thinking race and incarceration will be a theme in the series, though it’s not a huge part of issue #1.

 

The cover of Bitch Planet #1 has emblazoned “Girl Gangs…” “Caged and Enraged!” over a retro-style movie poster type of illustration. This seems to promise a campy take on the story. However, what occurs inside the issue of Bitch Planet #1 is much more straight-forward sci-fi action with political and humorous strains. The story itself doesn’t feel retro in any significant way, despite what the cover and the premise might seem to indicate. I actually think this is a good choice because being retro and campy for their own sake would get tired quickly.

 

Bitch Planet #1 p3

 

This is my first experience with the art of Valentine De Landro (X-Factor), but I am impressed with the art. From the logo to the character design, he seems to have a great feel for this story. He also shows the chaos of the prison riots but on a large and small scale. There are a few places where his placement of small panels of a ruling council/guardians at the prison are a little confusing, but that is mostly a small complaint when the art is overall very strong and well suited to the story.

 

Those few council/rulers/commentators have a recurring role in Bitch Planet #1, but it’s not entirely clear who they are. That is the biggest question that emerged for me from the issue. Who are these guys with their eye screens? At the end, they refer to one of the inmates as “the star of our show.” So is the Bitch Planet really a The Running Man-type of futuristic deadly reality/game show? What is the exact nature of the “show?” Despite the major questions about the central story, Bitch Planet #1 is a fun and engaging mix of action and message, one that would seems primed for a potent ongoing series.

Rating
7.4
Pros
  • A great premise and title
  • Some interesting characters have already been introduced
  • Good mix of humor, action, and drama
  • Surprising end of the issue
Cons
  • The overall story is still unclear from the first issue
  • Marian Collins' husband is a pretty two-dimensional character

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