Bitch Planet #5 is not just emotionally intense, it is intellectually acute, as well. It works because Kelly Sue knows how to tell a compelling story, and so you’re totally engaged in the fiction. Still, Bitch Planet forces you to think beyond the plot. I suppose you could read the issue and gloss over the metacontext, but it wouldn’t be without some effort. That stands out to me as a strength because as much as I love Wu and Fletcher’s Black Canary (and many of the other Big Two books), the ride is over so quickly. 20 pages and a bunch of advertisements doesn’t feel particularly satisfying, whereas Bitch Planet is wonderfully dense with content. Maybe that’s not your bag, but I enjoy spending time with my comics.
The thing that presents itself most prominently to me in Bitch Planet #5 is intersectionality where some have privilege in certain ways, but are oppressed in other ways. If you’re not familiar with the concept of intersectionality, then stop what you are doing and get to Googling. It is such an important concept. If you’re feeling academic, here’s an article on intersectionality in feminist theory.
Another thing that struck me is how the death in the issue is illustrated. Kelly Sue does a follow-up essay in the backmatter, and she says something that I had not given much thought to.
To stick the narrative landing at the end of the issue, I think it does call for a moment of pause where you are not sure whether the character is dead or not. So, that could simply be the reason why the execution wasn’t particularly gruesome. At the same time, the gravity and emotion of tragedy and trauma can be conveyed without graphic imagery. If that was intentional beyond the story beats, then I applaud it — especially when we’re dealing with men being violent towards women.
Read my review below. Read Bitch Planet #5.
PS. This issue’s backmatter essay is by Lindy West, and it is a riot. I belly-laughed and said “Hell yeah!” a couple of times.
Bitch Planet #5
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro and Chris Peter
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
For the final issue of the first arc, the cover warns you to “steel yourselves for heartbreak,” but no amount of armor could come close to preparing you for impact. Megaton is an even more brutal version of football, and the prisoners of Bitch Planet have been commissioned to compete in the wildly popular sport for a chance at redemption and possibly escape. Meiko Maki is not only an NC; she’s also the daughter of the man who engineered the Megaton arena. She’s the glimmer of hope for the prisoners, so the stakes are incredibly high in Bitch Planet #5 as the NCs play the prison guards in a Megaton scrimmage turned deathmatch.
This issue opens with the 12-panel grid of a televised news feed. The reporter runs through the snippets of social deviation and the coming Megaton competition featuring the women incarcerated on Bitch Planet. The images appearing behind her caricature the “deviant” women like animals, and more specifically like apes, while the caption at the bottom highlights the financial profit of the corporations running the event: “Stocks post gains.”
With every page turn, Bitch Planet overtly deals with the oppression of women, as advertisements for vaginoplasty and modesty masks runs across the ticker tape. Yet, at the same time, it never forgets intersectionality. The first page alone is densely packed with media distortion, condescending nicknames, toxic masculinity, racist mascots and the objectification of athletes in the “Players Auction,” and we haven’t even gotten to the character dialogue yet. But when you do, the entire issue is a “cornucopia of intersectional oppression,” to quote the riotous Lindy West essay contained in the backmatter of Bitch Planet #5.
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s superpower is the clever, layered and unapologetic dialogue that can represent a broad swath of perspectives that she’s so talented at crafting. In doing so, she swiftly subverts the sexism, racism and the many other “-isms” that plague the Bitch Planet universe (and ours). The break-neck third-person perspective requires the reader to think as the dialogue moves from patronizing to riveting to hopeful to infuriating to heartbreaking. The omnipotence of this corporate prison complex is punctuated. An NC is unfairly and brutally destroyed. And still, there is room left for compassion from the perspective of someone in the employ of the antagonist. Everyone suffers from an oppressive agenda, not just the non-compliant.
Valentine De Landro and Chris Peter illustrate the violent neutering of the underdog with emotional gravity and poignant color. There are no glorified splash pages in this issue; instead, the story is packed into what feels like significantly more panels than usual. Smaller panels provide less opportunity for background detail and dynamic exposition, and Peter uses a muddy palette, gradients of blue and muted brown offset by heavily-inked negative space, shadows and silhouettes. It all feels thick to move through at times, but it suits the tone and definitive style of Bitch Planet.
There is also a distinct subtlety in the climax of the issue. The violence inflicted upon the female NCs by the male guards is not as gory as usual. DeConnick reflects in the backmatter on the consumption of death and violence in fiction and in real life. Explicitly discussing the voyeurism of watching videos of racial violence and feeling like it is “predatory.” I wonder if this inspired the end of Bitch Planet #5, honoring a slightly less brutal “visual vocabulary.” With that in mind, De Landro doesn’t miss a beat, and the emotional impact is fully intact with human expression. It is remarkable how much can be conveyed in a scream of pain, a sinister grimace, the devastation of disappointment and a raging side-eye. De Landro’s execution is arresting.
Metacontext fills nearly every panel of this issue, so you might think Bitch Planet #5 would be at risk of being buried by the weight of its feminist message. You would be wrong. The challenges and injustice that Kamau, Penny and the rest of the NCs face only serve to make us root for them more. Will they prevail? Will they survive? One thing is sure, it won’t be without one hell of a fight. Through immense density of character, story and style, it is starkly evident that the creators put an insane amount of thought, care and intention into this issue. In doing so, they made Bitch Planet #5 overwhelmingly provocative, engrossing and sad, and it is deserving of the same level of thought and care from the reader.