Saturday 9 July 2016

#CBR8 Book 71: "Bitch Planet, vol 1: Extraordinary Machine" by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro

Page count: 156 pages
Rating: 4 stars

"In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. Mother Earth, we used to say, before we understood. Space is the mother who receives us, you see? Earth is the father. And your father has cast you out. For your trespasses, your gluttony, your pride, your weakness, and your wickedness are such that you are beyond correction and castigation. Like a cancer you must be excised from the world that bore you. For the well-being of us all, lest your sickness spread. You will live out your lives in penitence and service here..."

These are the words, read by a woman, that the women sent to the Auxilliary Compliance Outpost, an off-world prison colony, more colloquially known as "Bitch Planet". Who is deemed non-compliant? It could be as the back cover of the trade paperback says anyone who doesn't fit in their patriarchally-assigned box, be they too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, or too whatever-it-is-they'll-judge-you-for-today. Compliant women all seem to be thin, demure, white and blond.

The world is controlled by the "Fathers" and anyone who doesn't fit into their ever-changing images of what a good, submissive and compliant little female should be, is sent away to prison. It is a world that wouldn't work if many women didn't also conform to these crazy standards, helping the men police their sisters, mothers, daughters, supporting the internalized patriarchy.

In the first five issues, collected in Extraordinary Machine, we meet a number of women sent to Bitch Planet, and get some glimpses into what some of them did to be deemed non-compliant enough to be imprisoned. Some of the women are offered a flimsy chance at freedom, offered to form a team and compete in the hugely popular, much betted-on, universally televised sport Megaton. Kamau Kogo, a former athlete, now accused of a murder she didn't commit, is asked to assemble a team. She initially refuses, but is persuaded to change her mind by other women in the prison, who want to grasp at the tender straw of hope the proposal brings.

So many Cannonballers have already written excellent and much-more eloquent reviews of this book than I can manage. El Cicco, SavageCat, Narfna, Emmalita, Yesknopemaybe, Jenny S, Alwaysanswerb and Bonnie. It's difficult to come up with anything clever and insightful that one (or several of them) hasn't already said. This is an important, angry and deeply feminist comic. It has many important messages about the way toxic patriarchy brings women down and how it brain-washes ladies into buying into the lies, so many of them in turn help oppress fellow women. The writing is good, the art is deliberately pulpy. The "adverts" at the end of each issue are subversive and great, but also provide terrifying facts about domestic abuse and violence against women in the US today.

I don't know when the next trade is out, but I shall keep my eyes open.

Judging a Book by its cover: Each of the issues of Bitch Planet have stylised and pulpy covers, reminiscent, as Emmalita points out in her review, of the cheap pop art of “girls, girls, girls” comics. There is the silhouette of a full-figured lady who is clearly non-compliant, giving both middle fingers to the world. The pink background shows some of the prisoners on the right side of the silhouette, with the  prison guards and their terrifying busty, and leggy Confessor Nun in a chair with her legs crossed. Above the silhouette's head, naked women wearing helmets, fighting. "Are you woman enough to survive?" "Girl Gangs...Caged and Enraged" printed at various places across the cover, again, calling to mind pulpy exploitation comics. It's a good cover, for a very good book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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