Hey everyone! Another week, another Forte, another edition of Pulp! As always, I’ve picked out a cracker of a comic to talk about, so without any further ado, let’s dive in. This week’s comic is a book that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, but never got around to picking up. I’ve heard a lot about it over the last few years and now I’ve finally gotten my hands on it – Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly) and drawn by Valentine Da Landro (Marvel Knights: 4, X-Factor). Bitch Planet is part sci-fi, part feminist commentary and makes for one hell of a story.
Set an unspecified time in the future, the Earth of the Bitch Planet universe is a different place. There’s similarities – society functions more or less the same, and people are relatively comfortable – but with some dramatic differences. Like something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, society has become a hyper-patriarchal system, with men controlling all aspects of day-to-day life. Society has grown to resemble the dated ideals of yesteryear – the men work and control, and the women exist to please and serve them. The undesirables, the Non-Compliants – the women that don’t conform to these standards – are shipped off-planet to the “Auxilary Compliance Outpost”, colloquially known as Bitch Planet. The inmates are brutally repressed, and any sign of rebellion is met with immediate reprisal – usually a beating. Following her implication in the death of another inmate, Kamau Kogo is offered a unique opportunity – build a team to play televised games of Duemila – a brutal sport that mixes rugby and gladiatorial combat – and play for her and her team-mates’ freedom. The catch? The deck is well and truly stacked against them, and there’s no guarantee any of them will survive.
Bitch Planet is one hell of a ride. It’s in-your-face, down and dirty, and just plain doesn’t give a fuck. It’s essentially Orange is the New Black meets The Handmaid’s Tale, set in space, and it’s as nuts as it sounds. It’s a gripping prison story with distinctive feminist themes, and while there are plenty of story threads in play, the whole thing is utterly engrossing. DeConnick wrote the comic as a love letter to the “women in prison” films common in the 60s and 70s, and you can absolutely see their influence. The cast of characters is varied, diverse and engaging; I particularly enjoyed the issue devoted to showing Penny’s backstory – it really fleshed her out as a character, and made her all the more entertaining as the volume went on. Assuming the rest of the cast get a similar treatment, I’m quite confident that the later volumes will be just as enjoyable.
A big part of Bitch Planet’s appeal comes from its art. Valentine De Landro’s work is fantastic, and sets the tone beautifully. His work on the covers is particularly inspired – it resembles retro sci-fi comics, and I absolutely love it. DeConnick and De Landro seem to work beautifully together, and I’m really keen to see where they go with the later volumes. Bitch Planet makes for a really fascinating exploration of societal values, and while anything with the feminist label might drive away a certain subset of readers, I definitely recommend it. If you like your comics bold, loud and enthralling, Bitch Planet might just be your new favourite.
Written by Alastair McGibbon