Graphic novels are a different experience than all text, but the great ones elicit the same responses. Great stories are great regardless of medium. But the best take full advantage of the medium. The first volume of Bitch Planet exceeded all my expectations, which were high based on the creative team of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. When I saw an advanced reading copy of Bitch Planet Vol 2 available, I jumped on the chance to read and review. Bitch Planet is science fiction in a universe where non-compliant women are imprisoned on a separate planet, and artistically it was “born of a deep and abiding love for exploitation and women in prison movies of the ’60s and ’70s.”1 The combination makes for a gorgeous story that draws the reader in, entertains, and, at least for me, educates.
TL;DR: Highly recommended. Volume one set an extremely high bar, and volume two cleared it without trouble. This comic is science fiction at its best.
From the publisher:
A few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords results in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. But what happened on Earth that this new world order came to pass in the first place? Return to the grim corridors of Auxiliary Compliance Outpost #2, to uncover the first clues to the history of the world as we know it… and meet PRESIDENT BITCH. Collects BITCH PLANET #6-10
Volume two collects issues six through ten; it opens with one of the prisoner’s backstory. It’s a tense, uncomfortable story but an important one. Then issue seven picks up the story from the end of issue five. The death at the end of volume one has an immediate impact but will also have important consequences throughout this volume. An important revelation changes the direction that I thought the plot was headed towards. DeConnick’s writing is fantastic; it’s a fast-paced adventure that does not lack depth. Dialogue and plot meld together. As with volume one, this is DeConnick at her best. Normally, I do not read graphic novels in one sitting, but I couldn’t put Bitch Planet volume two down. The story moved along effortlessly, and before I realized it, I was looking at the title page for issue ten.
The art of Bitch Planet works with the writing to make a story that is greater than the sum of its parts. I know that’s the point of graphic novels, but here, it just has the right feel. This is the right art for this story. Art is important to me when picking a graphic novel. I’ve passed on recommended stories because the art just didn’t work for me. No matter how good the story is; if the art is bad, I’m not gonna finish. Then there are graphic novels were it feels like an artist and a writer working alongside each other to create a product. For Bitch Planet, De Landro and DeConnick are working together to create an experience. It has a retro feel, which pays homage to the exploitation influences. But it also has a distinct color scheme that feels slightly off of reality but at the same time is a reminder of the SF and dystopian nature of the story. At the end of each issue is an excellent graphic that is meant to be an in-world example of sexism. They are witty additions that satirize our own world.
My only criticism is that the story feels a bit rushed in this volume as compared to the last. I wanted to linger more on some of the actions to feel a deeper impact. While processing one plot twist, I was hit with another.
Bitch Planet is an explicitly feminist comic aimed at a mature audience. It teaches without being preachy, and it’s a lesson that many people should pay attention to, especially those who say they’ll avoid this comic because it’s feminist. Sadly, I found that the book portrayed sexism ultra-realistic, and in the current US political climate, this comic feels both timely and as a warning sign. Switch the science fiction setting with any other genre, and the character interactions will not suffer. DeConnick and De Landro have created a timely piece of art that is needed now more than ever.
Highly, highly recommended.
1. Quote from Kelly Sue DeConnick, “Kelly Sue DeConnick tackles exploitation tropes in ‘Bitch Planet’,” Hero Complex