Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

One of the best things about my favorite local bookstore is the way they host so many cool events and book clubs, and offer the book club selections at 15% off for the month. I’d previously been to an excellent non-fiction gathering to discuss Britney Spears’ The Woman In Me last January, but hadn’t really felt moved to come to another one till I saw that Bitch Planet was the Heavy Graphic Novel Book Club selection for April.

I greatly enjoy Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work… oh, wait. I just looked it up and I think I must have confused her with someone else, as both of her other books I’ve read — Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly — were firmly middle-of-the-road for me (and now I don’t know WHO exactly I was thinking of. Maybe Kate Leth? Why do so many comicbook writers have such gorgeously glossy red hair?) Anyway! I went to People’s Book in Takoma Park for an amazing combined (and free!) Tarot and Oracle reading the other night, and purchased this volume in gratitude. Absolutely devoured it over sahur the next morning and knew I had to come back for the book club a few days later. Led by the lovely Simone, four of us discussed the themes and art of this amazing title, before wonderful Milo ordered in copies of the other two volumes of this still-to-be-completed series for us to purchase. Gosh, I hope Ms DeConnick and Valentine De Landro get the chance to finish it soon: it’s so good and I’m completely hooked after the first volume alone!

Anyway, Bitch Planet is the nickname for an off-world penal colony where women who are “non-compliant” are sent in exile from Earth’s patriarchal society. It’s a brutal women’s prison, and non-compliance can mean basically anything that displeases a man. Former athlete Kamau Kogo is a prisoner here, but is quickly tapped to lead a team of fellow inmates in competing in the globally televised pastime of Megaton, a rugby-like sport with billions of fans and viewers. Kam has zero interest in participating in the regime’s circuses, but some of her fellow prisoners persuade her to do it, with unexpected and devastating results.

The most chilling part of this sci-fi comic is how easily its contents are extrapolated from today’s various anti-feminist movements. In the book, the patriarchy has resurged, taking over the world and using shame and conformity to keep women in check, before outright exiling and murdering them for things like not being aesthetically pleasing or saying no to a man. Basically, any woman who tries to assert herself as a person and not a plaything for a man is treated as a criminal. From the very first issue, this horrifying state of affairs is stamped firmly into readers’ brains, with the grim reminder that even playing along gets you nothing in the long run.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because it’s really so good and so shocking, but mad props especially to the issue going into Penny’s background. I really love that our main protagonists are Black, and that most of their allies are also women of color. The interstitial back page ads are also brilliant, really adding depth to the world-building.

Mr De Landro’s art is the perfect accompaniment for this story, with Robert Wilson IV guesting to tremendous impact on Penny’s aforementioned back story. I was actually kinda surprised but very, very pleased when I learned that Mr De Landro is a dude. The rage in these pages feels almost exclusively female, so it’s both important and gratifying to have allies who understand the struggle and are just as committed as the rest of us to seeing everyone treated as a whole human being with opinions, feelings and agency. As we discussed in book club, patriarchy hurts men and people outside of the binary, too!

I’m really looking forward to going back and picking up the rest of this series. This first volume has been so smart and fierce and funny and heartbreaking: I can’t wait to read more.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro was published October 20 2015 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including

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