“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.” – Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette)
Okay, so I’ve said before that I want to post book reviews every once in a while on my WordPress, especially when I find a book I really really love. And tonight I have, so I’m going to type this review up very quickly and then get back to NaNoWriMo!
Tonight I want to focus on a graphic novel series called Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. It’s pretty new to the scene. The first volume, which I checked out from the library where I work, is dated 2015. And damn, do I hope it stays around for a long time to come.
Fair warning for potential readers: This graphic novel is rated M for Mature, and there is certainly swearing, violence, and plenty of (mostly non-hypersexualized) nudity. The artists are not shy.
There’s a long list of reasons why I love this graphic novel.
First of all, the art is phenomenal. There are lots of colors. The characters make great facial expressions and are very easy to tell apart. There are some really interesting “cinematic” panels.
Secondly, it made me laugh. Each issue is divided by these little magazines. One is called Hey Kids, Patriarchy! and the other is called Advice for Ladies. One is feminist, the other is anti-feminist. The former is full of tongue-in-cheek feminist humor, the latter is so absurd but hits so close to home. Another tiny, clever thing I noticed is the artists’/writers’ penchant for putting in little comedic moments in the backgrounds of some scenes. For instance, while the protagonist, Kam, chats with some women in the foreground while they’re running laps, Penny Rolle runs out of breath and is confronted by a guard when she stops running; while Kam continues her conversation unaware, Penny starts a huge fight with the guards. In another scene, while a news reporter gives the scoop, a woman walks by in the background and flashes the camera, with “Eleanor Lives!” written across her chest and stomach (Eleanor, from what I understand, being a former POTUS — although that has yet to be explored, and has me itching for volume 2). Moments like these made me giggle. A lot.
Thirdly, the setting is REALLY F*CKING COOL. You like sci-fi? You got it. Dystopian worlds? Check. It’s set in the future. In this future, “Non-Compliant” (or NC) women are shipped off of Earth to another planet, nicknamed by sexist assholes “Bitch Planet,” which is essentially a women’s prison/correctional facility. In this world, women are expected to bow to patriarchal standards and fit into the mold men tell them to fit. The men in power refer to themselves as “the Fathers,” and claim to “care” for these women prisoners, but it’s pretty clear from the get-go that their “care” is just a mask for a need to control women as a whole.
The plot is also radical. Kam, a prisoner, is wrongfully accused of murdering a fellow prisoner (who was actually killed in a scheme organized by the higher-ups). The prison steps forward with an offer for Kam: if she joins an all-NC-woman sports team for a game called Megaton, they will sweep the murder accusations under the rug. Kam eventually agrees, and picks the strongest, most NC women she can find to build up her team. It soon becomes obvious that the higher-ups plan on using this Megaton team to kill off the most “troubled” women in the prison and make it look like an accident.
The best part of Bitch Planet is, most importantly: DIVERSE, COMPLEX LADIES! EVERYWHERE! ON EVERY! SINGLE! PAGE! (Male characters, too, were of diverse races, and the main antagonist, Father Josephson, commits racist microaggressions towards his colleagues on almost every page.) You’ve got fat women, skinny women, pretty women, plain women, black women, white women, Asian women, Latina women, young women, old women, disabled women, privileged women (who are and are not aware of their privileges), indoctrinated women, misogynist women, “anti-feminist” women, timid women, bold women, emotional women, cold women, muscular women, women who are physically weak, straight women, queer women… So complex. So diverse. So flawed and human. All experiencing sexism and racism and ableism in different ways. It is refreshing. It is AMAZING. I cannot rant enough about how much I love it. It is phenomenal to see so much representation in only some 150-odd pages. It is everything I could have dreamed of in one media source. Writers, take note: these are “strong female characters” — every single one of them.
Perhaps the scariest thing about this graphic novel is that, despite its being set in the future, the setting is not so far-fetched. The prisoners are imprisoned for things that women are harassed, beaten, and killed over every single day across the globe — yes, even in America. In Bitch Planet, there are women imprisoned for ACTUAL crimes (i.e. murder). Then there are women who are imprisoned for “fetal murder” (aka abortion, which is NOT a crime in America today, although there are plenty of people trying to make it a crime), for “disrespect” (of spouses, of fathers, of men in general), for having Down Syndrome, for being overweight, for being “a bad mother,” for essentially “friendzoning” a man… Basically, they are imprisoned for not being “perfect” in men’s eyes. It’s pretty terrifying, and not totally unrealistic. Women experience this shit every single day.
And perhaps the most touching moment was in one of the “issues” of Hey Kids, Patriarchy! The graphic novel team put in a dedication to Leelah Alcorn, the transgender girl who committed suicide last year. It’s just one little blurb, but it is thoughtful and kind.
Bitch Planet gets 5/5 stars from me. It’s everything feminism should be: loud, proud, and inclusive. And, most importantly, it is diverse. If you are interested, here is a link to purchase the comics through their publisher. Or check your local library for a copy!