A self-proclaimed feminist comic, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch Planet began making waves from the release of its very first issue, with the cover sporting the question, “Are you woman enough to survive?” above the image of a woman with both middle fingers flung above her head. The new series, produced by Image Comics, manages both to reflect and criticize old prison exploitation films, all the while making commentary on modern day society. The story centers around a woman, Kamau Kogo, who, alongside a colorful and varying cast of women, is sent to a prison in space known in the vernacular as Bitch Planet (where they send the bitches). The women there are all those deemed by society (and in particular the men in society) as non-compliant. Of course, within this satirically exaggerated patriarchal society, to be non-compliant could mean almost anything, and the women’s crimes range from murder to gluttony or outspokenness. One women’s sole crime is that she is no longer desired by her husband, who wishes to replace her with a younger, more beautiful woman, and so has her sent away.
The commentary is not subtle, nor does the book shy away from clear and graphic illustrations of how the women of the story are exploited, and how they fight back. The book’s artist, Valentine De Landro, makes no effort to showcase the violence perpetrated by and against the women, as well as plenty of profanity and nudity (which he takes care to keep from being objectifying, even when the plot’s desire to satirize exploitation calls for it). In the panels pictured, one of the women, Penny Rolle, unabashedly complains that the prison uniform provided to her is much too small, which it is. She has no qualms about standing up for herself to a society that has done nothing but mistreat her for her so-called “non-compliance,” and in retaliation, a guard beats her with a nightstick. At this point, the book’s lead character, Kogo, stands up for her fellow prisoner who, as it turns out, doesn’t much need defending.
This attitude and shameless feminism does not stay within the pages of the story. Indeed it carries over to the backpages of each issue, where a different author is asked to write an essay related to feminist or intersectional issues. Also included in every issue is a letter from DeConnick to the readers, as well as tweets, pictures, and posts made by readers about the book or things related to it. Finally, even the back cover of each issue keeps in theme, with different mock ads (sometimes selling real merchandise produced and mailed by DeConnick’s team) and blurbs. If the story itself weren’t so great, these back covers might have been the best part of the book. Within this satire, too, is heartfeltness, as shown in the pictured back cover of Bitch Planet #2, wherin lies a short tribute to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender youth who had recently passed away.
The fervor that the first four published issues of Bitch Planet has inspired has been palpable. Countless readers have contacted DeConnick and the others responsible for the book, sending tweets, tumblr messages, and letters. What these fans have realized was the very message that DeConnick intended; that the world of Bitch Planet wasn’t some far off over-the-top sci-fi world, it is the very one in which they live. Many admirers of the comic have themselves been deemed non-compliant by the society they lived in, often for seemingly silly, unimportant things. Of course, not every one of these women are sent to prison for their non-compliance, but nevertheless, many have suffered and do suffer in other ways, whether through discrimination or other means. Through the story of Bitch Planet, DeConnick pointed out that many women are made to feel shame for their perceived failings, often things they have no control over, or things which are not failings at all. Through the book and the messages found within, many women (and men) have been inspired, reclaiming those aspects about themselves seen as negative by societal expectations, and taking the term non-compliant for themselves. “Soon after the first issue hit stands, the NC logo became a rallying cry for women who are too brash, feminist, opinionated, angry, fat, dark-skinned, queer, gender-non-conforming—or in a word, ‘non-compliant.'” (Goodyear, 2015).They are non-compliant, and they are proud.