“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth,” the narrator explains in the opening sequence of panels in Bitch Planet’s first issue, released in December 2014. Juxtaposed against panels depicting women arriving at Bitch Planet, an “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost,” the narrator continues: “Mother Earth, we used to say, before we understood. Before we came to know the Heaven, to live here and feel her warm embrace. Space is the Mother who receives us, you see? Earth is the Father. And your Father has cast you out. For your trespasses… Your gluttony… Your pride… Your weakness… And your wickedness.”
The catalog of sins is listed over six separate panels, with one woman in each, giving the reader a graphic representation of the offenses. The drawings depict the women without any distinguishing features, shadows obscuring them, their bodies naked and exposed, contorted very deliberately in ways that indicate that this is not your usual drawing of a nude female. Welcome to Bitch Planet.
Bitch Planet is veteran comic-book writer Kelly Sue Deconnick’s newest series. Penned with artist Valentine de Landro, the fifth installment is being released today by Image Comics. On the surface, it has the classic science-fiction dystopian setting. Taking place at some time in Earth’s future, Big Brother is everywhere, robots police the streets, and space travel is sophisticated enough to move people off-planet. Specifically: women. More specifically: women who have been labeled “non-compliant.” But non-compliant women are not just shipped off to Bitch Planet—they’re imprisoned there. It’s a feminist take on the prison exploitation genre, with almost all of its major characters being women of color, and with all body types, genders, and sexual identities represented.
Women on Bitch Planet are at the mercy of the prison’s sophisticated artificial-intelligence technology. Taking the shape of a woman with blue eyes and teased hair, grinning broadly and wearing a corset, it is displayed on large feeds as the women enter the prison. Intake is violent; the women remain naked throughout most of the process, and the male guards supervising wear plastic masks and riot gear. But DeConnick and de Landro are careful in their telling—the women arriving at Bitch Planet are drawn with poise, their stances indicating that they would (and do) fight back against any attack.
Life on Earth, we’re soon shown, is run by a seemingly global government called the Council, of which all members are white males who carry the title of “Father.” A feed of news and sports is broadcast everywhere and viewing is mandatory. Compliant women on Earth are depicted as counting calories and learning about the upcoming global sport competition (think the Olympics meets The Hunger Games) so they can better relate to their men.
Female exploitation—and the inevitable revolution that will arise from it—is certainly nothing new in science fiction. Earlier this year, Mad Max: Fury Road was hailed for its portrayal of Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) as the true hero of the post-apocalyptic action film. But DeConnick’s story pushes its patriarchal themes to the point of caricature while incorporating details of how women are treated today.