By Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Maria Frolich, Andrew Aydin, Joanna Estep, Conley Lyons, Craig Yeung, Marco D’Alfonso, and Clayton Cowles.
Nothing like a comic named Bitch Planet to make a girl feel really empowered, and the stories inside this triple feature would make any woman proud. The series, created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, follows a space prison for woman who are labeled “Non-Compliant”. This issue is special, it is the first triple feature issue, where guest creative teams write short stories written in the universe created by DeConnick and De Landro. The three stories are nice little glimpses into the larger universe in which Bitch Planet exists in. The stories are ballsy, which is impressive considering they are female-centric, and they are politically charged while screaming with feminist and idealistic views. This is a nice breath of hot, fiery, roaring, girl-powered air that serves a purpose on the comic shelves.
These stories go places; each one makes a very important point from the opening story to the final one. We open up with the story “Windows” from Eaton and Frohlich, which is about a former worker at Bitch Planet who shows some compassion to the inmates and gets fired. The middle story “Without and Within” by Aydin and Estep is a gag inducing view on sexism and entitlement within politics, that will make your skin crawl as you watch a young female staffer navigate unwanted advances from her male superiors. The final story “The Invisible Woman” is from Lyons, Yeung, and D’Alfonso. This is about a woman working her way up the corporate ladder only to find out that her value in the workplace seems to be determined by her chest size instead of her actual work. Each story is set in the same dystopian future society that Bitch Planet is contained in, but the interesting thing about this issue is that the triple feature only really has one panel that takes place within the prison (in “Windows”). Everything else is a reflection of the society that operates, and really created, a place like Bitch Planet. This issue provides context for the events that unfold with the prison and also shapes the history and lives of the people in it.
Each story has no connecting factor, maybe aside from that each heroine may be on her way to Bitch Planet in the future for being “Non-Compliant”. There is no connecting element or overlapping story that builds a thread throughout the issue to tie it all together apart from the the female leads. Bitch Planet is a comic known for its strong, empowered female leads, and the same cannot be said for this issue. “Windows” does give us a strong female lead who at the end turns out to be just a puppet of a much larger plan; talk about being used and abused. The ending is quite vague, there is not a lot of resolution of whether the act she carried out was part of a larger plan to put her in that place at that time, or if it was just coincidence. Either way, you get the impression she is expendable, and the rest of the story gives the impression that she had value and attempted to make a difference.
The last story “The Invisible Woman” also follows a strong female lead who takes her future in her own hands once she is overlooked for a promotion and devalued based on her looks. Her story is the most aligned with the same empowerment one would associate with Bitch Planet. She goes through a lot of effort to appease and fall into the box that her company wants to put her in. When that is not enough, she tries another route to earn respect and it does get more of a reaction.
The most out of place, but also most important story in this triple feature is “Without and Within“. The reason this story is the most important is because it is the most commonplace, and gives a voice to a scenario that is often overlooked, especially in the comic book medium. Sexual harassment and the feeling of being powerless when a male aggresses on a female is a hard topic to cover, but this story does a really nice job to spotlight this issue. The poor woman is arguably the most exploited and powerless character in this issue as she faces unrealistic expectations on her first day while also being treated like a fox during a fox hunt among the men in the office. The reason the story makes you feel uncomfortable is because you can probably relate to it, one way or another. Whether you have been a victim to workplace sexual harassment, witnessed it, or maybe even been the aggressor in it, it is something we all recognize when we see it in any medium.
The art in this issue is just as distinct as each story it belongs in, with art from Frohlich, Estep, Craig Yeung, with colors from D’Alfonso and letters from Cowles. “Windows” follows a very dreamlike art style from Frohlich, with subtle colors and soft shading, the whole story and its art are meant to lull you into a soft sense of calm before the shocking end. The only bright color within this story is featured on a red jumpsuit, worn by a prisoner on Bitch Planet during a flashback. The other colors are muted, like an Easter basket full of soft pastel dyed eggs and grey Easter grass. There was a tremendous missed opportunity with this story to really inject some life into the final pages with some aggressive panels and colors, to really show the shift in thinking and tone. The pages before felt like a set up for something big that did not have the full impact it could have had it the art reflected a little most the intensity and gravity of the finals panels of this story.
The art from Estep in “Without and Within” is really fitting and serves the purpose of this story. The art is Disney-like; the innocence of our lead is made even more palpable with this art style and the story even more sympathetic. The art style features a doe-eyed beautiful lead woman just full of potential and eagerness to please and she is paired against men who would make Gaston seem like a gentleman. The mixing of the dialogue, and panel layouts is really nice as well and gives this story a good flow. While we watch our lead struggle to get her task accomplished while dealing with unwanted advances, we are at the same time watching her boss give a speech and the crossover of his speech with her struggle is particularly striking.
In the final story “The Invisible Woman” with art from Yeung and colors from D’Alfonso give this story a little more of a comedic appeal. The art style switches to a more realistic style, with a slight slant on exaggeration to give more meaning to the important parts. The story is important and serious, but the art style gives it a comforting twist to perhaps make it easier to digest and not so preachy. There a lot of bold colors and fast paced panels to get this story where it needs to go in the few pages it has, but it reads really well and it’s fun and easy to follow.
This issue is certainly going to not be everyone’s favorite – feminism can be a polarizing topic. This book does its best to appeal to the masses with some action packed stories amongst some that serve nothing more than to bring awareness to the plight of women in the workplace. Maybe that is the central theme of these stories: workplace dangers of women. It totally holds across each story and it does give this issue a sense of purpose when you give the stories a deeper context. Strong female leads are what Bitch Planet is known for, and perhaps the Triple Feature issues can take a step back and bring awareness and voice to female-centric issues while also disguising itself as a comic book This book will open your mind to issues you may not know about or give you a sense of belonging to issues you may be all too familiar with. Either way, this issue is a solid addition to the Bitch Planet universe, making itself right at home among the Non-Compliants.