Today, Ryan M. and Drew are discussing Bitch Planet 6, originally released January 6th, 2016.
Ryan M.: Subtlety has no place in Bitch Planet. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick presents a pulpy, twisted dystopia that takes modern misogyny and amplifies it to the point where it cannot be ignored. This is a world where the omnipresent Protectorate offers women two options; either become slaves to the patriarchy or get sent to Bitch Planet. While life in the prison is degrading and hostile, the outside world snuffs out all hope. Bitch Planet 6 continues exploring this horrific world, this time focusing on Maiko.
We already know how Maiko’s life ends. In Bitch Planet 5, we see her killed in a Megaton scrimmage against the guards while her father is on his way to try and see her again. Knowing all of this makes it hard to watch Maiko as a girl. To see her parents do all they could to protect her from a hateful world and to see her heart broken, years before her body is broken at the prison, is painful.
There is a glimpse of hope for the world under the Protectorate. Meiko’s mother, Yume, uses violin lessons as a cover to teach neighborhood girls Calculus. Her father, Mack, works against the Protectorate in secret, while encouraging his daughters and fostering Meiko’s interest in engineering. Their defiance is tempered by fear and willingness to compromise. For Yume and Mack, the primary goal is to keep the family together. Meiko has internalized the importance of family. In fact, she is only thinking of her family when she makes the choice that condemns her to prison.
Artist Taki Soma underscores Meiko’s sense of responsibility and dread by giving her a larger looking shadow the in the left panel above. We can’t see Mirai or Yume’s face, but there is a solemn defeat in Meiko’s expression in the second panel. This is a crucial moment. It is here that she vows to her sister that she will protect her at all costs. The first panel on the next pages continues Meiko’s assurances to Mirai, this time with only the texture of the shadow in the background.
Everything about Doug is creepy even before he blackmails Mack. His fetishization of Asian culture, his attitude of entitlement, even his stupid “nice guy” pop song, all make him into an over-the-top villain. He is bold in his blackmail and in his choice to wear a robe to dinner.
His justifies his cultural appropriation with his comment that he is just displaying how he “feels on the inside.” Meiko immediately mocks him. The support and love of her parents has made her unable to see the threat posed by Doug. I know that I got a knot in my stomach when Doug calls the girls beautiful. The way that the “you’re beautiful” speech balloon in the last panel extends into the gutter gives a sense of a gushing tone. Doug is unquestionably gross, but there was no satisfaction in his murder. We see a girl, with a loving family and excellent mind, reduced to a killer who will never achieve anything befitting her potential. By the time Meiko arrives in Doug’s bedroom, the girl who cried tears of pride at the blueprints is gone. She is hardened.
De Landro doesn’t leave us wondering if Meiko can be saved. Her smiling reflection in Doug’s blood tells us enough. The issue is framed by scenes from a sexual assault. In the end, Meiko overpowers her attacker and ends the issue with no empathy for him or any other man. Given the world she was born into, it’s pretty hard to blame her.
I liked this issue a lot, even if it did leave me pretty depressed. Drew, what did you think? How do you feel about the choice to place this one shot after Meiko’s death in the primary narrative? Are you ready to get out of the outside world and get back to Megaton practice? Also, what are the chances that we don’t have to see a fate for Mirai that fills me with despair?
Drew: In the world of Bitch Planet, I think those chances are pretty slim. In a world where calculus is a forbidden subject for women, it’s hard to imagine she would have any opportunities that could match her aptitudes or interests. More to the point of your question, I suspect we will see Marai again — Mack’s story certainly isn’t over, and I can’t imagine DeConnick would introduce a sister for the sole purpose of this flashback issue. A sister who kills (and eventually dies) for her family is going to leave a lasting impact on that family, but whether that breaks Marai or gives her a reason to fight remains to be seen.
Ryan, I’m interested in your assessment of Bitch Planet as a series that “takes modern misogyny and amplifies it to the point where it cannot be ignored.” That’s a description I’d stand by for this series generally, but this issue actually struck me for how unadorned the misogyny is. Indeed, aside from the apparent illegality of teaching girls math (which is a kind of codified exaggeration of the gender bias in the upper echelons of math and science), this story could have very easily be set in the present day. The basic premise of a skeevy supervisor blackmailing a subordinate to sleep with his daughter is, while thankfully not a common event, eminently plausible in this day and age.
Perhaps more importantly, DeConnick and Soma work against the world of Bitch Planet to give the Maki’s as relatable lives as possible. Sure, the parents are secret revolutionaries, but their home life is palpably normal. The girls have regular school classes (albeit under extraordinary circumstances), they have regular chores and responsibilities, and they are given regular amounts of trust from their parents.
Or maybe not monitoring your children’s texts is the weird thing now. I’m not a parent, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that, when I was a kid, I was allowed to have free communication with friends and crushes without direct parent oversight. The point is, this makes the Maki’s feel more like regular people than constructs of the exaggerated patriarchy of Bitch Planet, which makes their struggles within that patriarchy feel that much more relatable. Meiko isn’t in prison because her presence inconvenienced her ex-husband or because she was unattractive; it’s because she killed the would-be rapist attempting to blackmail her father.
Which brings me back to Bitch Planet itself. I often struggle with the evilness of dystopian villains (and the systems they create), which never seem like they could garner the popularity to create the dystopias they exist within. More importantly, the social message of those stories is often lost to me in the exaggeration — if something is a problem, there’s no need to turn it into something else in order to make a point. I had initially thought of the concept of Bitch Planet in this way; a commentary on patriarchy that trades imprisonment for actually articulating how women really deal with real patriarchy in the real world. But the more I think about it, the less I see Bitch Planet as the shackles of patriarchy — as we see in this issue, those shackles are alive and well on Earth — and the more I see it as the dismissal of its prisoners as “bitches.” Marian Collins’ husband could forget her because she was a bitch. The world could forget Penny Rolle because she was a bitch. Apparently, Meiko wasn’t a bitch until she stopped a guard from raping her at a prison on Earth.
This was the moment she became a “bitch,” and, not-so-coincidentally, also the moment she was sentenced to Bitch Planet. Again, this story isn’t far-fetched — DeConnick opens the issue citing a 2008 Department of Justice survey that found that 1 in 6 former prisoners had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated. That’s the norm of our world, not just of Bitch Planet, but thankfully one Meiko hadn’t been raised to accept.
Much like Orange is the New Black, to which this series is often compared, I’m finding the flashback stories much more compelling than the “present day” prison action. Part of that is that the prison stuff tends to trade more in the dystopian tropes I tend to dislike (I don’t know why writers are so enamored of worlds built around watching one specific sport), but a bigger part is that the flashbacks allow us to see how these women interact with the world. This issue revealed just how interesting Meiko was, which only makes her death all the more bitter a pill to swallow.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?