by Drew Baumgartner
This article will contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Bitch Planet has always been about non-compliance, about women refusing to be denied their humanity in a system designed to do exactly that. For me, the real teeth of its social commentary lies in just how modest the infractions — and how strict the boundaries of compliance — are. These characters by and large are asking nothing more than to look the way the look, live the way they live, and love the way they love, and are imprisoned for having the audacity to do so. The “logic” of the fathers suggests that their lives would be so much better if they just chose to comply, though we’ve seen relatively little of what life is like for compliant citizens. Bitch Planet: Triple Feature 4 offers a hint at the larger world away from the penal system, following people who otherwise live within the strict boundaries of their world, but it sure doesn’t seem like life is any better for their compliance.
The first story, “Life of a Sportsman,” by Marc Deschmps and Mindy Lee, reminds us that the dystopian economy of Bitch Planet doesn’t just commoditize the bodies of women, demonstrating the havoc its morality can have on the life of an athlete. As social commentaries go, this one certainly feels timely, though I must question the choice to co-opt a world designed to comment on the exploitation of women in order to tell a story about a man. Deschamps clearly had to pick the subject very carefully in order to tell a story where a man’s body would be treated with such contempt, and I can’t help but feel that the commentary suffers from that choice. I appreciate that a treatise on the exploitation of the workforce in purely capitalist system might take more than the eight pages of this story, but I can’t help but feel that the story presented lacks nuance.
Then again, maybe nuance isn’t the point of a series called Bitch Planet. It certainly isn’t the point of Sarah Wooley’s “Bodymods,” which details the grotesque lengths compliant women go to in order to appeal to men. Wooley amps up the modifications to absurd lengths, going beyond the ballooning butts and breasts (which might not even phase us in a comic book), giving the women tentacles, fins, and wings in order to appeal to the ever more specific tastes of the men they’re chasing. It’s an interesting glimpse at how the world of Bitch Planet would affect issues of body image and cosmetic surgery, but Wooley doesn’t seem to have anything to say beyond presenting those issues to us. That may be a problem with the characters, who are too invested in their world to ever really question it, but it feels decidedly slight when held up next to the main series.
In that way, Vita Ayala and Rossi Gifford’s “To Be Free…” might just present the most pointed political commentary of the issue, suggesting that even knowledge of birth control is criminal in the world of Bitch Planet. That commentary is delivered in the tried and true Bitch Planet fashion of a woman breaking rules, but its success might just speak to why that’s such a winning formula. The protagonist, Ms. Lightly, is far more cunning and capable than any one man she encounters, but the sheer volume of men standing in her way ultimately leads to her defeat. It’s a stunning metaphor even without the somehow-still-timely detail of access to birth control, though that detail only gooses the message that the battle for equality is fought on countless fronts simultaneously.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?