by Drew Baumgartner
This article will contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
As an anthology series, Bitch Planet: Triple Feature seems to offer a fairly open brief to its contributors: tell an eight-page story set somewhere in the world of Bitch Planet, examining how its entrenched gender and racial biases affect everyday life. But, of course, exactly how those biases manifest in the world of Bitch Planet often needs to be defined in the moment, as these short stories are often venturing into areas yet unexplored by the main series. For these, creators seem to have three primary approaches: 1) present the biases as they appear in the real world with little embellishment, 2) heighten or exaggerate the biases (or their enforcement) that we see in the real world, or 3) invert the biases that we’re familiar with, creating a bizarre reflection of the real world. Issue 5 features all of these approaches, and makes a strong case for each.
Jon Tsuei and Saskia Gutekunst’s “Mirror, Mirror” falls firmly into the first category, detailing the subtle and not-so-subtle ways minorities are erased from films. The story follows actors Jackson Wong and Van Norris through the audition process for the same role, chronicling how slightly different attitudes and language modulate the same situations to two decidedly different ends.
It reminded me a great deal of Toby Morris’s webcomic “On a Plate” that found some viral success a few years ago, revealing how privilege subtly but inevitably leads to different outcomes. Where that comic covered decades, this one benefits from a tighter focus, making the lynchpin Jackson’s race and not the broader socioeconomic differences that surround race (which are inevitably used to discredit the role race plays in privilege). It also benefits from the timeliness of the subject, detailing exactly how whitewashing happens in Hollywood.
Bassey Nyambi, Eyang Nyambi, Nyambi Nyambi, and Chris Visions’s “Basic Bitch” hews closer to the second category, at least at first blush. In this story, black culture has been fetishized to the umpteenth degree, not entirely far off from the world we know today (I’m particularly amused at the “Paula Bean” restaurant where the characters meet), but taking it a few steps further.
The story seems to be headed in a “cultural appropriation run amok” direction, but takes a sharp turn as one of the characters, donning a kind of cosmetic blackface, is racially profiled. While black culture may be elevated in this world, blackness decidedly isn’t. That sudden left turn shifts this story abruptly into that first category, albeit through somewhat absurd means.
But it’s the very first story in this issue, Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier’s “Everyone’s Grandma is a Little Bit Feminist,” that stole my heart. Inverting the old “racist grandma” trope, Fraction and Charretier ask how that dynamic might look in a world where younger generations are less tolerant than those that came before. Their grandma character has all of the “I’m too old to give a shit” attitude we might expect of the racist grandma type, but is standing for the kind of feminist liberation we might more associate with a progressive granddaughter type (the granddaughter, in turn, has the tone we’d expect, explaining that you can’t say those things anymore, but is doing so in defense of the regressive gender roles we might expect of a grandma character).
It’s a situation we’ve seen dozens of times, but the role-reversal makes it entirely new. And, of course, the big difference here is that the younger generations are less tolerant, so while folks in the real world might put up with their grandma’s racist bullshit, that’s not the case here, landing grandma in an old folks home for the non-compliant.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?