Graphic Novel Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s graphic novel Bitch Planet (2014-ongoing), is an unabashed celebration to the harridan, hellcat vixens of the female sex.  Set in a dystopian future where women are in the thrall of a cruel androcacy, a gaudy Las Vegas version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Those deemed “non-compliant” are deported to the titular planet of the book’s title. Unlike Atwood’s dour pseudo-fictional tale, in the first volume DeConnick and her collaborator, the artist Valentine De Landro, concoct an askew-universe in the style of a ‘70s pulp sexploitation film. The female characters that pop into the story are refreshingly of all races, sizes, ages, and looks, and the comic intersperses the first volume with a couple of back stories to the female prisoners.

One might expect in a story like this that every flashback would be some disconsolate tale about a woman ‘s spirit being ground to dust in every color of melancholy, but actually DeConnick rejects the notion of portraying her female characters as weeping violets or one-dimensional victims. The lone character that does fit the mold is quick fodder for the guards. Most of the inmates of the planet are, as the first issue cover states, “caged and enraged.” De Landro’s art gives a literal sense of weight to the women; when characters crash and break into each other, you almost feel the pain of pounded flesh. As far as a narrative throughline is concerned, the first arc involves the gathering of a team of convicts, a la “The Longest Yard,” to compete against a league of professional athletes in a game called Duemila or Megaton, a sport that seems to be a mishmash of American football, rugby, wrestling, and Krav Maga.

Although a copious amount of flesh is on parade for roving lascivious eyes; nothing in this book could be mistaken for pornographic. The titular prison shower scene is drawn and paneled to first be a conglomeration of naked wet flesh.  Then when the expected lesbian sex scene happens, DeConnick and De Landro juxtapose it with several panels of a bathroom wall with a glaringly obvious cracked veneer, a glory hole from which a wheezy perv watches. This diminishes any sense of eroticism in the scene and in a way implicates the reader, whose expectations have not only been deflated but is also guilty of cheap voyeurism.

Pigeonholed as a feminist dystopian tale, Bitch Planet has more to offer to the reader than just political diatribes on the feminist movement. It is a paean to the exploitation flicks of the pre-digital era, a time when the thought police didn’t have jurisdiction over everything. Bitch Planet celebrates that era by being as violent, raw and exciting as the best examples of that genre.

The first volume of Bitch Planet is available on