Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Shame them - maim them - try to contain them - stand back - she's gonna BLOW!"
Wittily conceived, perfectly targeted and mercilessly executed, this is a two-pronged attack on the sort of chauvinism we've kind of convinced ourselves died out with the Victorians. It hasn't. It's alive and unwell in the form of day-to-day condescension like man'splaining, force-fed through media manipulations on female beauty and rears its ugliest head on the internet in the form of outright misogyny towards comics and games journalists.
One of those two prongs - "Hey Kids, Patriarchy!" - is the funniest and most lacerating series of faux advertisements I've ever seen. Take the wonders of weight loss:
"We guarantee you will lose
"Your joie de vivre!
"Your will to live!"
"Advice For Ladies" in that lovely, frilly, feminine type-face includes an advertisement for Agreenex pills:
"What's Wrong With You?
"Be the you he likes. Good to be around, any time, any day. Agreenex helps. It doesn't change your circumstances, but it keeps you from caring. Because without thoughts, feelings or inconvenient opinions, you're more fun to be around. So use Agreenex. Isn't he worth it? (And if he kicks you out, where will you live? Do you really think someone would give you a job? Look at you.)
"Agreenex: because he's sick of your shit!"
From the writer of PRETTY DEADLY, this is a different beast altogether, and I warn you right now that it's not safe for work.
Female compliancy is paramount both in the eyes of the advertisers and in the body of the storyline itself.
Half of it is set on the so-called Bitch Planet, an off-world, all-female penitentiary run by the earth-bound Bureau of Compliancy and Corrections staffed by men. Some of the inmates are murderers, but others are in for "seduction and disappointment; emotional manipulation" and "disrespect", while one Marian Collins' crime was to be in the way of her husband having an affair. There's a beautiful sequence of misdirection so successfully set up by both DeConnick and De Landro - as Marian's husband desperately pleads with the BCC's Off-world Overseer Roberto Solanza for the return of his wife - that I had to flick back and read it once more to see if it was watertight. It was!
There are plenty of subplots to keep you guessing but the main thrust that currently propels BITCH PLANET is Father Josephson's search not just for the TV ratings he deems meaningless but for engagement. "Engagement is the measure that matters." To that end he enlists Roberto Solanza, proposing that a team be created on his Bitch Planet for Josephson's best broadcast, the contact sport called Duemila or Megaton which makes American Football look like a game of tiddlywinks. To make this happen the one inmate they have to secure is the athlete amongst them, Kamau Kogo. She's far from convinced:
"Megaton? You want a bunch of girls to get their asses beat to pay for the system that locks them up. The fuck outta here."
But the system has leverage - doesn't it always? - and some of Kogo's fellow prisoners have very persuasive agendas of their own. Not only that, but Kogo herself is very resourceful as you'll discover when she encounters a peeping tom through a hole in the shower walls. That balletic sequence is gloriously drawn and coloured by main artist De Landro who nails Kogo's gymnastic prowess and the muscles required to accomplish such feats. All of De Landro's body forms are highly individualistic as displayed in "The Obligatory Shower Scene" but, unlike most such shower scenes, it is empowering rather than objectifying. Also, much is made earlier of how cold and uncomfortable the women are when naked en masse - it's far from erotic, but awkward viewing instead.
My favourite chapter is the middle one focussing on Penelope Rolle, a woman of considerable girth drawn by Robert Wilson IV in a style that makes the most of her physique. The assaults on Penny's presentation throughout her past are relentless. Indeed amongst the crimes she is charged with are "Aesthetic offences and wanton obesity". Conformity and compliance are all, remember? They're actually assaults on her happiness.
Back on Bitch Planet the authorities' greatest threat in order to ensure her compliance is to dig deep into Penelope's psyche to reveal Penny's own ideal self: to confront her with how she wishes she looked and so shame her with the reality.
"Visualization is the key to achieving our objectives. We are trying to help you."
They're not, but they do!
Finally, Father Josephson himself is a right piece of work. He's the sort of casual power-player who answers the phone with "Yyyello?" and redirects conversations with "Anyhoo" - both of which actually do deserve immediate incarceration.