Book review

Review: Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine – Kelly Sue DeConnick

156 pages | Image Comics | Science Fiction/Feminism/Graphic Novel

Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer), Taki Soma (Illustrator), Valentine De Landro (Artist), Robert Wilson IV (Artist)

Content warning: death, nudity & sex, violence – definitely not something you want young children to be reading.

The digest: An overhyped graphic novel proves to be overhyped. Its execution is severely lacking, meaning that whilst the underlying premise is a decent one, I’d struggle to recommend this graphic novel to anyone. On top of this, the art style is massively inconsistent which is a pretty big deal for a *graphic* novel.

From the volume’s Goodreads page:

“Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?”

 

What did I like?

  • The art style is (mostly) tidy, which means it’s easy to see what’s going on and who is speaking to who.
    • Unfortunately, though, the art style varies a lot (even from frame to frame in some instances), and this inconsistency was distracting. There’s even one page where I’m sure the character’s skin colour changes completely where it clearly is not meant to.
  • I’ll never knock a story for being feminist. It is refreshing to see a feminist graphic novel, BUT I have problems with the overall execution and intensity of this patriarchal dystopia (see below).
  • There’s a lot of diversity amongst the characters. As well as obviously focusing on women, the graphic novel also spends a lot of time with people of different ethnicities, body types, sexualities, and backgrounds.
    • At this early stage, it is difficult to see how much this will be explored, but it’s a very promising start nonetheless.

 

What did I not like?

  • The story is very disjointed. Whilst there is obviously a shared setting for the characters, at no point did the individual issues ever feel like one cohesive work. This was very disappointing, and I was left wondering why DeConnick hadn’t focused more on building the interplay between issues more.
  • The plot feels very rushed. Everything happens at such a pace that it’s hard to truly appreciate what is going on. I read this volume over the course of two days and I felt a bit lost.
    • Furthermore, if everything is as orchestrated by the patriarchy as we are told it is, then I’m not convinced some of the events would actually have happened as depicted.
  • The feminist world is… eh. Now, I would class myself as a feminist in that I believe everyone should be treated equally no matter their sex (the same goes for sexuality, ethnicity and so on – I’d definitely class myself as socially liberal). BUT, throughout Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine, I was constantly thinking about how hard it was trying to be original, to be something new and Amazing, a damning indictment of society. For me, it was none of these things. Prison for women (Orange is the New Black), women treated as lesser than men (don’t think I really need an example for this one – it’s everywhere), taking normal human stories and putting them in space/some far off location (literally every science fiction book ever), and so on.
    • Reading through this graphic novel just left me wondering how someone could aim so high and yet achieve such mediocrity (at best). It is clear that some readers think that this is the best piece of feminist literature ever made (just take a look on Goodreads) but it just isn’t. We see a few strong female characters, that much is true, but so what? A much better piece of feminist literature, to me, would be Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy because that story sees female characters doing whatever they want, however they want – there’s no question (at least in the first three volumes) that the cast are limited because of their sex. In Lumberjanes, the story doesn’t try terribly hard to be original, it tries (and succeeds) to be fun story about what girls are capable of.
  • The character development is minimal. One of the characters has an entire issue relating to her backstory and I appreciated that, but when other people die I just didn’t care at all. If I don’t care about character deaths at all – true apathy – then the writing has just failed to make an impact on me, and so is… poor writing.
    • We spend a fair amount of time with ruling-class men on Earth, which you might think makes sense in this sort of setting. Unfortunately, however, we never really learn who these men are and so all of their villainy is lost on us (or at least, it was lost on me). I get that the bloke with the big desk can have people’s wives or daughters ‘disappeared’, but why him? Why does he have so much power? And if he is anyone of note, then why are we not more thoroughly introduced to him? Instead of wanting to read on to discover the answers to these questions, I was just disappointed and annoyed by the lack of information here. And I get it, a graphic novel can’t just give us pages of textual description, but I needed way more than we were given to feel anywhere close to satisfied here.

 

Conclusion: 2.5/5 (rounded down to 2 where required). Bitch Planet is not awful. But it is not good, and I would not want anyone to waste a couple of hours of their life reading this story if they could avoid it. There was (and continues to be) a load of hype around this graphic novel online, and I think that maybe some of these reviews focus too much on the idea of DeConnick’s story rather than the actual story (and execution thereof) itself. I will not be continuing with this series.

 

This is probably a controversial review, please do drop a comment if you think that I am way off the mark – I’d love a good discussion!

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