Noncompliant. The OED, The Random House Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, and a host of online dictionaries all seem to agree that a noncompliant is one who does not comply, obey, or follow the rules and regulations of law, religion, or other societally governing forces (mores, anyone?). As writer and creator of Feminist Ryan Gosling Danielle Henderson rhetorically asks in her sharp and thoughtful backmatter to Bitch Planet #1, how many women do you know who are noncompliant?
This week, I recommend another ongoing Image Comics title, Bitch Planet #1-3 by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist, #1 and #2, covers ongoing), Cris Peter (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Robert Wilson IV (artist, #3). Each issue has backmatter, which is just as essential to this comic as the page layouts and scripting choices. Essays by Danielle Henderson (#1), Tasha Fierce (#2), and Megan Carpentier (#3) extend and dissect conversations that the comic both participates in and will inspire about race, feminism, patriarchy, the carceral system, body image, and popular media. If that weren’t enough, the backmatter also contains letters from DeConnick, tweets and Instagram photos from readers, and on the outside back cover, a cool nod to golden age and early silver age comics that comes in a spoof ad page. The ads offer x-ray specs, bird-flipping “spirit fingers,” “gynotism” lessons, and “missed connections” that remind us of the deranging effects of patriarchy while throwing in a joke or two.
Those of you who read my 100 Demons! and Pretty Deadly recommendations here on CBC know that I am a life-long comics reader; though I read across genres, auteur titles, and indie comics, I adore genre comics—especially science fiction and horror comics. Bitch Planet is a genre comic that depicts a dystopian future, but one that is not hard to imagine at all because an astounding amount of its elements are already here. There’s a bit of The Running Man, Transmetropolitan, Battle Royale, Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, and just a little Hunger Games in Bitch Planet; however, this comic does not just pay homage to dystopian, sci-fi, exploitation cultural productions. It turns them on their heads. Ever notice what happens to people of color, especially women, in most science fiction? Ever notice how women’s bodies are used or portrayed in all of the genres mentioned above?
In the first issue, DeConnick constructs a plot that’s so lean and muscular, the twist feels less like a device and more like a Cirque du Soleil choreographic gesture plus violence. Embedded in the twist is the very crux of the matter that Bitch Planet examines, which becomes quite clear when you get there. (I’m avoiding spoilers by being deliberately vague.) Just know that you may ask yourself why you thought things were going to go one way or another, especially after they do not. You may shudder and realize how one event in the first issue encapsulates and stands in for a long history of the divisiveness that racism and classism cause in groups of women and larger society. Or, you may shrug and say, “Damn. Figures. I can’t wait to read the next one.”
In the second issue, we learn more about the blood sport that supposedly keeps the peace, the Duemila or Megaton depending on one’s class status. The story also focuses more sharply on one of the protagonists, Kamau (Kam) Kogo, and the inner workings of the prison planet, “Bitch Planet” to many and, in a euphemism that those who trade in political spin would love, the “A.C.O.” or “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost.” In a rather disturbing imaginative rendering of futuristic solitary confinement, Kam is forced to endure torture as one of the CG guards accuses her of a crime she did not commit, killing another inmate, over and over again. Kam proceeds to break one of the glass monitors. My favorite thing about the second issue has to be the way in which Kam refuses to give ground to Operative Whitney in their discussion of a deal, and how she maneuvers the situation to her advantage after talking to her fellow prisoners Violet and Meiko. In the first issue, we see that Kamao Kogo is exceptionally strong and brave and in the second issue, we see that redoubled and expanded in a way that sets her up to be a leader of women, albeit reluctantly at first.
The third issue, “Bold, Beautiful, and Baaaaaad! The Secret Origin of Penny Rolle,” is one of the better origin stories I’ve read in any comics series. Like many origin stories, we go back to Penny’s childhood, through her adolescence, and into her adulthood. So too like many origin stories, young Penny’s path is full of serious difficulties. Penny is a noncompliant from girlhood; she is big and strong, she loves her mama, she is mixed-race, and she stands up for herself and her family. She does nothing wrong, but “in the father’s eyes” and in the eyes of many around her, Penny is the wrong size, the wrong color, and the wrong self-presentation. In what might be my favorite scene in the comic so far, Penny stares back into the visual “idealized actualization,” think a mirror with input from electrodes attached to someone,” and laughs. Penny sees her ideal self and she is her ideal self.
Issue #4 of Bitch Planet will be released April 1st from Image Comics. Go there.
Annie D’Orazio is seriously considering getting a noncompliant tattoo. If you read Bitch Planet, then you will know what that means. She is grateful for writers and thinkers like Danielle Henderson, Tasha Fierce, and Megan Carpentier and their contributions to such a great comic book. You can follow Annie on twitter. She just started her dissertation and has the dirty kitchen to prove it.