Bitch Planet gives us naked bodies and bloody violence. (Naked bodies and bloody violence in space, no less!) It's called Bitch Planet for God's sake. And it gives us something more.
Bitch Planet #1Publisher: Image
Length: 27 pages
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro
Publication Date: 2015-02
Look at the women.
That's what you're supposed to do. Look at the women.
That's why they are in prison. So we can look at them.
Look at them naked. Look at them all bra-less under their prison-issue pajamas. Look at them as they act out lesbian dominatrix sex scenes with the new girl or with the voluptuous, pouty-lipped prison guard. Look at them as they battle for the right to be on top. "I like it on top," one of them always says with a leer.
Look at them.
They are beautiful, those Playboy models, those former child stars now all grown-up and hurting for money, those "it girls" of yesterday who lost their television shows or never had another hit movie.
It's exploitation. Get it? That's the gimmick. It’s a genre thing. You're supposed to look at the women.
The Big Doll House. Women in Cages. She Devils in Chains.
And when we grow tired (could we ever grow tired?) of watching sweaty women fight for their freedom in some jungle penitentiary, then we can always have a change of scenery. Rest assured, this same drama is playing out aboard prison starships in distant galaxies (Star Slammer) and will play out in the far future on penal colony asteroids (Caged Heat 3000).
All we have to do is sit back and look at the women.
Of course, some of these movies are better than others. Some of them have a real story to tell. Some of them attempt a subtle or not-so-subtle subversion of the genre from within. But even in the best cases, even when there is something more than exploitation at stake, it is really the same.
Look at the women. That's what we're supposed to do. Look at them.
Only, I sometimes find that maddeningly difficult to do. I don't mean this literally of course. I don't mean that I find it difficult to look at the beautiful actresses that flicker across my computer screen, undressed and undressing, young actresses just hoping for a break, older actresses hoping for one last chance. Beautiful women all – playing the parts of the young ingénue all lost and scared, the street-wizened black sister, the lesbian tough girl with the heart of gold.
But I don't think that I am seeing them, not the characters these beautiful actresses are supposed to play. I can't see the women for all the things that get in the way: the male fantasies of sex and violence; the too-perfect bodies all perky breasts, hairless and lean; the beauty parlor hair and makeup. I know that I'm supposed to look at them. But for the life of me, I just can't see.
And then there is DeConnick's and De Landro's Bitch Planet. And I find myself looking at the women. Really looking.
They are plastered across billboard advertisements for beauty products and weight loss gimmicks. They hustle through the crowded streets to make it to work on time, to jobs supervised by men, to jobs that force them to betray other women. And they themselves are betrayed by the system, by other men and other women. They are forced into situations where there is no good way out.
This i>Bitch Planet sure looks like exploitation: women shipped into space for non-compliance with social norms, locked up in a prison on some distant planet, manipulated by men who hold the reins of power, forced to fight for the entertainment of all those men on planet Earth who just want to watch, just want to look at the women.
But there is something different here.
To know that it is different, all you have to do is look at the women.
There is no long drawn-out striptease. Their clothes don't get ripped to shreds as they cat-fight over possession of the top bunk, revealing bits of tits and ass along the way. They are naked, but it is not the nakedness of power dreams and sexual fantasies. They are naked like real women are naked. Like real men. Naked. Right from the start.
Look at the women.
Hairy and lumpy and boney and fat. Breasts big and small, skin light and dark. Scared one moment and ferocious the next.
Not mud-wrestling on the road crew or hair-pulling in the shower strong, but really strong. Real "not gonna take any bullshit, not gonna stand by and let this happen" strong. Instead of "I like it on top" they say "Hey! Hey! That stick make you feel like a big man?"
This is an exceptional first issue. I hope it has a long run. In these women-in-prison-in-space dramas, it's usually all about building to the violence, building to the breasts and the butts. It's about making you endure the story in order to get the big payoff. DeConnick and De Landro have given us all that in the very first issue, all that payoff and a real story as well.
They have given us naked bodies and bloody violence. (Naked bodies and bloody violence in space, no less!) It's called Bitch Planet for God's sake.
In a setting like this I know how it is supposed to work. I'm supposed to look at the women but not really see them. Really seeing them would ruin the illusion. Instead of fantasies I would see lives. Instead of sexy curves I would see real bodies. Instead of being turned on I would be scared of them, I would be intrigued by them, I would care for them. Instead of sex objects I would see women.
Everyone should buy a copy of Bitch Planet just to look at the women.