In the third and special issue of Bitch Planet, we get the backstory of Penny Rolle, one of the prisoners incarcerated on Bitch Planet.
Is it good?
Bitch Planet #3 (Image Comics)
The issue opens with Penny standing in front of a tribunal of the Fathers, being interrogated about why she is an habitual offender against the state. As they speak, we learn that she is a ward of the state, her mother was considered highly dangerous by the fathers, and we get flashbacks of her past as various memories are triggered by their conversation.
Through this issue, we learn this entire conversation is taking place before she is sentenced to Bitch Planet. The fathers want to understand why she can’t be compliant and how she sees herself so they can devise a treatment. And in the end, we see her true self.
Is It Good?
God, this comic. As the kids say, “I can’t even” with this book. Everything about it makes me happy. Again, I will admit my bias as a hard-core, card-carrying, non-compliant feminist — this book feels like it was written for me. The theme of Bitch Planet is displayed through its execution — this book has a message and it’s unapologetic and it doesn’t care if you don’t like it.
Though this issue is technically separate from the main story line (one of several “special” issues where we dive into a particular character’s backstory), we still get world-building. We learn that Penny was taken from her beloved grandmother at eight years old and put into the “care” of the state. We get a glimpse of what high school looks like in this world and it’s rough.
As well as the fathers who control the government, there are a few women in positions of power, as we saw in the special officer in issue #2. A lady who seems to be the principal of Penny’s high school is referred to as mother, and she tries to make Penny conform to not only standard of behavior, but standards of beauty.
One of the main themes of this issue is physicality. The standard of beauty is reinforced over and over. As we saw, by the mother, and also by the fathers:
And by some teenage girls in the bakery where Penny once worked:
Toilet scale. That sent shivers down my spine.
With her grandmother, being big and strong is an asset. As she gets older and is in the system, it’s the opposite. What’s sad is how you don’t have to extrapolate our current cultural norms to get to this place, which Kelly Sue is definitely playing with. You see this in background images, like in the last issue. This time, it’s a lady yogurt ad, which frankly you could see in a magazine today.
The other major theme of this issue is race. Penny appears to be biracial, and this is another area where she doesn’t fit in to the system. Mother is upset that she doesn’t conform, that her hair isn’t all white or all black and is therefore wrong.
Racism is also apparently alive and well in this world. While there do appear to be some men of color on the council of Fathers, we see some pretty horrific examples of racism in Penny’s bakery:
All of this culminates in what the fathers want: to fix Penny, to make her comply, to see how messed up and wrong her self image is so they can treat her. In the end, we get to see Penny’s vision of herself and it is glorious. I won’t spoil it here, but it made me so happy to see.
These special issues will have guest artists and this issue was drawn by the very talented Robert Wilson IV. His style fits nicely into the visually busy and active style established in Bitch Planet, but with his own flavor.
Megan Carpentier is the featured essayist in this issue, and her essay echoes the theme of the issue: how you see yourself, how you present yourself to the world, and how difficult it is to reconcile those two selves. It’s something that every woman experiences, but I think this is one that men can relate to as well. It’s very well-written and an excellent compliment to the issue.
Next week, we get back to the main story but I loved this detour. Penny Rolle managed to become a major fan favorite from issue one, so getting her story right away was immensely satisfying.