If you’ve been following Bitch Planet, you probably love Penelope Rolle. Her character has been compelling since the very beginning; she’s strong, beautiful, unapologetic, and completely radical. She also brings up a lot of questions about this projected future and the society that formed both her and the “compliant” women, which is why I was so excited to get a whole issue dedicated to her.
Penny’s story follows with Kelly Sue’s thematic refusal to apologize for the work this series is doing. Her name is an obvious reference to the fat rolls her body is comprised of, a historical and blatantly offensive practice of reducing archetypal characters to their role in the narrative. But Penny owns it all. She owns her name, she owns her size, she owns her blackness and her hair that her white adoptive mother can’t quite figure out. And she’s not claiming validity despite her size, she’s claiming the validity of her size, of her existence. She’s valid and beautiful and badass and it’s not despite anything. She’s not pretty “for a black girl,” “for a fat girl,” and honestly, pretty doesn’t factor in so much to the ways she owns herself, because pretty is limiting and she is so much more.
This issue introduces another creative form of prison torture, the kind of torture designed specifically for the women in a society that has ingrained its standards to such an extent that it is a largely self-policed compliance. Like all good futuristic fiction, it holds a grain of our current reality, because while one might not accrue a literal rap sheet like Penny with offenses including “repeated citations for aesthetic offenses, capillary disfigurement, and wanton obesity,” her dismissal of conventional/oppressive standards of beauty would be (and is) radical in our society currently. The torture, therefore, is a technology that shows Penny how she could be– and worse, how she subconsciously must want to be, beneath the rolls and the anger, because after all, who doesn’t want to be beautiful and adored and accepted?
This is not dissimilar to the guilt-bot assigned to Kamau in the previous issue, and these forms of torture are both more insidious and more gendered than physical violence would be. They target the gender-specific roles that have been ingrained in these women since birth, designed to provoke guilt, remorse, self-loathing. This gives us the opportunity to examine the ways that these feelings are programmed into children, male and female, from a young age, as we follow Penny’s journey from childhood into gainful state employment as an adult.
The way this book examines the harmfulness of gender roles, today, through this campy and sexploitative futuristic comic, is fucking masterful. With every issue, this book spotlights a toxic flaw in an inherently misogynistic culture, and through this spotlight, this book rejects that influence. Bitch Planet refuses to accept the status quo, and you should too.
Bitch Planet might not be your cup of tea, but it is radical and it is important. You should be picking it up.
“Bitch Planet #3” earns a clean 10/10