Monday, 9 February 2015

Uncaging Bitch Planet #2

Or a look at some of the most exciting layout choices in Bitch Planet #2
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Bitch Planet gets a lot of justifiable praise for how it, middle fingers raised, delves into the way society vilifies women who don't conform to certain expectations of behaviour and appearance. A lot of people seem to really respond to the comic's belligerent approach to feminism, the patriarchy, body image, and angry women rioting. Which makes total sense, because it's pretty awesome and not something you tend to see very often in comics. The thing is, Bitch Planet is also a technically a really great comic that features some outstanding storytelling choices that make it a really great and effective comic to read. Since I am wildly unqualified to try to explain why the feminism in Bitch Planet, I'm going to show some of the great layout choices in Bitch Planet #2 that I think showcase some of what makes the comic so impressive.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Bitch Planet #2

Bitch Planet #2 opens with a really fascinating page. Much like Bitch Planet #1, which has one of the best cold open pages I've ever seen, this page uses a twelve panel grid to introduce the sexist world of Bitch Planet and to show the Conformist women who operate inside the rules. The three tiers set in a common space like this let's us see the Conformist women hustling to serve men, travelling across the panels of the page while stationary men tell them how to behave and harass them. The spread also makes a great use of canary yellow clothes to highlight the women and make them the centre of attention on the page. (And maybe to set these Conformist women as kind-of prisoners akin to the orange and yellow clothed NC prisoners.) What I think is most fascinating here is that the two times we have seen Conformist Women, we have seen them within twelve panel grids. Twelve panel grids are a very traditional, very standard layout approach that come with a certain amount of rigidity. I think it is a deliberate choice to show Conformist women in a layout that feels very conformist to comic book conventions. I also think it's significant that the gutters of a twelve panel grid bear a striking resemblance to window prison bars: it's as if we are seeing these scenes of Conformist women through the window of a prison cell. Taken together these twelve panel pages instantly remind us that these Conformist women are operating inside very strict, old fashioned rules and are in a very real way prisoners in a corrupt system. It's really smart comics.

This is another page with a lot of really cool comics elements. The story of the page is that Kamau is being held in a special solitary confinement cell and after several hours without food or sleep she is now being harangued by hologram-warden lady over her supposed crimes. This is a page and moment of hopelessness for Kam, and I think the page does some exciting things to sell this. For one the page is dramatically canted to a weird angle so that we are looking down at Kam. This makes her look very small and powerless and creates the sense that not only is she in a cell, but trapped at the bottom of a deep inescapable pit. The confining nature of her situation is further emphasized by the grid of screens that make up the walls of her cell: the grey gaps between individual screens create criss-crossing grey lines that are evocative of cage bars. But maybe the coolest choice on this page is the lettering which literally weaves around Kam on the page and looks like a snare or some kind of binding. It's another example of explicitly interacting lettering providing additional storytelling effects. All of this combines to make for a page that lets us feel just how trapped Kam is physically and rhetorically and how hopeless she is at this exact moment. It's a great page.

Bitch Planet #2 is very much the exposition issue. With the premise has been established, this issue has the job of setting up the central conflict of this chapter of the comic. This means, among other things, a lot of exposition and information. The thing is, Bitch Planet #2 does a really great job providing this information in interesting ways so that it never really feels like an infodump. 

My favourite example of this is the treadmill scene which essentially lays out the NC's plan to use the Megaton fighting match for their own ends while meanwhile solidifying some of the core cast of characters. Besides the efficiency of the sequence, I love how the page uses depth to create layers of action and add visual interest and dynamism to the exposition. The page has the NC's running on a treadmill for enforced exercise and the page has three zones of depth associated with the NC's position on the exercise machine. Additionally there is a plane of action right behind the treadmill where Penny Roll incites a riot, and background planes that depict prisoners doing what looks like yoga and giant screens showing retro aerobics videos. What all of this depth does is create a rich page that has relevant setting information in the far background, a charming brawl in the near background, and an interesting zone in the foreground planes for characters to play off one another. Just on a surface level it is a pretty cool setup.

It's also an amazing space for character development. The way this depth let's us see Penny Rolle go fuck it to running on a treadmill and just start fighting guards is fanatastic and fun and super endearing. Penny Rolle is the best. We get a sense of Violet as a brash joiner in the way she dives headfirst into the brawl. We get to see Meiko, in a fairly clever and smug way, absolutely stun Kam into sliding into the background with her secret. And we get to see the NC's act out as the isolated fight grows to a broiling riot. All, of course, while important story information is being delivered. It's a really clever setup that manages to multiplex the information being delivered while also showing a thoroughly entertaining riot. This is big deal comics.

Which is how I feel about Bitch Planet as a whole. It might be a fists raised, feminist manifesto, but it's also just a really, really well made comic. Even if all you want from a reading experience is a great, entertaining comic, Bitch Planet is still something you ought to be reading.

Uncaging Bitch Planet #1
Surviving Bitch Planet #1

No comments:

Post a Comment