Source: Image Comics
Written by: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Art by: Valentine De Landro
Colors by: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letter by: Clayton Cowles
"We were the first to be sent away. We're always the first."
Bitch Planet #8 has returned from another long delay, but after hearing the care the team took with this issue, it's easy to understand why. This is the issue where we're introduced to Facility One, the part of the ACO dedicated to transwomen prisoners. This is also where we are introduced to Kam's sister Morowa, who is locked in Facility One, unknown to her sister. Have I mentioned how dramatic irony is my favorite kind of irony?
There's actually a lot introduced in this issue between Morowa, Facility One, a resistance group on Earth known as the Children of Eleanor Doane, and (spoiler alert) Eleanor Doane herself. While not much is known about Doane currently, it's easy to assume she's the "President Bitch" this arc is named after.
However, I keep going back to the scenes in Facility One when looking over the issue for review. I was lucky enough to go to the Non-Compliant Women panel at HeroesCon this past weekend and got some insight on these scenes and how they came together. Deconnick explains some of it in her essay in the backmatter, but the reason this issue was delayed is similar to why issue 4 was delayed. It's because the team wanted to take care and not be exploitative. That might sound counter-intuitive when I describe the book as "What would happen if Margaret Atwood wrote Orange is the New Black as a women in prison film in space," but I don't think it is or has to be.
There are three consultants that were called in for this issue (including your favorite creator's favorite critic Emma Houxbois) and it shows with just how matter of fact the issue comes across with the trans identities of these new characters. The genitals of most of the characters on the page are none of our business and the characters are not beholden to "passing." Deconnick says that the character of Rose is a result of this and bless dear Rose. She's one of those characters I instantly fell in love with. Morowa too. Good to know that Kam's stubbornness and heart is genetic.
Meanwhile, Kam finds herself at odds with Whitney, who is now a prisoner of Facility Two after the death of Meiko. Whitney is just as insufferable now as she was as a guard with an extra dash of misgendering. Unfortunately, Kam kind of needs her in order to find Morowa. That is, if she doesn't give the facility what they want by murdering her first. These scenes are where Kelly Fitzpatrick really gets to shine as a colorist, giving the book an extra pop of tone and color that makes you feel like you're reading an old school pulp comic. The dots... The dots.
The real heart of this issue comes through with the scene of Makoto "visiting" with a virtual version of Meiko that was made by the ACO to cover up for her death and to be the perfectly compliant version of her. This is where the team is firing on all cylinders, between the pacing of the writing, Valentine De Landro's gorgeous art and suspenseful layouts, and Fitzpatrick's unreal pink shades that add an extra layer of uncanny to this scene. I encourage you to go back and read this scene after reading Deconnick's essay where she explains Nick Shadow's contributions to this issue. It makes the line "So well you broke my heart" even more emotional.
The issue leaves off on a fantastic two page layout from De Landro that perfectly illustrates Whitney and Kam literally stumbling around in the dark as well as a cliffhanger that is due to really get this arc into gear. However, you'd be remiss to miss this month's backmatter, which includes a fantastic essay by John Jennings titled "Skin Cells," an interview with Kelly Hinkle of the Feminist Sticker Club, an essay about trans representation from Autostraddle's Mey Valdivia Rude (who was also one of the consultants on the issue), and recommended reading on positive trans representation. I completely understand why people trade wait books, but this is why I encourage people to pick up single issues of Bitch Planet as well. It's got the Playboy effect, but with much less nude pictorial and much more dystopian feminist pulp fiction.
When I reviewed Saga #31 last year, I had initially given it a positive review, but later walked back on it some, after reading opinions of trans comic readers about the reveal of Petrichor's trans identity. Where Vaughn and Staples slipped up, Bitch Planet #8 covers beautifully by being willing to ask "What can we do better?" It doesn't hurt either that the two other plots that run through this issue weave in near perfectly, leaving the reader wanting more. Hopefully it won't be another four months between issues, but I'm willing to wait that long anyway if the rest of the arc is this wonderfully crafted.