Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's Bitch Planet isn't known for its subtleties.
That's not to say the comic is devoid of nuance or quiet moments; in fact, there are plenty. But I've always seen Bitch Planet as more of a call to arms, a sledgehammer to the face of the society it reflects. In telling the story of a distant future where the patriarchy has gone unchecked and become omnipotent, and nonconforming women are sent to the hellish, galactic prison in the title, Bitch Planet destroys any notion that society treats women fairly. And it's in those shattered pieces, the unanswered questions about the flaws of our reality, that the comic book's true power lies.
The sixth issue, which came out Wednesday, is Bitch Planet at its goddamn finest.
The buzz surrounding this issue was that it contained a trigger warning for sexual assault. Comic books are usually labeled with a rating that mirrors the ones you see in television or the movies, but Bitch Planet's trigger warning is the first of its kind in recent memory. Written by DeConnick and guest artist Taki Soma, the issue takes us into a flashback that spotlights Meiko Maki — a talented engineer who was murdered in the previous issue — and includes a sexual assault on Meiko.
But while the story does depict that sexual assault, it doesn't define Meiko as a character.
The issue is a love letter to Meiko. We find out how she ended up on Bitch Planet. We meet the people in her life and learn what she holds dear. In regard to the latter, we begin to understand what was taken from her.
DeConnick's writing is sharp. She's always been fiery and fiercely funny, but what she does so well in this issue is flesh out the tender moments of Meiko's story. She delicately traces the character's humanity — her violin lessons, her relationship with her mother, her devotion to her father — to the point where it's altered by the issue's main villain, Douglas Braxton. We see a new side of Meiko, as well as a more vulnerable and softer side of DeConnick's style.
The art in this issue is gorgeous; it's clean and crisp. Meiko's dad looks like he's been transported from an episode of Mad Men. And Soma's understanding of negative space helps deepen the story's many layers. It paces and clarifies what's happening, seamlessly matching the gentle tone of the story while its quiet momentum steadily churns along and drives us toward its eventual unraveling.
By the end of the issue, there's anger and heartbreak. Anger at the circumstances that led to Maiko's incarceration. Sadness over her death. And the agonizing realization that even though what's happened to Meiko is hyperbolic satire, there are parts of her experience that cut extremely close to the bone of reality. This issue of Bitch Planet might be the comic's best one yet. It's also the most painful.
Bitch Planet No. 6 is available online and in stores
Story: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Taki Soma (guest artist)
Publisher: Image Comics