Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1 (Pride Variant)

Image Comics is celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2017, and among their many forms of celebration are the Image and Skybound variant covers for LGBTQ Pride Month. Available only in stores, the variants celebrate the LGBTQ community and the progress made by the Gay Liberation movement. 100% of the proceeds from the Pride variant covers will be donated to Human Rights Campaign! And Geeks OUT is reviewing them all!

Bitch Planet's new spin-off anthology, Triple Feature #1, is an eye-opener in all the best possible ways. It continues to force readers to focus on the horrifying effects of misplaced power, but instead of painting a panoramic picture of a dangerously imbalanced society, this time the exploitation and injustice is frighteningly personal.

It's been two years since creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro first introduced us to the inhabitants of the space prison nicknamed Bitch Planet, where women are incarcerated for being non-compliant. Early on we learned that in the not-too-distant future of the original story, the real crime is being female—especially if you’re loud, or "born big," or just randomly annoying to the ruling class of moneyed men. Everything about Bitch Planet since then has been eye-opening.

A story that intelligently portrays a marginalized population banding together to overcome oppression? How surprising! A series that doesn't settle for simple solutions and suggests that despite the struggles that unite us (and the best of intentions), sometimes we get caught up in the very systems we're trying to buck? Shocking! Art that shines a spotlight on the strength and beauty of all types of female forms and recognizes love among a wide variety women—particularly those who are people of color? Well, that's damn near miraculous!

Luckily, the three independent short stories that make up Triple Feature continue to astound and agitate, while simultaneously ratcheting up the tension. That may sound like too much to take, even for those used to the original's brutal and brazen style, but the use of Black Mirror-style satire provides the whisper of relief necessary to keep folks reading. The result is a collection of distinct stories, told by different creative teams, about professional women who seem both wholly separate from each other and yet intricately connected. As the multicolor Pride variant cover featuring silhouettes of past characters declares: "They are all my sisters," and, likewise, these new stories are all our stories.

First up is "Windows" by Cheryl Lynn Eaton and Maria Frölich, which gives us our first view of what's been going on in this world since we last visited. When Lupe, an ex-nurse from Bitch Planet, finds herself demoted and demoralized simply for doing the right thing at the wrong time, it's clear that the truth does not necessarily set one free. As she watches her career being stripped away from her by superiors willing to use her as a convenient scapegoat for rewriting history, every line on her face reflects her anger and the repeated imagery of a lone wide-open eye reinforces the character's disbelief at being railroaded into submission. The only thing that distinguishes her from the inmates formally under her care: a more ridiculous uniform.

The most chilling of the three episodes is "Without and Within" Andrew Aydin and Joanna Estep, which contrasts scenes of a politician giving a televised speech full of empty words about security and well-being with the sexual harassment of Anna, a young female staffer, by one of his peers (thanks to the rape culture he and his cronies embrace). If Lupe's story drives home that any professional stature attained by women is nothing more than an illusion that can be reversed in the blink of an eye, this story suggests that the only way women can gain enough to lose in the workplace, is to, at a minimum, endure the male gaze.

The final story, and the most broadly satirical, is "The Invisible Woman," by Conley Lyons and Craig Yeung, with colors by Marco D'Alfonso. In it, we meet low-level businesswoman, Leslie, who aches for recognition and advancement, but is unable to break out of the less-than-equal role that working women often find themselves in. Gradually, and somewhat predictably, Leslie's sense of self grows along with her outrage at being treated so poorly, until she snaps. How she does so is vastly entertaining for all readers, but especially satisfying for longtime readers who will be able to connect her antics to previous Bitch Planet storylines. The broader strokes and bolder palette here reflect this more farcical tone and allow for an upbeat (in context) ending to Triple Feature.

Not surprisingly, as this triptych of tales teaches, life outside Bitch Planet is just as confining and proscriptive as life on the inside. The women of Triple Feature find it impossible to be themselves in the workplace without being reprimanded, intimidated, or ridiculed. While not technically incarcerated, they are prisoners of a different sort, with no prospect of having their misery ended by a quick death at the hands of overzealous guards.

The only break to the bleakness for the characters is the type of dark humor that functions more as a coping mechanism than a funny joke. That's what allows Lupe, Anna, and Leslie to get through one day, gird themselves to face the next, and remind them of the true cost of non-compliance. Is it all worth it? For the characters, only future issues will tell. For readers? Well, we have a say in our own story, so don't say you weren't warned.

The Pride variant of Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1 is available in comic books shops today!