The Triple Feature special that Image has been trying to hype us for is getting a sneak peek review! Unfortunately, it’s extremely underwhelming.
Kelly Sue DeConnick has said satire is difficult, and she is correct. The writer is a feminist with bright red hair and an attitude problem — essentially 4chan’s worst nightmare — but she’s probably best known as one of the biggest names in comics. She reinvigorated Ms. Marvel after the title had spent the early half of the 2000s looking like the picture to the right. She wrote Pretty Deadly (which has collected a handful of Eisner nominations) and Bitch Planet (which you probably know from your Gender Studies class). She’s a heavy hitter, is what I’m trying to say.
So imagine my disappointment after reading the Triple Feature that Image Comics is putting out this Wednesday. The special is three independently written short stories inspired by Bitch Planet. They follow three separate women outside of the current Bitch Planet plotline. After spending most of the morning shaking my head in disbelief at how wrong someone could get the tone of Bitch Planet, I have to agree with Mrs. DeConnick: Satire is difficult, and sometimes the attempt fails.
The Bitch Planet series is a gritty and satirical take on feminism. It brings in exaggerated elements of societal oppression in the form of a prison planet built only for “non-conformist” women. Cognitively, I know that this stuff could never happen. Women wouldn’t really be shipped off to a penal colony for slapping their husbands, and cinnamon-taco-flavored douche doesn’t really exist… But it feels real. Bitch Planet has a certain truthiness that makes the comics deeply unsettling. And that’s what makes it great satire.
Very little in the Triple Feature feels real. Maybe it’s the art style, which, for the first two stories is seriously underwhelming. The panels serve to do nothing more than illustrate the plot like a children’s book, rather than help tell the story. One of the biggest misconceptions about sequential art is it should look like a movie on the page; but there is a difference between using art to illustrate and using art to tell the story. The first two stories have yet to tell that difference.
On top of that, the writing for the first two stories is weak. Not horrendous, just weak, which might be the same thing when readers are accustomed to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing. The misogyny is exaggerated — but not to levels needed for good satire. At one point in time, an evil boss-man literally says, “No matter.” Who actually says that? In real life? But at the same time, the writer doesn’t take the plot far enough to feel real. As I explained before, satire is the process of making something so outrageous, so ridiculous, that it feels honest. Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report is a good example. His character felt so real that even the conservatives he was mocking thought the character was funny. This writing never gets there.
The last story, The Invisible Woman, is the strongest of the three. It follows a woman getting a haircut in anticipation of a promotion, though things don’t exactly go to plan. While the story might lack in punch or personality, it’s well articulated. The art by Craig Yeung helps tell the story, and it’s pretty to look at. The writer, Conley Lyons, seems have the strongest understanding of how satire works. The message of the short story comes across loud and clear. It has a certain truthiness.
Overall, I have to give this interlude a hard pass. I look forward to projects that involve Lyons in the future, and will be looking for Yeung’s other projects as they come out. But I’m sure monthly readers will be glad to get back to DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro with the regular printing.
Bitch Planet: Triple Feature comes out Wednesday, June 14th.