I should have expected it–I mean, how could I not with the warning of “Steel yourselves for heartbreak. Which WIP with RIP?” on the cover? But I blindly went into the much delayed, but so worth the wait, issue #5 of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s genre-wielding, sci-fi dystopian feminist fist pump. It had been four issues since Bitch Planet had seen a death, and I was starting to feel a bit cozy in the small group of non-compliant women surrounding Kamau and Penny. I simply didn’t see it coming.
Which is exactly why DeConnick pulled this rug, and why she did it now. This is a world where the stakes are high, and lives, especially women’s, are severely undervalued. To become cozy, as I did, is to become complacent.
Issue #5 focuses squarely on the pre-season training for Megaton. With six weeks until competitions start, the teams are practicing–running drills and scrimmaging. We ultimately get four perspectives on the preparations: the news media, Father Josephson, Makoto Maki, and our N.C. team.
The news media is covering the pre-season with special attention on the new Megaton variable: the N.C. of A.C.O. Why have they been added to the rosters? And as amateurs, what sort of showing could they possibly make? Is this a chance for redemption for these non-compliant ladies? The media interviews a player from the Arizona Wetbacks (a satirical analog to a team like the Washington Redskins) who says having the “girls” play is “dumb” and that “someone’s going to get hurt.” The foreshadowing is strong with this one.
Father Josephson wants to construct an arena for the N.C. team, and he needs it, like, today. He pulls in “the best,” who turns out to be Meiko’s father, Makoto Maki, or Mack for the culturally fumbling Father Josephson who, in stereotypically American fashion, boisterously brutalizes a respectful Japanese greeting. Makoto is torn about taking the job. It’s impossible to complete in the time Josephson wants it, but this is his only chance to see his daughter. This is the emotional core of the issue. Fathers and daughters–it turns out even Josephson has one, creating a mirror with Makoto.
Later in the issue, Makoto talks with his wife, Yumi, about taking the job, and the emotional turmoil is clear. Yumi calls him weak and selfish while Makoto insists that he had no choice–she’s his daughter. Though we won’t learn Meiko’s backstory until the next issue, we get a glimpse through a family picture Makoto holds showing him, Yumi, and two daughters, the older standing, smiling, and holding a violin. A close-up of Makoto and the older girl tell us this is young Meiko, before she stopped complying. The finale of the issue casts this turmoil into tragedy. He will be too late to see his daughter again. Whatever needs this job was going to fulfill regarding their relationship will be left unmet. I look forward to the coming dramatic irony in issue #6.
At the prison, Kamau is calling plays for a scrimmage against the guards. Team members are introduced. Rules are set up. The guards have no weapons and the women can attack the guards as part of play without the normal ramifications (going to the box–a Cool Hand Luke reference?), both of which they’re seeing as clear upsides. However, the guards don’t have to play by the rules. After one takes a knock-out punch, the guards become much more aggressively violent. Kamau attempts to call the fouls but gets ignored. Just like in society, the rules of the game are changed when it suits those in power. As the aggressions escalate, Kam and the others speak out more and more profanely about the injustice.
But even Meiko still simply sees it as a game. She scores and lords it over the guard nearest her. He’s not competing anymore. He knows who really wins here–him. And here’s where the heartbreak hits. He slams her head to the floor, breaking her neck. Meiko is dead.
Like all great cliff-hanging reveals, this one casts everything into new light. Meiko was the lynchpin to the plan to damage the Fathers. Without her, are the N.C. women just walking into a death trap? Was this all a mistake, as Kamau feared it would be? How will Makoto Maki respond when he finds out his daughter was murdered in the name of Father Josephson’s plan?
DeConnick throws the reader off-kilter with this issue, upping the stakes, and ripping away any comfort derived from Kamau’s gains with the Megaton team.