Zeb Larson reviews Bitch Planet #6…
“Extraordinary Machine” uncovers the past of the Bitches’ secret weapon Meiko Maki, how she went from promising engineer to killer—and the ace up her sleeve.
Note: I don’t normally include trigger warnings in my reviews. However, because the creators of Bitch Planet #6 did so, I feel it would be unfair to omit a similar warning for my review. Consequently, I want to mention that this issue and this review have some discussion of sexual assault.
After yet another excruciatingly long hiatus, Bitch Planet is back with an issue that focuses on Meiko, who died in the last issue. We learned some of Meiko’s backstory in the last issue including her relationship with her father, who thus far has been unlike many of the other men we’ve met. This issue explores that in greater depth and delves into the motivations that informed Meiko and what she did, right up until the moment of her death. What we’re left with is on the one hand a tragedy, but also beautiful and even empowering in its own right. Leave it to Bitch Planet to leave us with a powerful and complicated message. I will be discussing spoilers from here on out, so consider yourself forewarned.
Meiko past is revealed through a look at her childhood, growing up with a music teacher mother and an older sister. Her parents were both progressive (for this universe) and wanted their daughters to be treated as equals. The two used violin instruction as a cover to secretly teach their children forbidden subjects, all under the cover of a supposedly feminine subject. The father went so far as to include Meiko in his ship designs for the Protectorate, as part of a complicated bid to undermine the patriarchy from the inside.
However, one of his superiors caught a mistake in a ship design, and in exchange for silence he demanded one of the daughters as a sexual favor. The father angrily refused, but when Meiko overheard she managed to slip away from her parents and visit the man. In a twist though, Meiko doesn’t go to sleep with him; she garrotes him with a string from her violin. Flashing through scenes of violence and sexual assault in prison, Meiko still refuses to be beaten, and her last scene shows her playing “the world’s smallest violin” for her sexually entitled captors.
I won’t lie, this was an agonizing issue to read. The fact that we know Meiko’s ultimate fate just makes following the path that much more painful to watch. That she had this happy childhood and a father who genuinely appreciated his daughter as a full human being means that her eventual death at the hands of a system that he couldn’t protect her from is a tragedy. Indeed, one of the book’s many painful moments comes when the father and mother try to find Meiko before the mother. They excoriate themselves for ever thinking that they could raise a child on their own terms. Wasn’t she doomed from the start to either yield or be crushed by a society that wouldn’t accept her? In that moment, the idea of letting Meiko become what she wants or deserves to be reads like a cruel joke.
Yet if the overall trajectory of the book is tragic, Meiko’s arc still has a few complexities on top of that. DeConnick writes in the back matter of the book that Meiko’s theme was being “burdened by the comfort of others until her heart broke,” yet I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. If Meiko’s parents couldn’t protect her from this awful system (and nobody’s parents can truly protect them from the real world for forever), then they still helped her to become the person she deserved to be: strong, independent, and unable to be made to yield and accept inferiority. Indeed, they wanted her to be able to challenge the system. Meiko might say that she acted to protect her family, but I think there was just as much in her actions about refusing to accept limitations on herself. That’s why she could end this issue mocking her captors and fighting back, despite all of the violence and horror it could throw at her. Eventually, all they could do was kill her, because they couldn’t beat her. In that way, her arc hasn’t been that different from Penny’s. They’re two stories on how love and self-respect can make somebody noncompliant.
It’s rare for a book to be able to hit so many emotions all at once, especially when the set-up guarantees that this will be sad. Yet there are moments of joy and defiance and above all, hope. Meiko might have ultimately been a victim of this system, but she gave them hell the whole way. Her parents might not have been able to keep her safe, but they did raise children who could pose a sort of existential threat to misogynist hierarchy. Isn’t that important? The struggle must go on. Indeed, it looks as though it will in the next issue.