Cell by Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 2)

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In
Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

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We step back from the screen to see who is watching: Father Josephson. He has a conversation with his wife before meeting with Makoto Maki who will later be revealed as Meiko’s father.

Of note on this two-page spread is the color transition repeated in the background of most panels. Blue on top, pink on bottom. The gradient is tempered with a gray to make it more subtle, but the connotative effect reinforces the hegemonic power divide that is the backbone of the series. Blue, the color of boys, on top of pink, the color of girls. Men are in power, even in the background color.

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Cell 1 continues world-building the Feed. The meteorologist, a pretty, big-busted woman in a strapless pink dress, predicts record-breaking heat on the west coast and mentions water-rationing. Additional text on the screen warns that people in arrears on taxes could have their water turned off–a harsh punishment that could cost lives in record-breaking heat. But this society lives and dies by its rules. Josephson riffs on the report, bridging smoothly from the Feed to his office. He’s apparently in “hot water” with the Mrs. and has his assistant get her on the phone, not using her first name but referring to her as Mrs. Josephson.

In Cell 2, Josephson is seated on the left at his desk, two “monitor” windows open in front of him, looking at the video call image of his wife, who appears seated on a couch. He is colored in cool blues and a grayish purple. She is a halftone mixture of yellow and orange. It is notable she’s not colored in pink like the Feed women, nor is her dialogue in pink, indicating that they are color-adjusted for the screen, that the pink is an added tint for consumption.

Father Josephson uses a paradoxically intimate but infantilizing diction with Mrs. Josephson, calling her “my girl” but asking her to wait up for him and then saying he’s a “lucky man” that she always does so. His language shows ownership and a seemingly benign condescension. She tells him that she’s lonely, with the implication being that she feels incomplete without him there. She subtly and masterfully plays the role of ideal wife: available, undemanding but dependent.

Josephson bridges the panel to the next by asking about their daughter’s date with “the Hartford boy,” another lucky man. Kylie must certainly become important in future issues to get this kind of attention in the conversation. Alternatively, she’s being used as a foil for the Maki family dynamic later presented. Cell 3 presents a classic over-the-shoulder two-shot, putting Josephson in black silhouette and focusing on Mrs. Josephson. The close-up of her face shows her age via wrinkles and circles around the eyes, though it is clear she works hard to stay trim, and even at this evening hour, she’s dressed elegantly with pearl necklace and earrings. She complies in everything she does.

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However, she doesn’t know how the date went. “I tried, but she won’t talk to me. I’m worried.” If Kylie ends up leaning non-compliant, she wouldn’t want to talk to her mom about dating. Josephson dismisses her feelings in Cell 4. He laughs lightly at her concern then casually reminds her of the secret war between women that starts with mothers and daughters in competition for the attention of men. Mrs. J laughs with him, but her words say far more than she might want to let on: “Yes, well, I’m losing.”

In Cell 5, which goes back to a single-wide panel, Josephson attempts to comfort his wife, though it continues to be an act of condescension rather than treating her feelings as warranting engagement. “You’ll always be my best girl and you know it,” he tells her while reaching up to the screen to touch her projected hand. She makes a kissy face at him. Meanwhile, the Feed is showing the Eleanor Lives woman and presenting the headline: “Eleanorians: Terrorist Threat?” Because of the juxtaposition between the Kylie conversation and the Eleanorian Terrorism news, I predict Kylie will be an Eleanorian, shaking Josephson’s house to its core.

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Not wanting to waste any world-building opportunities, more headlines indicate aspects of society such as high demand for vaginoplasty (cosmetic surgery for the vagina), modesty masks to fashionably cover the face, private police forces, and a murder spree being blamed on the “lonely” killer’s girlfriend. The assistant announces Mr. Maki’s arrival.

Cell 6, the final panel of page 3, shows Josephson in close-up, a big smile on his face, telling his assistant to “Send him in.”

Cell 7 is a full page width, single panel. Race dynamics are clearly displayed. Though we may have been distracted before, here we clearly see, thanks to his position in the foreground and placement in front of the white background that Josephson’s assistant is black. Throughout this scene, the assistant is only servile. This echoes the race-class division shown in the kitchen staff of the gala setting for Josephson’s speech about “tribes” from the start of issue #2. All servant staff in the kitchen were black, with the exception of the manager.

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Along with that, the greeting Josephson gives Mr. Maki makes a mockery of both Maki’s name and culture. Josephson yells out his first name with the suffix “-san” that indicates intimacy. He pairs this with a martial arts stance. Though this might seem a friendly way to greet Maki in Josephson’s estimation, it fails to show the initial respect accorded in Japanese culture and instead offers a stereotypical parody of a small portion of Japanese culture. In short, Josephson is being a typical, ignorant American.

The most disturbing aspect of this, though, is that Maki does not have the power to correct Josephson. Instead, in Cell 8, he caters politely to Josephson’s ignorance and Americanizes his presentation by asking Josephson to call him “Mack.”  At this point, Josephson dials back his offensiveness and bows with an “Arigato”–Thank you.

I’m struck by how much balance DeConnick and de Landro are giving Josephson. He’s never evil, exactly. He’s privileged, powerful, rational, certainly biased, capitalist-minded, callous, but never evil. And each time we see his misogyny or racism, it is balanced, as we see here with Maki or on the previous page with his wife, with a connection of endearment.

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Cell 9
gets the meeting down to business with Josephson asking if Maki is a Megaton man. Maki is acutely aware and clearly well-practiced at giving diplomatic answers. “Aren’t we all?” he responds. The response has metaphorical resonances as well. Jean Baudrillard is famous for a philosophical stance that society has prisons to distract the populace from the fact that society is a prison. Duemila distracts from the fact that society itself is a gamified fight for survival. The tribes that Josephson spoke of in issue #2 are represented as teams on the Megaton field. The populace is put in the role of spectator of its own throat-gripping competition, and even as they are entertained by this simulation made real, they police each other and themselves under rules of compliance, attempting to stay out of the radar of the Fathers and maintain their hold on whatever power they have.

Josephson respects Maki’s answer in Cell 10 and gives us a timeline marker: six weeks before opening day of the season. He then asks Maki if he knows why he’s here.

Cell 11 gives us a paused panel on Maki thoughtfully planning his response, reflecting on the answer. His response to Josephson is loaded with emotional turmoil and tension, as we will soon find out.

A single panel closes the page, a close-up of Maki answering simply: “Bitch Planet.”

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