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Cell by Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 7)

Cell by Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 7)

Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist), Image Comics

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

Pages 15-16 Overview

Switching back to the double page spread, De Landro once again employs the bilateral symmetry to emphasize the two sides of the game. But unlike the previous score of the game, this one shows the clear power imbalance. Though the layout is symmetrical, the guards have the judge on their side, and it allows them to get away with illegal plays and unnecessary violence.

Centralized in the page is the battle of wills between Kamau and Operative Whitney, but the battle is entirely one-sided. Kam has almost no power in this situation. Still, she stands up for her team and makes her voice heard.


Cell 1 spans the two pages. On the left side, taking up the bulk of the panel, is Penny getting tackled by two guards at once, double-teaming her. One appears to throw a punch. She yells in response. On the right side, Kam calls a foul. Her partial crouch shows her attention to seeing all of what’s happening to Penny down on the floor. This is the most important moment of the page and thus gets the largest panel. The extra-wide panel transitions the reader out of the small, enclosed spaces of offices and bathrooms in the parallel storyline and into the large expanse of the A.C.O. gym turned arena.

Cell 2 begins a six-panel row, the narrowest set of panels on the page. The effect is to quicken the pace of the tete-a-tete depicted. Whitney plays the implacable judge, innocently asking if Kam has a petition. “Yeah, I have a petition,” Kam shoots back in cell 3, being forced to look up at Whitney. The physical placement of Kam below Whitney emphasizes the power dynamic. Whitney appears more intimidating seated over Kam who appears vulnerable, at least in the side panels. The symmetry goes from long-shots on the outside edges to close-ups in the middle. Kam gets the left side, the side associated classically with a lack of control or power, while Whitney gets the right, the side associated with having more knowledge, control, or emotional stability. The two face off in cells 4 and 5, their power imbalance compositionally flattened. Kam, though institutionally disempowered, is a match for Whitney in her wits, strength, and will. But Whitney is slippery, and in cell 6, she uses Kam’s words against her to dismiss the petition out of hand. Kam, none too pleased, appears in cell 7 as vulnerable under the gaze of Whitney on her throne.


The row of cells 8-10 give us a glimpse of the N.C.’s watching the proceedings. We see in cell 9, the center panel, one-eyed Fanny watching. She obviously is invested in the outcome of the game, but she’s not a player, more of a behind-the-scenes conductor. What ends up being truly central to the row is the introduction of Marilyn Gunning. She introduces a new reason women are incarcerated at the A.C.O.: genetic anomaly Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome. Like the twins April and May, Marilyn is here out of no fault of her own, and the waste of her life spent in prison is difficult to miss. She is in no way a criminal, just a member of society that the government deems “distasteful.” Her statement that the 2-on-1 play is against the rules is important. She understands the rules though, though she doesn’t understand the nuances of power stratification in the system that allow Whitney and the guards to change the rules without penalty.

BP5 Marilyn

The body position of the N.C. who tells Marilyn that “They change the rules when it suits them” in cell 9 shows her sense of defeat. She leans against the wall, eyes shut. She doesn’t want to see what is happening in the game. Her will to even hold her body up is gone. They are also behind a chainlink fence, giving a diagonal criss-cross pattern in the background. This shows their entrapment but also cinematically adds to the tension and lawlessness. Classic cinematography uses diagonal lines to increase the sense of chaos.

Cell 11 shows the guards celebrating their score. But central to the composition is Penny being held by the two double-teaming guards. She calmly tells them to get off of her. Despite the foul, she’s still keeping her cool. The guards, however, are playing in an increasingly emotionally charged, violent manner. In cell 12, one of the guards shoves Penny’s face into the floor, condescending to her with the term “sweetheart” and agreeing to help her up.  His sarcasm and her inability to fight back combine with the earlier panels of the page to incite outrage at the inequity.

Cell 13 centers on Penny as she gets up, blood dripping from her mouth, and swears to God that she’ll… She doesn’t finish her statement. She doesn’t have the power to get proper vengeance, at least not now. Perhaps in the future. I certainly hope these jerks get their comeuppance.