In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.
Pages 19-20 Overview
This is it. The beginning of the end. The finale of the episode. Here comes the heartbreak.
Keeping the 2-page, symmetrical spread of the game scenes, these two pages kick off a 6-page action scene depicting the end of the scrimmage match between the N.C. team and the A.C.O. guards.
The antagonism continues to rise as a guard picks a fight with Penny. Unable to let the aggressions pass, Penny gets distracted from her defensive duty, allowing another team member to get double-teamed and escalating further violence with the guards.
Cell 1 is a close-up of a sweaty Meiko, smiling exactly like she was in the family picture at the end of the last page. To emphasize the connection, dialogue from Makoto, the closing bit of his argument with Yumi, is placed in a special box above her head: “Because she is our little girl.” If this dialogue were coming from Josephson, it would seem condescending. From Makoto, though, it captures his regret that she’s gone. He misses the simpler time of her youth, before non-compliance. In spite of her criminal label, he attempts to maintain that relationship in his heart, reminds his wife of it. All that emotion is juxtaposed with Meiko’s indefatigable spirit. Her smile and her call for Kamau to give them the next play.
Kam delivers the plan to the team in next few panels. Cell 2 is the only panel that crosses the page line–it depicts most of the team. But as the odds against them grow, the panels start to pin them in more. Though this panel is extra wide, it backgrounds them with the diagonal crisscrossing of the fence, using a classic cinematography symbol of entrapment and growing chaos.
Cell 3 puts Kamau in close-up in symmetry with Meiko. She too sweats, but she looks far more dour than smiling Meiko. She instructs Penny to let the guards pile on her and then put them down. It’s a sound play, but only for teams with equal treatment under the rules. These teams don’t have that equality, so the decision will escalate the violence with dire consequences. This is the final panel that will truly balance its pairing on the other side of the page. The visual balance is abandoned to emphasize the coming abuse of power by the guards and the inability of the N.C. team to anticipate or prevent it.
Cell 4 is a simple medium close-up of Penny agreeing to the plan.
In cell 5, Kam directly addresses a new character: Alika Kahale, on Bitch Planet for disrespect. I can only imagine how impossible it would be for a woman to fight a charge of disrespect. Her word against his with such a broad, subjective interpretation to be applicable to near any interaction. Although it is possible the charge was made in earnest, it’s also quite possible she was charged with disrespect to get her out of the way, like with issue #1’s Marian, done away with to make room for a new, younger wife.
Cell 6 shows the team heading back to the playing field. They walk in line with determination, but the composition’s angle on them makes them appear vulnerable and weak. Cell 7 gives a close-up of the ball snap, starting the play.
Danielle Zubiate gets the ball in cell 8, and cell 9 we get her dossier. Bad mother. But the paired picture shows her with her child, smiles on both their faces. The juxtaposition throws shade on the claim of bad mothering. At the very least, the questions of who judges and by what criteria is raised. Danielle passes to Meiko.
Alika maintains her defense of Meiko while the rest of the team attempts to block the guards in cell 10. One guard becomes so frustrated by Penny’s one-woman blockade, he hauls off and punches her, calling her an ugly bitch. The composition emphasizes Penny’s outrage and pain. The guard is out of control, but no foul is called on him. In cell 11, Penny stops to address him directly, grabbing hold of him and dressing him down, but the act takes her out of her defensive role in the play. The long shot composition emphasizes her size compared to his.
Cell 12 shows her in the left foreground, hand still on the neck of the guard. Now she’s taken off his helmet, exposing him as she addresses him as “boy.” Gendered but diminutive–the condescension returned. Her hand holds the helmet directly above the important action behind her, drawing the reader’s eye. Meiko carries the ball up the field, but Alika is grabbed by two guards, presumably ones that Penny should be handling. In cell 13 Alika calls out that she’s got two, a repeat of the double-teaming of the last play. She’s hunkered over, attempting to get free. Kam is shown behind her battling a guard. The final cell of the page is a close-up of Kam as she realizes the play is going south and curses.