You look at the title of this book and might be thinking it’s religious, but it’s far from it. Instead it’s a tale about science experiments, cat people, and a man who discovers a whole new world. Is it good?
Angel Catbird Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Comics)
So what’s it about? The official Dark Horse summary reads:
A young genetic engineer is accidentally mutated by his own experiment when his DNA is merged with that of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure—with a lot of cat puns.
Why does this book matter?
Internationally best-selling and respected novelist Margaret Atwood and acclaimed artist Johnnie Christmas collaborate for one of the most highly anticipated comic book and literary events of 2016!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Sweet powers bro.
This is the first of three graphic novels, each running just over 100 pages. This volume opens with a foreword by Margaret Atwood that explains the premise, the use of cat facts littered throughout the book, and the experience of making a comic after having illustrator aspirations early in her life. It’s this section that helps you understand the purpose, but also the mind behind the work. It works well to explain what you’re about to read and how it’s not a conventional superhero read by any means.
The general narrative has a pulpy classic comic feel with characters saying how they feel and thinking in thought bubbles. It certainly feels like Atwood pulled this script out of a drawer marked 1970, which is fine and good, but might rub some folks the wrong way. Along those lines, the old school feel also extends to the pace which moves at a slow clip, introduces the world of cat people in a rather forward way and telegraphs the bad guy loud and clear. The premise and ideas within this volume are fun regardless of their old school feel and there are some interesting ideas within. There are half cat people living amongst us, which might explain why so many of them are jerks!
The art by Johnnie Christmas with colors by Tamra Bonvillain are nicely detailed, giving this a more realistic look and feel. The bad guy rat man is incredibly frightening and they do a bang up job making him monstrous. They’ve pulled off a realistic look of a bird/cat person, a cat person, and even a bat/cat person. When the characters are human they are very expressive too. There’s also a very fun aside where the villain explains how the world will work once he takes over (little ambitious dude?) which in a few panels shows us a terrible rat-controlled future.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I can’t help thinking the cat facts dictated the story more than the other way around. Take for instance, a scene where the protagonist drinks coffee after changing into a cat/bird person. The coffee tastes awful and then he goes about his day. At the bottom of this page is a cat fact about how many human foods are toxic to cats. The scene is trying to show how he’s changed and starting to see signs of it, but feels as though it’s there to set up the cat fact more than anything else. In fact, many of these cat facts seem to be inserted first and the script and art came second, which makes their appearance jarring and sometimes annoyingly shoving the PSA down your throat.
The general narrative works, though the old school feel grows tiresome. The villain is incredibly flat and cliched. He wants to do bad things to his female rats even though he’s half human and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to take out those in his way. It’s the usual MO from a villain which makes him very boring. It doesn’t help his master plan that is revealed at the end of the issue is the same one Penguin had in Batman Returns.
Since the script has an old school feel with how the characters talk and the how the plot unfolds, the adult themes are somewhat jarring. The comic is very all ages, until a female cat person thinks to herself she wishes she was in heat so she could bang the protagonist. It goes from cute and endearing to adult very fast, as if Atwood inserted the adult stuff on a whim. Plus there’s the whole weirdness of these people being half cat half people and wanting sex. Beastiality is not cool people!
There lies danger!
Is It Good?
This volume walks a fine line between cartoon fun and realistic drama, but never really commits to a direction. The characters speak and think like they’re right out of the Golden Age of comics, which makes the experience feel clumsy and at least for a younger audience. Still, there are some fun ideas in this book and feels unique from anything else on the shelf.