I never owned a cat growing up, so my views toward the feline species is through funny cat videos or their occasionally creepy presence as depicted in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Following their acclaimed but short-lived run on Mockingbird, creators Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk explore the idea of cats as figures of horror through satirical humor in Image Comics’ Man-Eaters.
Set in an alternate reality where a mutation in Toxoplasmosis causes menstruating women to turn into ferocious cat killers, panic spreads and paranoia takes root as the battle of the sexes reaches new heights. As a vet of SCAT, a new organization that specializes in hunting down the infected, pairs up with her cop of an ex-husband to investigate a series of cat-related murders, neither of them suspect their own teenage daughter Maude, who is going through the hormones.
its strange premise of women turning into cats is not too dissimilar to the Canadian werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, which depicts lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty. For most of this volume, Cain is all about the world-building starting with the first issue, where our young protagonist gives us a run down about the rise of the fictional plague and the decline of menstruation.
Through a feminist perspective, Cain sprinkles these darkly funny idea throughout, commenting upon why there is a constant disconnect between genders from the way men and women are publicized differently through various forms of mass media. The last issue, which has nothing to do with the main narrative but includes the informative survival handbook, “Cat Fight! A Boys’ Guide to Dangerous Cats”, features survival tips, doctors’ opinions and slice-of-life stories about these mutations.
Despite its satirical edge and raising of questions that are relevant today, why does the book as a whole not work? It all comes down to the central narrative, as Cain never gives the time to develop these characters. Maude, who despite narrating throughout, doesn’t get much to do as Cain is setting up something big for her in later issues. Her parents, who are rarely fleshed out, are simply the two divorcees who reluctantly team up. What is frustrating is that all the pieces are there for compelling character arcs, but in the vein of a lot of first volumes, it’s all about the setup, with a greater emphasis on exposition than character.
From an artistic standpoint, this is a well-produced comic. Kate Niemczyk, who along with colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, achieves an awful lot here, such as the expressive characters and her panel layouts ranging from traditional to dynamic. Through the visuals alone, the humor can be expressed, such as the various warning documents about cat attacks and the magazine-themed final issue, similar to an issue from The Wicked + The Divine.
Despite its engaging feminist angle and showcasing of a world through satirical humor and solid art, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally cold throughout reading this. It comes down to not feeling invested in its central narrative and cast.