Angel Catbird is the most interesting graphic novel I’ve read in some time, and one of the more original takes on the superhero genre ever.
112 pgs., color; $14.99
(W: Margaret Atwood; A: Johnnie Christmas)
I’ve been a huge fan of Margaret Atwood since I first encountered Surfacing (way back in the 1970s), so when I heard she was doing a graphic novel I couldn’t wait to read it. Atwood, who has already won practically every literary honor there is, has a bit of fun with her public persona in the preface, saying that many regard her as “a nice literary old lady who should be resting on her laurels in her rocking chair, being dignified and iconic.” She then goes on to reveal that writing a graphic novel isn’t as big a switch for her as it might seem, since she grew up reading comics as well as drawing her own; her youthful comics included superhero rabbits and winged cats, while in the 1970s she published a political comic strip called Kanadian Kultchur.
The hero of Angel Catbird is a computer programmer named Strig Feleedus, who is working on the code for a gene super-splicer at Muroid, Inc. His predecessor died mysteriously, and a co-worker warns Strig to be on his toes, but he doesn’t think much about it until he and his cat Ding (short for “Schrödinger’s cat”) are hit by a car driven by his boss, Dr. Muroid. Instead of dying, Strig is transformed into a bird-cat-human hybrid, with the teeth, claws, and vision of a cat, the wings of a bird, and the intelligence of a human. That’s a formidable combination, although like any newly-minted superhero he needs some practice before he can truly control his powers.
Strig soon learns that he’s not the only one who’s a bit unusual: Muroid is a half-rat, his co-worker Cate Leone is a half-cat, and in fact there’s a whole community of half-cats who even have their own nightclub, named (of course) Catastrophe. Muroid is a mad scientist with ambitions to take over the world, which he plans to accomplish with the assistance of his fellow half-rats and an army of actual rats equipped with spy cameras, explosives, and the like. As the inhabitants of Medieval Europe learned to their chagrin during plague epidemics, it’s just about impossible to keep rats from going wherever they want to go, and what they lack in size they can make up for in numbers. The half-cats are also handicapped by the fact that, like their fully-feline counterparts, they’re not exactly team players, while the rats have more of an instinct toward hierarchy and organization.
Angel Catbird is the most interesting graphic novel I’ve read in some time, and one of the more original takes on the superhero genre ever. The half-half characters have the qualities of both animals and humans (which leaves Strig with an inherent internal conflict—faced with a helpless baby bird, should he eat it or return it to its nest?), and there’s lots of humor and interesting cat-facts salted in among the action. Johnnie Christmas’ art is a perfect match to Atwood’s text, fulfilling the superhero tropes—Angel Catbird is an appropriately hunky superhero, and Cate in either human or half-feline form would make anyone sit up and take notice—while also including enough quirky details to keep things interesting.
Angel Catbird is published by Dark Horse Books, with a street date of Sept. 6. You can see a preview here. Extras in volume 1 include additional art by various creators and a sketchbook by Johnnie Christmas that includes the interesting detail that Cate’s nightclub outfit was designed by none other than Margaret Atwood herself. | Sarah Boslaugh