Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Really dumb, maybe, but here goes..." Angel Catbird Volume 1 review

Although Margaret Atwood is one of the best-known authors of my homeland I haven't made an effort to read her books; I've always had a perception that she wrote for a female audience - hence, not me. However, recently Atwood has entered that male-dominated field of fiction we call super hero comic books. No, seriously, she has. I cannot make this up. First Michael Chabon came slumming into comics after winning the Pulitzer, now here's Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood making an old-fashioned super hero comic!

Based on the introduction, Atwood has a fondness for comics and an understanding of how they've changed over the years. And yet, she didn't set out to craft a super hero book in the mold of what all the writers in the field are currently doing (which is a mixture of sarcasm, stories about "destiny" and stories about "daddy issues") but instead looks back to that most fertile period we call the Silver Age. Drawn by Johnnie Christmas, Atwood's super hero Angel Catbird is cut of the same cloth as 60s heroes such as the Flash or Spider-Man. An accident with a super-splicer serum merges scientist Strig Feeledus with the DNA of his pet cat and a passing owl, transforming him into a human/cat/owl hybrid super hero! Angel Catbird quickly learns there are many other creatures like him called "half-cats," some people cats who turn into cat-people and the others people who become person-cats.

I found the most remarkable thing about this comic to be its earnestness. There have been many other comics which have tried to tap into the spirit of the Silver Age, but they tend to see it through the eyes of contemporary comics, such as Dean Haspiel's The Fox which added gore to a straightforward Silver Age comics premise, or the many times the Silver Age has been equated with "silly origins and talking gorillas." Although Angel Catbird is frequently very funny (there are many cat puns to be found) and the conflict (cat people vs. rat people) is, on the face of it, ridiculous, the cast of characters treat these situations with the utmost gravity.

While Angel Catbird owes a great debt to Spider-Man, he's far from being a parody of that character. Like Spider-Man, Angel Catbird is given space to angst, to ponder, to gush over a pretty female. The difference is that Angel Catbird's angst comes from his hybrid nature. Is he a man, a cat or an owl? When faced with a baby bird in danger will he save it, or eat it? Will the cool cats ever accept him into their ranks? How does Cate Leone really feel about him?

They don't make 'em like Angel Catbird anymore. It's a fun book with a lot of heart, as Atwood uses the material to make various pleas for cat owners to treat their pets safely and humanely. It's a (dare I say it) purr-fect book for teens. Unfortunately, Dark Horse is retailing this 72 page story as a $20 hardcover which is a very inconvenient price point. This material longs to be a $10 paperback and, if Dark Horse has any sense, should be sent to book fairs and into school catalogs across North America. Atwood has additional Angel Catbird volumes planned, with the 2nd arriving in February. I dig that cat.

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