“Angel Catbird” is an odd name for a graphic novel, but it sure does catch your attention. Written by award- winning novelist Margaret Atwood, this strange superhero comic channels her love of cats (and birds) while simultaneously acting as a public service announcement for pet safety. While it accomplishes the creators’ goals, the story itself struggles because the ideas feel like a teenager came up with it.
This 82 page volume is about Strig Feleedis, a biochemist who has been contracted by Muroid Inc. to help complete a top-secret formula for his ratty boss. However, once he perfects it, he chases his cat into the street while holding the solution and gets hit by a car. This causes the beaker to break and creates a puddle around Strig, his cat Ding, and an owl in the road. When he wakes up, he is a hybrid of all these things! Now, with incredible power and often conflicting instincts, he must fight for his fellows and stop a madman from killing all the other cat people! Did I mention there are other cat people?
What I like about this comic is the choices made for all the different characters. The love interest is Cate Leone, his coworker who is also a half-cat who performs at Catastrophe, the local feline club. Another coworker, Ray, is a half Raven and completes the love triangle. Many of the half-cats “lean cat”, meaning they cannot pass as human and must rather blend in as common alley cats (which they are not fond of at all). There are other complex hybrids as well, like Octopuss and Count Catula, who is a really interesting cat/vampire/bat. The art by Johnnie Christmas blends physiologies very well throughout and translates to an interesting “Thundercats meets Grimm” vibe. Included in this volume are a ton of character designs and sketches that are interesting to see. Another wonderful addition, and the inspiration for much of the elements in this comic, is the inclusion of facts about cat ownership frontloaded into this narrative. Subjects like car fatalities, toxic foods, spaying/neutering, and the hunting of birds are brought to light and the author encourages all cat owners to pledge to control their animals from hunting birds as it both harms the bird population and endangers your cat.
This story is not what I would expect from an acclaimed novelist. The entire plot is crammed together to suit the needs of the outreach and are not developed near enough. What are the odds that the hero, villain, love interest, and romantic rival all work in the same department of the same building and are introduced within the span of 3 pages? That all the cats in the alley are also the muscle at Catastrophe? Developed over time, this could have been much better, but everything feels so… convenient. Making Angel Catbird an outcast among outcasts is a nice touch, but having bat-cat-man and octopus-cat-woman included in the group shoots that angle in the feathery foot. I have no qualms with dialogue or the sexual tension between Cate and Strig, but the flow of this story felt all wrong in the beginning. This is clearly Atwood’s first attempt at this means of storytelling because the elements are there but pacing is way too quick out of the gate.
As a graphic novel, I’d say this is just okay and that the art team did a lot to salvage the story. As a PSA about cat safety, however, this is a great way to spread awareness in a fairly enjoyable manner. Clearly, Atwood cares deeply for cats and this shows in her comic debut.
Cat-chy, 3 out of 5 Stars.
STORY BY Margaret Atwood
ART BY Johnnie Christmas
COLORS BY Tamra Bonvillain
COVER BY Johnnie Christmas
PUBLISHER Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: Sept. 6th, 2016