It must seem like quite a risk for someone who’s made a name – and a highly-respected name at that – to dip their toes in the water of another format. Margaret Atwood is of course, the name behind some amazing and respected novels (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin). In Angel Catbird, her spin on the superhero comic book, she writes about cats and half-cats, owls and half-owls, a mad scientist and his rats, and Count Catula – a part bat, part car, part vampire.
The catcentric adventure continues, in the all-ages follow-up to best-selling novelist Margaret Atwood’s debut graphic novel. Genetic engineer Strig Feleedus, also known as Angel Catbird, and his band of half-cats head to Castle Catula to seek allies as the war between cats and rats escalates.
Volume 2 of our story sees Angel Catbird, Count Catula and assorted rabble heading towards Castle Catula. Their enemy, Muroid, is devising plans against them, using remote-controlled rats. And a giant anti-cat device. And that’s pretty much the plot of this graphic novel. Along the way, we’re given insight into the personalities of the band of merry travellers, including the Egyptian Mummykins, a cat with nine tails called Cat O’Nine Talaes, Babushkat and more. We learn, for example, that Mummykins is not the famous Nefertiti, but Neferkiti – there was a translation error! There’s a little history of Catula and his relationship with Dracula. We’re introduced to Athena-owl – leader of the half-owls and owls. And every so often, there’s an info-dump on cat behaviour and caring for cats, courtesy of a website. So this is more than just a fun comic book, there’s an agenda; a message for the reader.
Atwood’s writing is terrific. Writing in panel format appears to be natural for her. The dialogue is witty and efficient. There are plenty of laughs, puns and knowing asides. I particularly like the sceptical owls and the knowing dialogue from the band of cats. Without breaking the fourth wall, there is a hint of metafiction here. The reader must go with these characters and roll with the puns. If you do, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found. There’s not a lot here that you’d find in traditional superhero comics either. Maybe because Atwood isn’t coming from that particular genre, the only clichés here are deliberate, cat-based and intended to be self-mocking.
Muroid and he rats don’t appear to be the most sinister of adversaries for Angel Catman, and his the only character that appears to be fully human. But he screeches like a mad scientist, which is fun, but not as much as his captured rat sidekicks. Their asides are priceless.
Johnnie Christmas (Sheltered) provides the artwork with colouring from Tamra Bonvillain (Blackout). I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is beautiful art, but it appropriately captures the essence of Atwood’s story. The characters are all distinctive and quirky, capturing the humour nicely. Panelling is fairly traditional. Nothing here will blow you away. There are some lovely full page panels too, especially p53 where our band of heroes are battling and in some cases eating the hordes of rats. The colours are certainly eye-catching and vibrant!
This edition is fairly short, and when the ‘to be continued’ page hits, I felt that the plot had only really got going, which was a tad disappointing. It does come with, however, some bonus illustrations, including one from a 6-year-old Atwood (her early inspiration for Angel Catbird), and a fairly comprehensive note book from Christmas.
Angel Catbird is an enjoyable distraction with lovely humour from Atwood. But I could have done with a little more bite. Pun intended. There’s a lot of walking, plenty of planning, a few fisticuffs and then a grand set-up for the next release. Vol 2 feels too much like the middle section to be wholly successful in its own right, but part of the complete work, is worth seeking out.
Title: Angel Catbird Volume 2: To Castle Catula
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson