Lately, there’s been a trend of authors from the prose world crossing over into the world of comics. Daniel H. Wilson pens Earth 2: Society; Chelsea Cain handles the writing duties on Mockingbird; and now Margaret Atwood has entered into that category with Angel Catbird Vol. 1.
I’ve been a fan of Atwood’s for quite sometime, having read her novels The Handmaid’s Tale and the 2000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner, The Blind Assassin when I was in college. She excels at creating deep, resonating fiction with unflinching critiques of social norms. My love for her stories is the reason I went into her first entry into the comic book realm with high expectations. I shouldn’t have. Having high expectations was a huge mistake.
If you think of plot as a road traveled, this one is full of potholes, debris, and missing patches of pavement that will leave you feeling completely dazed, bewildered, and wishing you’d stayed home. The story revolves around Strig Feleedus, a biochemist or geneticist or some such thing that is hired by Dr. Muriod to complete a formula for a gene-splicing serum. The plot turns when Muriod reveals himself as the villian, and Strig ends up laying broken in a puddle of serum with his dead cat and an owl. The serum then bonds with Strig, transforming him. But wait! There’s also an entire civilization of half-cats, half-bats, half-rats out there warring with each other for shape-shifting supremacy.
There are moments where the dialogue feels like it is meant to be humorous–Strig monologuing about his new found, cat-inspired, desire to eat birds conflicting with his bird-inspired drive to protect them (What a ridiculous dichotomy, right?!)–but actually just comes across as weirdly awkward and underdeveloped.
The transitioning and pacing throughout the story creates a lot of head scratching. Strig figures out a complex and incomplete gene-splicing formula, the it transitions to Muriod enacting devious plans, flashes to scenes of Strig undergoing a transformation, and then enters into a whirlwind of cat people, rats with video cameras, randomly placed facts about cat and bird conservation and protection, and normal people witnessing all this and responding with, “We shouldn’t tell anyone. They’d think we’re nuts.” The gaps and leaps in the transitioning and pacing that drags down the dialogue feel lazy–it’s like there wasn’t enough time or desire to fully develop the events.
The artwork by Johnnie Christmas doesn’t help fill in the weakness of the plot. When thinking about what makes a great comic, I always say that the words need to have a symbiotic relationship with the images. Christmas’s artwork feels like a literal translation of the script. Like the words, there’s no depth to the images.
Really the only thing to enjoy about this story is Atwood’s introduction, where she describes her love and interest in comics and animal conservation. In a time where authors are crossing over from prose to sequential art, Atwood shows that some authors should stick to their original craft.