The Cats and the Furriest: Fun And Fetish In ‘Angel Catbird’ [Sci-Fi Week]
Angel Catbird Vol. 1 tackles one of life’s most pressing dilemmas, one we must all grapple with in spirit if not necessarily in flesh: what do you do when an accident turns you into a half-man, half-owl, half-human, and the co-worker you’re sweet on is really into it?
The result is a colorful, old-school, pulpy, and none-too-serious comic from writer Margaret Atwood, artist Johnnie Christmas, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and letterer Nate Piekos, with a lot of jokes and a pleasing number of facts about cats.
The premise is that Strig Feleedus, young and brilliant genetic engineer, was dosed with a sample of Comic Book Science™ while trying to save his cat, and though he failed at that, he succeeded in getting merged with his cat’s DNA... as well as an owl’s. He soon is pulled into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse (I’m sorry) (no I’m not) with hidden underground societies at risk from mad science and villainy.
Artistically, it’s a gorgeous book. It’s not reinventing the wheel --- it sticks mostly to five or six panel pages and some splashes --- but they all work. The storytelling is concise; the colors are gorgeous. Everyone has an inspired design, including Angel Catbird himself, whose charmingly retro costume consists of, “What if shorts? Just, y’know: shorts?”
The script itself is curious, a bit of a throwback to an older school of storytelling; there are thought balloons instead of narrative captions, for example, giving it a retro vibe that actually works well with the book’s brighter colors and Piekos’ larger lettering. There are a few instances where the dialogue is doing work better left to the artist, such as when it’s revealed that Strig’s co-worker, Cate Leone, is herself a cat-person, but it’s never too distracting.
Cate introduces Strig to a secret world of cat people, specifically cat people who like to dress up and attend parties. I’m not sure what I expected going into this book, but I know I didn’t expect an extended metaphor for a man getting into furry culture.
When I say furry culture, I mean literally exactly that. The other characters at the party have all the elaborate costumes and terrible puns you’d expect from a furry get-together. There’s a cat with nine tails called Cat O’Nine Tails, who carries a cat o’nine tails. There is Count Catula, who is a half-human half-cat half-vampire half-bat, which is one "trained by Goku and Batman" away from being someone’s original character from DeviantArt.
There’s a cabaret (catbaret?) of pretty catgirls in revealing outfits, introduced by the MC, whose name is Caterwaul, all of this taking place at a nightclub called the Catastrophe. There are so many cat puns, everyone. There’s just so many.
The villain (who is half-rat) has a supervillain plan involving changing his army of rats into rat-humans, then infiltrating world governments and taking over the world, and also having a harem of rat ladies.
Yes, he’s that kind of furry fan, the kind that makes you go “oh no, oh dear,” and he’s at war with the other kind of furry fan, the kind that are weird and strange and know they’re weird and strange and embrace it, and wind up being some of the most accepting people you’ll ever meet because of it.
Even in a year where one of the top films of the year is “Furries: The Movie” it is still surreal to see something that used to be the Internet’s butt of the joke get mainstream to the point that Margaret Atwood’s writing about it. But then again, once upon a time we could have said the same thing about comics, and we have a comic about a flying cat in short-shorts being hailed as “one of the most anticipated literary events of the year.” 2016: What a Time To Be Alive.
Angel Catbird isn’t a deep meaningful look into the mainstreaming of Internet subcultures so much as a fun palate cleanser that is brazenly furry as all hell. It’s a fun little diversion that indicates how much the world has already changed. Everything weird and strange and niche from yesteryear could be mainstream tomorrow. Be careful who you call weird in high school.