It isn’t often I say the words I’m about to say. I know how much work goes into the production of a book. I understand what it means to put yourself out there and have people be hateful about it. Earning bad reviews isn’t fun and unlike the trolls of the world, I don’t take any real pleasure in writing bad reviews. All that said, though, I think there may be people who approach Angel Catbird because of Margaret Atwood and may read a graphic novel for the first time as a result – and they need to know that this isn’t representative of the better elements of the form. Time for those words I don’t often say in review form: Angel Catbird is fucking horrible.
Why is it horrible? Oh let us count the ways. Let’s begin with the story. A man called Strig Feleedus is head hunted to work at an organisation called Muroid Inc. Strig talks in explication (he helpfully tells us he was head hunted to work on a top secret project). His boss, Dr A Muroid (a man who likes to surround himself with rats and talks to rats as if they are prospective lovers) wants Strig to finish up on a project after the last project lead was mysteriously killed. Thankfully eye-catching hottie Cate Leone from the Marketing department looks to be a friendly sort. Three days later, Strig has a breakthrough, solves the conundrum and tells his boss – who promptly (so promptly) drives to Strig’s house and knocks him over, killing his cat, hurting a passing owl and smashing the only sample of the potion he has concocted. (Muroid says, “Tomorrow I’ll grab the formula off his computer!” but he doesn’t know that Strig wrote anything down on his computer – he just knocked down his employee inexplicably to create a situation in which Strig is lying on the floor, soaked in serum next to the corpse of a cat and the corpse of a bird). Before you can say, “Jesus Christ, my nine year old would be fucking insulted by this shit”, Strig has transformed into a large catbird. As you do.
From here, Angel Catbird goes savagely (and some would say hilariously) downhill. Strig finds himself eating new foods and sensing the world in a new way and it turns out that Cate Leon is a half cat (a lot of people are half cats, and half cats look like people sized cats – except some cat people revert to humans and some revert to cats) and when she isn’t working in the Marketing department or fronting a band, she’s up for fighting evil in the form of Muroid (who himself is a half rat and who wishes to lead his apparently easily dominated rat-kind to take over the world). For a while Strig has trouble transforming but Cate tells him what to do and he does it. There isn’t a page that passes without something stupid on it. Eg, after being run over by his boss, he returns to work and his boss is surprised for a moment but then everyone carries on as normal, all the while harbouring secret seething plans for world domination. Eg, Strig and Cate flirtatiously realise they both like cat stuff (fish! milk!) in the staff canteen. Eg, Strig saves a baby bird but actually wants to eat it. Horribleness piles on horribleness. It really is awful.
But it’s not just the story. If we can lay the blame for that at the door of Atwood, we have to turn to Johnnie Christmas next. The art is super sanitised. The kind of art you see whenever Government seeks to inform the younger public of, like, the importance of voting – in comic form. It’s the kind of art that dentists use to try and distract children from the awfulness of dentists. Gee Tommy, it is worth having surgery and losing pints of blood for a whiter smile! Thanks Dr Bastard! The lines are clean, the figures look DC digital (I don’t know how you feel about DC yourself but personally when I pick up mostly any DC comic I am always slightly repelled by the fact that the art looks like it was produced on a computer with minimal interference by humans). It’s antiseptic and makes for a product that looks committee driven. The third thing that is horrible (and which supports this idea of a product produced to educate rather than entertain) are the cat facts that dog the pages of the comic. I’m not saying the cat facts aren’t interesting but their presence is distracting and makes you feel like you are reading a pamphlet that just so happens to have a sub-par superhero story in it.
It makes me cross that Dark Horse – who I rate and who I would trust because they have published a lot of books that I have liked for a great many years – are involved with this. It strikes me that everyone at Dark Horse left their critical faculties at the door. This is Margaret Atwood they have all said. This will sell, irrespective of what a piece of shit it is. This book is so bad that it makes me want to climb trees, find nests and move them so cats can get to them more easily. If that is what it takes to stop any further instalments of Angel Catbird making their way into existence I would do it. I hate Angel Catbird so much I don’t even want to tell you about the introduction (Atwood offers a sort of comics memoir and – damn it! – it’s great, a really, really informative and entertaining six pages – but the rest of the book is so bad, we would rather incite you to crime – go to a book store, tear out these six pages and then burn the fucking bookstore down for not refusing to stock the thing – than encourage you to buy this). Shame on everyone involved. You should all know better.
But. If you are an Atwood fan and you are considering purchasing this and you haven’t read a graphic novel before, know that there are better graphic novels that you could read to introduce yourself to the form. Here are 10, gleaned from just looking at the bookshelf directly opposite:
Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden
Notes on a Thesis by Tiphaine Riviere
Grandville by Bryan Talbot
David Boring by Daniel Clowes
Summer Blonde by Adrien Tomine
Dark Knight, A True Batman Story by Paul Dini
Safe Area Goradze by Joe Sacco
Clyde Fans Book 1 by Seth
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Any Cop?: The only thing worse than volume 1 of Angel Catbird is the news that there is set to be a volume 2. This one needs the plug pulling and everyone involved should walk away as quickly as possible, without looking back, and we’ll all agree to expunge it from the record.