Angel Catbird has a title and premise so ridiculous that it may cause the discerning comics fan to pass it by, but that's just about the only bad thing it has going for it. Penned by the bestselling author Margaret Atwood (Handmaid's Tale), the graphic novel tells the tale of Strig Feleedus, a genetic scientist who falls victim to a genetic accident, leaving his D.N.A. spliced with that of an owl and his pet cat.
Endowed with the ability to shift his form to an anthropomorphized animal-man, equal parts human, cat, and owl, Strig discovers a society of half-cat people or half-people cats. An adjacent population of bird-persons (RIP Birdperson), a cat/bat/human called Count Catula, and the nefarious Dr. Muroid, an evil half-rat, round out the cast of characters.
Volume two of Atwood's graphic novel is set to hit store shelves on Valentine's Day. In it, Muroid is intent on ridding the world of Angel Catbird and his compatriots via the use of an army of remote controlled rats. Angel. Catbird, along with his friends (with perfectly punny names like the ancient Egyptian Neferkitti, or the bold and bulky Cataclysm) aren't too keen on Muroid's plans and set out to stop him.
On the surface, it's typical superhero fare, seemingly shallow, but entertaining with its bright colors and interesting visuals. The titular character is involved in a scientific accident involving an animal and is imbued with the abilities of that animal, in this case, two animals. We'e seen this all before, right? A deeper look reveals a subtle commentary on current political issues, given Atwood's literary career up to this point, we should expect nothing less.
The most consistent source of conflict in the story, aside from Muroid who is the clear antagonist, is between the bird-people and the cat-people. There seems to be a clear demarcation between their two groups, neither much caring for the other. This, of course, makes sense as they are naturally at odds, not only do cats often eat birds, but in the case of cats and owls, they are competitors for the same food source. There is something a little silly about creatures who are already hybrids, already bridging species, passing judgement on the species of another. That's where Strig's Angel Catbird persona comes in. He bridges that divide. He poses the question to all who know him that perhaps these lines that divide us, perhaps these categories into which we shuffle ourselves and one another, aren't all that useful anymore.
Angel Catbird succeeds in keeping these themes under the surface. At no point does any character jump on an oak stump and expound on the virtues of acceptance or inclusiveness, but for a reader that needs that type of reassurance, it can be found within Atwood's pages. The rest of us might just smile at the absurdity of the action.
However, Atwood does use the book as an opportunity to pursue an agenda in an entirely unsubtle way. Every few pages, whenever relevant to a recent happening, readers will find a message pertaining to the welfare of cats or birds. Early in Volume 2 (so it's not much of a spoiler) Muroid has a half-cat captured, planning to use his robo-rats to declaw her by cutting off her fingers. Atwood takes the opportunity to quickly inform the audience that declawing is actually a fairly brutal procedure and that responsible cat companions might find less drastic ways to deal with cat scratch fever.
Angel Catbird rides the line of art with purpose and silly, unadulterated fun. At $14.99 for more than a hundred pages of hardbound, full color absurdity, the punk rock eleven-year-old in all of us won't be disappointed.