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By Courtney Ryan. Don’t let cats roam outdoors where cars, parasites, and other sinister things threaten to steal approximately 6 of their 9 lives. And while you’re at it, please don’t let them hunt birds. These are the big takeaways from Angel Catbird Vol. 1, the first graphic novel from profusely-acclaimed novelist, Margaret Atwood. Indeed, this superhero story about genetic engineer Strig Fleedus accidentally combining his DNA with that of an owl and cat—thus becoming part man, part cat, and part bird—and who must defeat his evil half-rat boss, probably works best when viewed as a colorful PSA for cat health.

Considering how Atwood’s prolific career has touched on every genre from speculative sci-fi to historical crime fiction, her foray into comic books isn’t that surprising. In her eloquent and rather poignant forward, she shares her chief inspirations: 1940s pulp comics and a deep respect for fowl and feline friends. Evidence of her childhood attachment to hero pulps comes through very clearly via her gratuitous use of puns, inclusion of a sappy romance, and the way the action zips from one scene to the next like a carnival rollercoaster. Atwood then anchors the pages with short PSAs reminding readers of crucial issues in cat health care, such as the importance of spaying and neutering kittens. Unfortunately, the result is a fun yet ultimately tensionless story with brief interruptions of the action each time a new cat fact appears.

Artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain create a beautiful and sophisticated-looking story around the silliness of the plot. With help from Bonvillain’s twilight-tinged coloring, Christmas manages to run with the more extreme elements—sexy half-cats, ominous rat spies, a friendly vampire-bat cat—and make them no more outrageous than images of Strig coding at his computer. It’s also no small feat that each character’s mutation is obvious upon first look without being too over-the-top.

Angel Catbird Vol. 1 is a light and easy read that invites readers to share the fun Atwood must have had in writing it. There will be three volumes in total, and while I have no doubt Atwood’s best content is yet to come, I’m also not too curious to see what will happen to our hero next. I’m certain the outcome will be pulpy and upbeat, but despite the very direct references to the dangers cats face every day, the characters and their problems don’t relate to anything in our world. I suspect and hope a little tension might develop as Strig is torn between his various predatory instincts, but until then Angel Catbird is less thrilling than it is educational.        

Dark Horse Comics/$14.99

Written by Margaret Atwood.

Illustrated by Johnnie  Christmas.

Colors by Tamra Bonvillain.        

6.5 out of 10

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