Dark Horse Comics announced that, in fall of 2016, they will be publishing the first of three graphic novels to be written by Booker Award-winning novelist, activist, and poet Margaret Atwood. Illustrated by Johnnie Christmas (Sheltered, Firebug), the series, titled Angel Catbird, follows the adventures of a superhero who is (you guessed it) part cat and part bird. From the cover illustration, we can assume that he’s also part Hawkman who somehow got his hands on Aquaman’s briefs.
“Due to some spilled genetic Super-Splicer, our hero got tangled up with both a cat and an owl; hence his fur and feathers, and his identity problems,” said Atwood in a statement. Editor Daniel Chabon said that we should expect to see “a strange mix of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Grant Morrison and Chas Truog’s Animal Man, and Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s Squirrel Girl. Angel Catbird is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired story. And the only other thing I can tell you at this early date is to expect a lot of cat puns.”
How can one reasonably piece together what Angel Catbird might look like from Atwood’s impressive repertoire? Well, let’s give it a try. Throughout Atwood’s life and career, she has focused on several key themes and ideals which we can probably expect to see in some form in Angel Catbird. For brevity’s sake, we’ve picked out three such concepts just waiting to be given the catbird treatment.
Angel Catbird is being published in tandem with the Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives initiative, led by Nature Canada. This announcement comes as no surprise, as Atwood has often spoken about environmental issues and has criticized humanity’s treatment of animals in a number of her works.
In the poem “Dreams of the Animals,” she imagines the thoughts and nightmares of the animals we have forced to nature’s sidelines with cages, experiments, and unbridled industrialization. Her first novel, The Edible Woman, deals with a young woman named Marian who suddenly and very strongly feels as though her fiancé is progressively devouring her identity. Identifying with other forms of prey in response to his predatory behavior, Marian weeps when confronted with his gruesome hunting story and, for a time, refuses to eat meat.
Considering Atwood’s personal investment in animal rights and the series’ official partnership with Nature Canada’s initiative, we can expect to see a detailed discussion of Catbird’s backstory: how does the modification affect him as a superhero, and what kind of unfortunate animals exist in this world of “genetic Super-Splicers”?
THE CONSEQUENCES OF GENETIC ENGINEERING
The fact that Catbird’s origin story centers around gene splicing immediately brings to mind Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, which is soon to be adapted into an HBO series. In the first book, Oryx and Crake, residents of a corporation-dominated society in the near future are obsessed with obtaining the latest and greatest anti-aging products in a desperate attempt to live forever. The rub comes when an insanely talented geneticist, the novel’s eponymous Crake, enacts some Ozymandias-from-Watchmen-level tactics to realize his own version of immortality.
At this point, we can only imagine the society in which Catbird lives and how he might have come across the “genetic Super-Splicer.” But, if it’s anything like the one from Oryx and Crake, filled with genetically spliced hybrid animals—and, eventually, people—then Catbird’s transformation could have seriously unpleasant repercussions.
A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
While what we currently know of Catbird might not scream “feminism,” Atwood’s recurring discussion of gender roles and equality (or inequality) in her work suggests that the series will not be without its share of strong female characters.
In the dystopian novel (and required high school reading) The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood conjures a future United States where a heavily conservative and religious patriarchy has taken over and subjugated women into distinct, color-coded categories, depending on chastity and fertility. The handmaids are dressed in red habits and assigned to the ruling class of men, existing as effective concubines used solely for their wombs. Atwood’s commentary on women’s rights isn’t restricted to dystopian nightmares, either. Cat’s Eye covers the mid-20th century and tells another story of a woman trapped, this time by societal expectations of femininity, who eventually accepts herself after confronting her past.
Atwood tends to draw on what she sees in our society in order to shape the representations of women within her novels. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she has to say about gender roles in superhero fantasies.
It’s very likely that Angel Catbird, a comic for all ages, won’t be as geared towards social and psychological commentary as the works mentioned above; however, we wouldn’t be surprised if some of these elements rear their collective heads in some form within the new release.
So even if Angel Catbird isn’t set in a dystopian world with feminist overtones and characters striving for immortality, it’s sure to be another of Atwood’s stunning speculative spectacles. Plus it’s a part cat, part bird superhero. I mean, come on.
What are you most looking forward to in Angel Catbird? Do you think Aquaman will ever get his briefs back? Let us know in the comments!