Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Angel Catbird, Volume 1 Review (Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas)


Quite a few genre novelists have turned their hands to comics in the past - Greg Rucka, Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz and Caitlin Kittredge to name a few - some of them successfully too, but there’s been a weird trend recently of literary writers having a go at comics as well. Chuck Palahniuk’s much anticipated sequel, Fight Club 2, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther for Marvel are two high profile examples from the last year with Margaret Atwood’s Angel Catbird being the latest. And, like Palahniuk and Coates’ efforts, Atwood’s is complete rubbish! 

Let’s look at her intro: she emphasises in the first paragraph that she’s “an award-winning nice literary old lady” - and already there’s a sense of sneering condescension. She’s an award-winning literary writer - so what the heck’s she doing slumming it in the retarded comics world?!? She then name-checks a bunch of famous comics (she knows how to use Google!) before mentioning that “Spider-Man, who begat Wolverine” when it came to “psychologically complex characters with relationship problems”. Uh, what? How did Spidey beget Wolverine in any sense? 

Anyway, after Atwood’s failed attempt at pretending to seem like she knows superhero comics, we’re onto the comic proper and from the first page she had me reeling in disbelief. Is this really the final version of the comic?! Dated thought balloons and clunky exposition wherein the protagonist tells us he was headhunted for a top secret project. Oof. 

Then we’re in some supposedly modern lab where our protagonist, Strig Feleedus (worst character name of 2016), has a lone beaker on his desk next to his computer - to show us he’s a scientist! I wonder if he was a banker he’d have a piggy bank on his desk or some scales if he was a lawyer! 

This is followed by more awkward talking from some random character who calls the boss “The Big Cheese” and that “He needs to be the smartest guy in the room. Even when he’s not.” Such natural-sounding conversation between two strangers meeting for the first time! 

The bad guy - and you know he’s the villain because he’s fat, ugly and in charge - is Dr Muroid, the name itself screaming evil. Dialogue is once again Atwood’s enemy as she struggles and fails to come up with even remotely convincing-sounding speech between two supposed scientists. Muroid talks vaguely about “the special project” and “results”, Strig talks about a missing piece of “the original code”. More clichés follow about being “top in the field” and then, once Strig’s out of earshot, Muroid’s talking to his rats and thought-bubble-thinking Strig’s an idiot. Everyone understood that he’s the bad guy yet!??! 

I could go through every one of the 71 pages in this book and show how Atwood, despite claiming to have made comics for years in her intro, has only the most rudimentary understanding of comics storytelling. And, though I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale and hated it, I don’t remember her prose being this bad before. I’m going to assume she’s deliberately emulating the simplistic writing of the Golden Age comics she grew up reading as a kid. 

Not that that makes the book any better to read. The story is full of superhero clichés - the scientist whose experiment inadvertently gives him superpowers, the obvious love interest and clumsily-introduced romantic angle, the villain’s plot to take over the world - but I guess this is Atwood’s attempt at homage? Because I don’t know why else - at age 77 - she would write a comic that’s mocking the genre it used to be decades ago and she claims to have loved. 

Johnnie Christmas’ art is ok but he basically lifts Juanjo Guarnido’s character designs from Blacksad (also published by Dark Horse) which features anthropomorphic animals, particularly cats. And what’s going on with the human-cats’ clothes when they transform from quasi-humans into cats - the way he draws them makes them look like the clothes are organically part of the creatures?! 

Oh and the puns - is that Atwood’s “humour”? Is that what splits the sides of “award-winning literary” writers? How about a pie in the face gag while you’re at it? Also let’s randomly toss in some tedious footnote facts about cats every once in a while even though they add nothing to the book?! 

I wonder if Margaret Atwood has honestly read any comics past 1970. She’d know then that there are ways to pay homage to the past while also telling a contemporary story that doesn’t talk down to the reader or bore them horribly. These literary writer dilettantes need to realise comics readers aren’t complete idiots and have to stop trying to pass off these half-assed scripts as if such shoddy, lazy efforts are acceptable; as if comics readers don’t need anything more than the bare minimum to be engaged unlike their sophisticated novel-reading audience where real effort must be made. All books like this show is the lack of respect and sheer contempt they have for the genre and their dearth of understanding in writing for its readership. 

Corny plot, one-dimensional characters, horrendous dialogue, and an uninspired, derivative story from first page to last, Atwood makes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look like the pinnacle of comics art with her Angel Catbird garbage. I got nothing out of this drivel, it was just bad all the way through. No clue who would find this entertaining - pompous “literary old ladies”, sorry pompous “award-winning literary old ladies” only probably. Check out the aforementioned Blacksad to read a good comic - one where the writer actually cares about what they’re writing and tries to make reading it enjoyable for their audience – featuring talking cats instead of this shite.

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