2016 has been an incredible year for graphic novels, and this week sees the release of one of the year’s most anticipated new titles: Dark Horse Comics’ Angel Catbird. The first graphic novel by literary icon Margaret Atwood, Angel Catbird tells the tale of Strig Feleedus, a genetic engineer who transforms into a bird/owl/human hybrid after an accident and finds himself thrown in the middle of a pulpy superhero conflict. Atwood grew up during the Golden Age of comics in the ’40s and ’50s, and she channels the storytelling sensibilities of series like Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, and Pogo in Angel Catbird, giving the book a retro feel that plays up the fantasy of Strig’s situation.
That fantasy is in service of a real-world message, though, and one of Atwood’s primary goals with this title is educating readers about the current perils faced by cats and birds, which she accomplishes by including factoids along the bottom of select pages. One of those factoids appears in this Angel Catbird preview, which also introduces one of the most delightful aspects of Atwood’s story: Strig’s difficulty keeping his animal compulsions in check. Eating rats is one thing, but later he has to fight the urge to drop his pants and outspray another cat on the street, which could land him in jail if he’s caught. Those moments of humor are when Angel Catbird most strongly distinguishes itself from other superhero stories, although its fun to imagine a version of Spider-Man that spends the day eating bugs trapped in his webbing.
Artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain bring Atwood’s concept to the page with clean detail and bold energy, and working with Atwood is a major profile boost for these two consistently exciting creators. Christmas does excellent work capturing the majesty of Strig’s first flight in the first page of this preview, but he also knows how to make him look clumsy and awkward as he discovers the challenges of his new form. Bonvillain’s vibrant color palette amplifies the spectacle of the visuals, and the artistic process for both creators is explored in the book’s extensive backmatter. Readers can discover more of this new superhero world when Angel Catbird hits stands tomorrow, but in the meanwhile, here are some pages to whet the appetite.