Angel Catbird, Vol. 2: To Castle Catula
Written by Margaret Atwood
Art by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain’s grand Silver Age experiment continues in Angel Catbird, Vol. 2. Picking up directly after the cliffhanger of the debut installment, Atwood deepens her world of half-cats by introducing a suave new set of supernatural and religious-inspired hybrid characters that jibe well with the core cast and the steadily rising action of the plot. Though her dialogue still carries with it the sincere clunkiness of classic adventure comic books, Atwood’s foray into comic books still charms in this second volume.
While the prolific author is certainly the marquee name on the cover, artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain are the real stars of this second volume. Christmas’ finely detailed pencils and expressive character blocking heightens the theatricality of Atwood’s frankly bonkers script and mines both heart and comedy from the volume’s varied sequences. Tamra Bonvillain’s colors make all the difference here, giving this volume the same pop art vibrations that make her Young Animal work so consistently fun. Evoking the tone of gothic Universal Horror and pulpy adventure comic books, Angel Catbird, Vol. 2: To Castle Catula is a solid sophomore effort.
Just to state up front, Angel Catbird, in general, is a tough sell. In her wryly funny and heartfelt introduction, writer G. Willow Wilson compares the tone of story to that of the more stranger Jack Kirby tales, and that’s mostly true. In her presentation, Margaret Atwood completely leans into the pulpy and slightly ham-fisted voice of old spinner rack comic books. The episodic structure of the story also doesn’t help especially when the majority of the plot involves the survivors of volume one’s story just walking to the titular castle and repelling attacks from baddie Muroid. Though her prose can be comfortably be called renowned, Atwood’s scripting still comes across a bit rough, especially to a less classically inclined audience.
Some clunky dialogue aside, the world and cast that Atwood has built is still irrepressibly charming and it only gets more so in this second volume. After being rescued by the good count in volume one, our heroes become his guests and are treated to his wonderfully bonkers origin story which includes Catula and Dracula fighting over the same snack rat. Count Catula is the breakout new addition to the narrative, but Atwood doubles down on it, bringing characters like the half-owl Atheen-Owl, Catmummy, and the Roman poet Catullus into the cast, further expanding on the hybrid mythology the plot is predicated on. Couple the new additions with the flirty dynamic of the core cast, Atwood’s well-intentioned cat facts after every scene break, and all sorts of rat based hijinks and you have an experience that more than makes up for the slightly off-kilter presentation.
Also aiding the experience and in certain sequences completely carrying it are the art team of Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain. Christmas, who at points looks uncannily like Bonvillain’s Doom Patrol co-conspirator Nick Derington, perfectly translates Atwood’s fan letter to classic superheroes with an equal passion, allowing each character to wear their emotions on their furry or feathery sleeves. As I said above, the word I keep come to is “theatrical” and once you see Christmas’ comedy beats, especially the scene in which two rats mime out a report to Muroid, and action blocking which leaps across the page, I am sure you’ll agree.
Bonvillain also heightens the tone with her moody, yet vibrant color choices. Most of the plot this time around is set in the middle of the night or in a dingy underground lab, but Bonvillain makes the most of her settings, drenching the evening in moonlit darker tones, the lab in coppery earthen colors and sterile metallics, and the flashbacks to Count Catula’s origin with deep Hammer/Italian horror-inspired vibes. Though her stock has been steadily rising through the year, this second volume is another well-produced platform for Bonvillain and penciller Christmas.
Though slightly hampered by some flat jokes, Dark Horse Comics has produced something specially singular with Angel Catbird. Margaret Atwood, delving into a new medium with almost reckless abandon, delivers something roughly beautiful, marked with her trademark world building and too-crazy-not-to-love characters. Artists Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain make Atwood’s words fly with plenty of slick action and eye-popping colors. While the overall story still stands incomplete, Angel Catbird, Vol. 2: To Castle Catula is a worthy return to shelves for the team and their furry companions.