Hey guys! Please welcome one of my favourite bloggers to Reads & Reels!
I’m so excited to have him here even though he’s a fan of Marvel comics 😜 (DC forever!), because not only is he a friend, he also has an incredible blog, filled with insightful content about everything superhero. Movies, comics, graphic novels, you name it! You have to check it out!
Today he is going to share this really frikin cool, MUST READ comic with us, and I have to say, I’m more than keen to read this now!
So, without further ado….
Man-Eaters Volume #1
“Um, this is a very pink, sparkly cover,” was the start of the confused and clearly uncomfortable conversation offered by the guy behind the counter at my local comic shop when he gave me my issue of Man-Eaters #1. I think he legitimately had no idea what to make of me – a male, superhero-oriented reader – picking up Image Comics’ new horror comedy series boasting a boldly pink, sparkly, cat-filled cover. But reading this was never a question for me. I was so impressed by what Chelsea Cain did on Marvel’s tragically short-lived Mockingbird series that as soon as I heard she was reuniting with that team for a new comic, the title was on my pull list. As the series has racked up critical acclaim, the confusion when I buy it has faded. But that first day? Ha, the kid at the counter and several of the male patrons seemed to struggle to process my excitement at buying this. As I left, “Uh, haha, so enjoy your cat comic,” was all any of them could offer :).
The comic was every bit as brilliant as I hoped! Man-Eaters is so good it’s the only non-superhero comic to earn a spot on my pull list. But, before I go any further, I want to be clear on two points. First, ever since I learned the meaning of the word, I’ve identified myself as a feminist. What can I say? I’ve got a thing about equality and patriarchal oppression has never sat well with me. There’s nothing controversial about opposing systemic injustice as far as I’m concerned. Second, as a man, my experience of this comic book (and the patriarchy itself) is obviously different from a woman’s. I consider myself an ardent, lifelong feminist and an ally in the fight but I certainly don’t consider myself to be any sort of definitive voice on the matter. How could I? I’m looking at the issue from the outside. To presume otherwise is to trivialize the experience of others and that’s never sat well with me either.
Okay, with that all clear, let’s talk about GIANT ROAMING WEREPANTHERS shall we?!?
Chelsea Cain’s Man-Eaters follows twelve-year-old Maude. She lives in Portland, Oregon where her father is a homicide detective. Her mother, divorced from her father for nearly two years, is a big animal vet and runs the regional office of the Strategic Cat Apprehension Team (S.C.A.T.) in the Pacific Northwest, based in Seattle. S.C.A.T.’s job is to prevent “big cat attacks.” You see, the country has been plagued by Toxoplasmosis X – a mutation in the parasite toxoplasmosis, commonly found in cat feces and undercooked meat. Toxoplasmosis X causes an infection, most are unharmed but it effected adolescent females differently. It caused a transformation with menstruation turning these girls into big cats – or werepanthers. There are stories of these girls changing and killing their whole families as big cats. The government gets involved, despite protests that go largely unheard, and puts hormones in the water to block menstruation. As a result of this altered tap water, the lining of the uterus stops growing, never has to shed, the period never comes, and no girl has to worry about transforming into a big cat. And. by and large, big cat attacks are down as a result. However, it doesn’t always work, and sometimes girls still change. This leads to a werecat attack Maude’s parents begin investigating…as the first issue ends with Maude getting her first period.
The narrative is this engaging comedy, shot through with real horror aesthetics, and wrapped around an-ever growing mystery. The fluid shifts in tone leave me laughing out loud on one page and legitimately creeped out on the next (full disclosure, I’m kind of a baby with horror). The story itself would be more than enough to keep me coming back each month but every issue is also filled with shots – big and small – against patriarchal oppression. Kate Niemczyk does SO much with the art here! There’s incredible detail, messages, and jokes woven through each page. It’s some of the most creative, effective comic art I’ve ever seen. It needs to be reread because, no matter how close I look, my initial read only scratches the surface of what she does. Her two page spreads are like a Where’s Waldo? of cleverness. And the propaganda ads – everything from adverts for “Estro Pop! For Boys!” to safety posters explaining ways to recognize a woman who may be suffering from a cat attack – that fill each issue are just as brilliant as the story itself, and they’re where some of the most cutting satire comes in.
(On a side note, I want to call it now. It hasn’t been alluded to (yet) save my own read on one particular line but, when they talk of the stories of girls killing their whole families when they transform, I’m betting that too will be revealed to be propaganda by the government to subvert and control the female population, a reason to try and strip them of this power and control the power of the big cats. But only time will tell if I’m right.)
What struck me as most powerful though when I read Man-Eaters is how what Chelsea Cain and company are doing reconnects the reader to something ancient and powerful in our mystical experience. Menstruation triggers the transformation into the werecat – something the patriarchal power structure sees as monstrous and dangerous. This biological facet of the feminine identity is said to be something to fear. This fear and suppression of the power of a woman is, sadly, far too common in our modern world. But menstruation and the transformation are also a source of great power. And this is an idea with roots in our early mythological thinking.
To quickly define our terms, as Joseph Campbell – one of the 20th century’s leading experts on comparative mythology explains – a myth is for spiritual instruction while a folktale is for entertainment. That’s not to say a myth can’t be entertaining but it’s main purpose is to teach deep and abiding truths. For the ancients, a woman’s body was sacred, connected to the world in a way a man’s could never be, mirroring nature’s cycles.
Menstruation was the center of this connection and of the woman’s sacred nature. The ancients needed to create rituals for boys to transition into adulthood, to become men. For women, their bodies did it on their own. This was a divine, powerful experience as Campbell explains, “But in primary cultures today the girl becomes a woman with her first menstruation. It happens to her. Nature does it to her. And so she has undergone the transformation….She sits there. She is now a woman. And what is a woman? A woman is a vehicle of life. Life has overtaken her. Woman is what it is all about – the giving of birth and the giving of nourishment. She is identical with the earth goddess in her powers, and she has got to realize that about herself.” This is EXACTLY WHAT MAN-EATERS ILLUSTRATES!!! Chelsea Cain is reimaging this sacred power ancient societies saw in women.
The young girls in this comic are experiencing this ancient understanding of menstruation as the transition into the divine power of womanhood. This ancient truth just happens to be set inside a contemporary horror comedy comic book. They are struggling to realize who they are, both in their maturing as menstruation brings the threshold of adulthood and in their power as menstruation brings the werecat transformation. And the werecat is a being of power. These girls have been overtaken by the power – their natural power – and have to figure out what that means.
When she was at Marvel, Chelsea Cain wrote a really fun, funny comic that was uncompromisingly intelligent. What was her reward for Mockingbird? The type of close-minded, scared male readers who feel threatened by a strong female character bullied her so much she had to quit Twitter for a time. And Marvel, unwilling to give the comic the time it needed to build it’s audience, cancelled it prematurely. Chelsea Cain’s response? To come back to the world of comic books, write for Image, be uncompromisingly bold with her direct assault on the patriarchy, and give us one of the most creative and important titles to come out in 2018.
The first trade collection, Man-Eaters Volume 1, will be released on 5 March 2019. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. You’ll be gaining a brilliant, funny, creative new comic for your shelf – one you’ll find more in each time you read it – and bonus you’ll be throwing a little fuel on our ever-growing fire to burn down the patriarchy. Best win/win EVER.
Michael Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief.
 Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, (New York: Anchor Books, 1991), 71.
 Ibid., 104.
 Ibid., 103-4.