Written by Chelsea Cain
Art by Kate Niemczyk, Stella Greenvoss, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Caramagna
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: September 26, 2018
A mutated disease turns menstruating women into killer cats, and a young girl finds herself on the cusp of womanhood and facing a society that considers her a monster.
Man-Eaters #1 follows Maude as she introduces us to her world, one strikingly similar to our own but for one big difference. The world is afflicted by a disease, Toxoplasmosis-X, a mutation of Toxoplasmosis. It’s transmitted through cat feces and, while mostly dormant, when activated by menstruation it can transform the infected into a giant, feral cat. The government responds by doctoring the water supply with heavy doses of estrogen and progesterone, effectively putting the entire population on hormonal birth control and halting menstruation until they can figure out what’s going on.
A side-note: Putting the entire country on the Pill may seem just a tad implausible. I know I balked when I first read it. But consider that we Americans live in a nation in which our sitting president spent the summer of 2014 frantically tweeting that a complete quarantine of the continent of Africa, and all people who had ever visited there, was the only possible sane reaction to an Ebola outbreak. And consider also AIDS panic and the continued refusal of the Red Cross to permit blood donations from any male who has had homosexual intercourse ever in their lives. An extreme, poorly-conceived response to a frightening and deadly new disease, particularly one associated with a societally disfavored population, suddenly seems vastly more plausible.
This first issue is primarily given over to exposition, introducing us to Maude, her dad, and the society they live in. It’s entertainingly done, cleverly illustrated as Maude gives her perspective on the emergence of what are euphemistically known as Big Cats and the Strategic Cat Apprehension Team (or Kitty Squad) that deals with them.
There’s an interesting shift that occurs over the course of this first issue. It opens with the image of Maude, sitting on her bed and wearing a Women’s March-style pussy hat, playing with tampons that she is pretending are superheroes. The world is shown to be remarkably similar to our own, with people discussing politics and personal grooming and Maude bugging her dad for Minecraft skins. Only slowly does it pull back the curtain and reveal that things aren’t quite right in this world, first with a brutal mauling homicide, then with the revelation of the existence of Big Cats, then finally with images of pre-teen girls dragged from their homes in handcuffs and of cat girls viciously mauling their families.
There are a lot of interesting comparisons and references to be made about Man-Eaters. Certainly, Bitch Planet is an obvious inspiration in terms of tone, particularly with respect to the back matter and the misogynist, dystopian nature of the society presented. Somewhat more obscure is Val Lewton’s 1942 horror classic, Cat People, a film that dealt with a similar high concept of women who turn into killer cats, and also grappled with the psychological struggle of a woman who doesn’t wish to be a monster, but may be compelled to become one against her will.
The other interesting comparison to be made is between Man-Eaters and X-Men. Both Man-Eaters and X-Men deal with populations who are feared and hated because of transformations beyond their control that are triggered by the onset of puberty. But where the X-Men are feared, largely, because of feelings of inadequacy, the belief that mutants are more powerful than regular humans and, by dint of that power, are set to replace them, the women of Man-Eaters are feared because of their deadly, unpredictable potential, because they represent an unknowable monstrous threat.
There’s a contrast, here, between societal perceptions of male vs. female puberty. When boys (or anyone without a vagina) reach puberty it’s accompanied by relatively uncomplicated congratulations. It’s strange and different and uncomfortable, but ultimately greeted as a welcome accession to power. Girls (or anyone with a vagina), by contrast, experience puberty far more ambivalently. We’re told that PMS will turn us into hormonal monsters, and we can anticipate painful monthly bleeding for the rest of our lives. For thousands of years, menses have been considered a curse, from biblical edicts that a menstruating woman is unclean and must be isolated, down to the depiction in Man-Eaters of a violent mob burning women’s hygiene products with banners like “NO MORE BLOOD!” “END THE CYCLE!” and “WHO BLEEDS FOR SEVEN DAYS AND DOESN’T DIE????” By tying the transformation in Man-Eaters to menstruation, the creative team turns the Curse into a very real monstrous metaphor.
The art style is diverse and evocative, from cute and soft in the early pages to bloody and horrifying when depicting feline murders. It cleverly incorporates mixed media, as when charts are used to illustrate Maude’s father’s character or when cat photos are used for posters. When death happens on-panel, bloodspatter spills over into the panel gutters. There’s a playfulness with the form here that makes this book a fun read even beyond the at times serious subject matter.
Man-Eaters #1 is a fine start. It’s an interesting world with a compelling main character. With a first issue as exposition-heavy as this one, though, it remains to be seen how well the elements of the plot will gel once the story gets into full swing. On the whole, though, I’m inclined to grant the benefit of the doubt while waiting, with some excitement, for future issues.
The Verdict: 8.0/10