A Good Idea Will Only Get You...Fleas, Maybe
I like cats. I have some. I have kids, too, who also like the cats, so when I Was the Cat came across the ole blotter, I was really excited. The premise is great: a (talking) cat who is on the last of his nine lives hires a reporter to ghostwrite a memoir about his multiple incarnations here on Earth. There were some off-putting things right at the start — like the reporter character being unbelievably named "Allison Breaking," and her successful blog called "Breaking News," and Allison's roommate? friend? lover? Reggie being absolutely insufferable — but I was still hopeful. There were some really nice moments early on, too, like finding out that Burma, the eponymous cat, is a multimillionaire living in a posh London home, attended by a butler. It's cute.
Then we get into some of Burma's previous lives. It was a neat idea to space them out, so that his nine lives weren't lived consecutively over some 70 years, but instead reach all the way back to ancient Egypt. Other adventures were also well-chosen, such as an interlude in Victorian England with Jonathan Wild, a shady, Dickensian underworld figure I wasn't previously acquainted with, and the revelation that Burma had a crush on Audrey Hepburn and was the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's. But the thread that holds them all together, and holds together the action in the present, as well, is that in each of his lives, Burma has been trying to take over the world. I don't disagree that the story needed a narrative drive, rather than stringing nine vignettes together, but this device did two things: 1) it just kept reminding me of Pinky and the Brain, and 2) it opened the door for a surprising amount of sex and violence, as we see Burma's enemies murdered in a number of bloody cases, and frolicking in the sack in several other cases. This seemed oddly out-of-place in a kids' comic about a talking cat.
On the whole, it's this incongruity that plagues the book. I guess in Hollywood you'd call it "tone problems," but I was never sure how seriously to take the book, or how funny writer Paul Tobin was trying to be. If you want funnier animals trying to take over the world, watch Pinky and the Brain, or if you want better social commentary about the corrupting influence of money in today's society, read Matt Taibbi's The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. And unless you want to start explaining sex to your seven-year-old, you may want to opt for Batman '66 or something similar for your young outlandish-action-fan at home.
Tobin, Paul and Benjamin Dewey. I Was the Cat [Oni Press, 2014].
Baseline Assessment: 7/10
Bonuses: +1 for Audrey Hepburn; +1 for the historical milieus used for Burma's lives
Penalties: -2 for a female lead character (and reporter, no less) who has no agency, character development, or awareness of what's going on all around her; -1 for its remarkably uneven tone; -1 for awkwardly utilized social themes
Nerd Coefficient: 5/10. Equal parts good and bad.
Posted by — Vance K, daily cat litter scooper-outer, owner of two movies with Cat People in the title, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.
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