Writer: Chelsea Cain
Cover Artist, Creative Producer: Lia Miternique
Interior Artists: Lia Miternique, Stella Greenvoss
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by Jim Allegro
Chelsea Cain takes her satire of gender inequality to another level in Man-Eaters #4. This stand-alone installment pokes fun at the cis-gender men who cry foul at the cis-gender women who would threaten a patriarchal system. Cain frames the issue as a mock ‘magazine’ that provides adolescent boys with tips for fending off menstruating girls at the center of the comic. Through Cat Fight, Cain shifts the viewpoint away from the adolescent-girls-turned-were-panthers exposed to the virus Toxoplasmosis and onto the subject of their rage: defensive and thin-skinned young men.
Cain’s (Mockingbird) talent for deadpan humor and bleak satire are on display here. The publisher of the ‘magazine,’ Estro-Corp, also manufactures the estrogen dumped into the water supply to control the outbreak of the virus. A dig at the role of commercial capitalism in fueling gender inequality, Estro-Corp anchors one of the book’s core metaphors: society deems cis-gender women on the brink of adulthood to be threats in need of regulation. But Cat Fight explores this point from a different vantage, from the perspective of young cis-gender men who are taking their first steps into this system of male privilege.
Cain’s commentary is sly and entertaining. Through glossy ‘magazine’ ads, interviews, and features, she sets youthful innocence against the process by which cis-gender boys are taught to fear and resent the sexual power of menstruation. Tips for identifying the body language of a ‘were-panther,’ medical advice for those attacked by girlfriends or sisters, and testimonials from attack survivors remind otherwise happy boys to be on guard against women. And to respond to women who resist these constraints by depicting themselves as victims. “I didn’t deserve it,” proclaims an attack survivor.
Lia Miternique and Stella Greenvoss further themes with mock photographs, charts, and other interior images that critique ideas of adolescent masculinity. Advertisements for testosterone-infused power drinks and estrogen-repellent colognes are humorous on the surface. They lull us into a sense of complacency about the awkwardness of youth. But, complimentary pictures in Cat Fight of bloody hands and arms mauled by ‘panthers’ quickly jolt us out of this sentiment. The lesson is that adolescence is a formative stage in the struggle to redress inequality among the genders.
Man-Eaters 4 is thoughtful and funny, but not without flaws. It is a difficult jumping on point for new readers. The pokerfaced nature of Cain’s delivery, and the elaborate form of the ‘magazine’-as-satire vehicle, crowds out needed exposition for first-timers. I recommend starting on page 12, “Ask the Doctor.” In this bit, medical professionals explain the virus. Cain takes a first step toward addressing criticism by Alex de Campi and others who charge that the comic is cis-normative. A feature criticizing all-gender middle school bathrooms as dangerous spaces finds a place for trans teens in the Man Eaters universe. But the acknowledgement is implied and muted. Hopefully, Cain will find new ways in subsequent arcs to make clear that not everyone with a vagina is a cis-gender girl.
Verdict: Buy It!
Be cautious if you are wading into Man Eaters for the first time. You might want to wait for the next issue or the trade. But, if not, then enjoy this solid BUY from Chelsea Cain and Image Comics.