A few weeks ago I strolled into my local comic shop on a Wednesday afternoon, with my list of comics to pick up in my head. I’d stop by the Marvel section and grab the most recent War of the Realms and The Unstoppable Wasp. I’d glance over DC and wish that any of the titles appealed to me (I grew up a hardcore fan of Batman, and even dressed as Catwoman for Halloween in first grade). I’d flip through the bins of back issues, and maybe find a treasure or two. Then I’d check out Image, where my beloved series Die just wrapped, and I wasn’t expecting to find magic again.
And then I saw it. The most amazing comic cover I’ve ever laid eyes on.
The title made me laugh immediately, because “What’s Happening to Me And Can it Be Stopped” is apparently just the kind of phrase that amuses me. The bubble-gum pop young lady with the 40s housewife pose suggested there would be some snark within. The warning sticker “CAUTION: This Book Contains MENSTRUATION” sealed the deal. I stood on my tippy-toes and snatched down the book from the very top shelf.
I discovered that the entire book was, in fact, an artifact of the Maneaters world. A teen girl magazine, full of quizzes and games all about the dangers and the travails of menstruation, that went well above and beyond what we ladies usually deal with. There was a cheery tone shellacked over the hint of something much grimmer. I picked up Issue 8, was shattered to discover Issue 1 wasn’t on the shelf, and got Issue 2, instead. And the entire time, I exclaimed to everyone within earshot, “It’s a comic about girls getting their PERIODS, people!! This is genius!! How did I not know about this!!! Omg!!” Basically, I became a grown woman flipping out in a comic shop about an Image book that was all about blood. Fortunately, some of my friends think I’m charming like that.
It took several weeks to track down the entire run of Maneaters, during which time I picked up what I could from the few issues that I could glean from the shelves. Upon achieving a complete collection, I read through the entire arc twice.
It did not disappoint.
The premise of Maneaters is that Toxoplasmosis, that disease you get from cleaning a litter box, has morphed into Toxoplasmosis X, a nasty bug that lies basically dormant in most people. Not in menstruating girls, though. No, for them, sometimes Toxoplasmosis X causes a transformation into an enormous killer werepanther. Unsuspecting families are slaughtered. Young women wearing feminist t-shirts are placed in restraints.
And then, a solution: the government puts estrogen in tap water to prevent menstruation, and the werepanther problem is solved. Boys and girls go right back to leading their unevenly privileged lives. S.C.A.T. teams are there to take care of the anomalous attacks. It’s all good, now, right?
Except, of course, it’s not. And it’s with Maude, a child of divorce navigating teen-hood with her rebel friends, that the story really gets started.
And this book will deep-dive you into her world, one that parallels our own, yet twists it sideways. Imagine Trump’s famous “grab her by the pussy” comments in a world where women could potentially turn into panthers. Imagine boy’s and girl’s lounges at school, where those without a uterus kick back and drink Estro-pop, a hormone-free soda, or those with that supposedly troublesome organ plaster the walls with Hilary posters, respectively. Magazines that tell boys how to survive cat attacks. And parents pulling guns on their teen daughters to force them into cars to be tested for Toxoplasmosis X.
It’s our heroine Maude who is intent on bucking this system of girls’-only water fountains. One day, she marches into the boys’ lounge and buys a bottle of Estro-pop, a seemingly random act. But is it? This is a teen girl (a group that, in my personal experience, has deep-running emotions that they don’t yet have the language to express; a group that witnesses perhaps most clearly the juxtaposition of the trials of both childhood and adulthood, being right on the cusp of both) who has been fed her entire life on the mantra that we’re all safe now, because you, dear child, have accepted the constraints of the system we’ve built. Maude doesn’t have to think about it. It’s all around her. And like hell is she going to keep drinking the water.
Maneaters will grab you by the hand and urge you to keep up. Like some of the best narratives, it drops you into a world that accepts itself for what it is, and it’s going to feed you all the propaganda a teen in this world would be fed. All the while, a real life spins around Maude. Her parents are separated, and she’s not pleased. There are babysitters singing “A weema-weh, A-weema-weh, A-weema-weh” (you know, before breaking out into, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, a lion sleeps tonight”). There are friends disappearing from the girls’ bathroom. There’s a sensitive cop dad and a steely mom who gives animals weird names. There are improperly labelled colored pencils on the window ledge.
And oh yeah, a fresh string of gruesome cat attacks.
This comic brings blood of all kinds.
The concept of young women on the cusp of adulthood being maligned and feared has the potential to seem very heavy indeed during our modern times. See A HANDMAID’S TALE, in which women are trapped in carefully delineated roles from which there’s no escape. But MANEATERS handles the topic with an eye-roll and a knowing wink. “Sure, we’re being oppressed, ladies. But you know what? It’s a great time to put on your Pussyhat and sneak into the boy’s lounge to buy some Estro-pop. Then we’ll be werepanthers and bite their heads off!” It’s a world gone askew, and it knows it.
You might be thinking right now that all of this makes this a comic for girls only, but you’d be wrong. There are mysteries here, and a slowly-unfolding world to explore. With every page, each character reveals that they are more than they seem. There are murder investigations along with tampon instructions. If you dare dive into a world that revolves around menstruation made dangerous, you will not be disappointed by the twists on this ride. And whether you’re male, female, or at any point on the spectrum, there’s something to be learned.
Also, there’s a team of panther-hunting corgis. You can’t ask for more.
Best of all, the story builds slowly. There are a lot of deep-dives into the world, and even by Issue 8, it feels like Maude’s adventure is just getting started, in the best way. The first wall in her world is toppling, and we see the seeds of a world remade, by the very girls it’s trying to keep caged. Whether or not their power lies in letting loose the panthers within, or controlling the cat, remains to be seen. Either way, I’m totally hooked, and you’ll see me at my comic shop next Wednesday getting Issue 9.