Review: Karmen #1
Karmen #1 is one weird comic. It’s an English translation of Spanish cartoonist Guillem March’s (Catwoman, Batman) book about a young woman named Cata, who in the middle of a suicide attempt, meets a ghost named Karmen, and she ends up walking around the city completely naked while Karmen makes dirty jokes about sex and farting. It starts out utterly highbrow, yet wordy with philosophical captions about dreams, and then a couple of pages later, it cuts to a woman behaving like the stereotype of a shrew to her offscreen boyfriend. Her name is Vanessa, and she is inconsequential to the plot even though her boyfriend Xisco is close with Cata. We also don’t see her face or its expressions during the phone call just her butt in some tight jeans. The page is a metaphor for Karmen as a comic. It could be smart, poignant about sadness, hope, and above all, mortality, but it gets undercut by March’s love for cheesecake and dirty jokes that don’t serve the story. However, Karmen saying whatever the hell comes to her mind is good for a few laughs throughout the story especially as she roasts Cata’s lack of knowledge of American pop culture.
The constant nudity of Cata and utter horniness of Karmen’s dialogue plus the aforementioned ass shots make sense for Guillem March, who began his career as an erotic cartoonist and was also the artist on the launch of the New 52 version of Catwoman. Like Adam Hughes or Frank Cho, he likes drawing attractive women, and of course, he’s going to do that in his creator-owned work. Cata’s nudity even is plot-relevant as she is trying to commit suicide by drawing a bath and cutting herself with razors as we see in a powerful full-page spread that shows Cata watching herself be surrounded by a full tub of blood. It’s implied that she is a ghost, and Karmen is her feisty, skeleton onesie-rocking guide to the afterlife and will train her in all things spectral. As mentioned earlier, Karmen does spend most of her time making dirty jokes, but she also has great abilities and can see the arc of Cata’s life like film on a reel in yet another beautiful series of panels from March.
Although his writing is clunky at times like the pages that are just philosophizing, exposition about the ghost life, and call-outs to Karmen‘s obvious pop culture predecessors, Guillem March really is a strong storyteller even though his comic doesn’t have as much as substance as it would like to have. All his panels have a sense of place, and he uses cut-away panels to show Kata sneaking out of her apartment so her housemate won’t see her naked, or worst of all, see Karmen. Of course, there’s no problem of that because they’re both ghosts. However, the fear of being discovered naked in public is the key tension for the second half of the comic. This is the part of the story where March’s experience in superhero comics comes in handy as he uses a rapid series of panels to show Karmen quickly dropping from branch to branch. Also, when Kata flies for the first time in the climax of issue one, he shows that she’s a natural by having him swim through the air. There’s a real grace to her movements compared to the sudden stop start of the panels where she is cutting herself, and Karmen arrives in a truly jarring moment.
Karmen #1 demonstrates that Guillem March is a technically skilled artist with an eye for page and character design, but is a below-average artist that can go from Philosophy 101 mumbo jumbo to utter filth in the space of a couple of pages. Karmen #1 is a low-key fantasy story like Ghost or It’s A Wonderful Life, which is cute, but I didn’t connect to the protagonist at all and felt like I knew more about her body than her personality or why she was in the bathtub that night.
Story: Guillem March Art: Guillem March
Story: 5.0 Art: 7.5 Overall: 6.0 Recommendation: Pass
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review