REVIEW: ‘Karmen,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Karmen #1

Content Warning: Karmen #1 contains graphic depictions of suicide.

Karmen #1 is published by Image Comics with writing and art by Guillem March. Meet Catalina. She is by all accounts a fairly average young woman. Currently, she is attending university and is in contact with her lifelong friend Xisco. Catalina is, unfortunately, having a bit of a bad day. And when her day takes a turn for the worst, she finds herself not as alone as might be expected. Karen arrives to help guide Catalina through the next stage of her existence.

I love stories with fantasy elements in them. As soon as a story establishes that the rules that bind our lives no longer apply, the sky is the limit when it comes to what can happen. When utilized properly, a storyteller can craft unique worlds and allow incredible experiences to occur. However, it can also make the first steps into one of these worlds extremely tricky. As the whys, how’s, and where is this story going can all be difficult to convey from the get-go. While this is true of Karmen #1, the confusion is compounded by a lack of general narrative clarity.

It is hard to talk about a story when you understand so little about it. The one thing I can say for certain is that the focus of our story is Catalina. The story starts with Catalina as a young girl on her first day of school. She is refusing to enter the building because her friend Xisco hasn’t arrived yet. After a bit of a debate with her mom Xisco shows up, and the two share a happy photo moment before heading in for school.

Jump forward to high school and glimpse a moment where Xisco’s girlfriend Vanessa is calling him. When she discovers that he is with Catalina, she becomes upset as she feels it is inappropriate for him to be hanging out with another girl while he dates her. Xisco insists there is nothing for her to worry about and asks that she respect his privacy.

When Karmen #1 catches up to the present, it drops readers into a scene with an adult Xisco and an unidentified woman having coffee together. As the scene opens, Xisco gets a call from Catalina he doesn’t want to answer. When he fails to answer the call, the woman with him’s phone rings, and it is revealed to be Catalina. The woman lies about where she is and offers to pick up a couple of things for Catalina on her way back to their apartment.

This entire scene is extremely confusing. The scene’s subtext feels like Catalina and Xisco have begun dating and that he is cheating on her with this woman they both seem to be friends with. But no mention of a relationship is ever actually made. It could be that he is simply growing distant from his childhood friend, who doesn’t want him to leave her life, and he’s having a hard time addressing the situation with her. There isn’t enough context to go by. This makes this entire situation a confusing mess. And it isn’t the only confusion Karmen #1 leaves me with.

Cutting from the coffee shop, we see a woman entering an apartment building in what appears to be one of those skeleton costumes people wear on Halloween, minus any head covering. As this is the woman on the cover, one assumes rightly that this is Karmen. As she arrives at her destination, she lets herself into a rather standard-looking apartment and heads directly to the bathroom. She knocks and then enters to find a terrified-looking Catalina on the toilet, naked and blood covering her wrists and the floor in front of her. Karmen’s response to this sight is to do an I credibly awkward song and dance number for the petrified young woman.

From this point on, the confusion in Karmen #1 ramps up. While it is soon clearly deductible that Catalina is dead, Karmen does not answer questions of any kind. This leaves both Catalina and the reader at a loss for what exactly is happening or to what destination the story is heading. Instead, it spends the rest of the book establishing how Catalina can and can’t interact with the physical world in her current form. And while establishing some of these particulars is useful, as the book closes, it leaves the reader with no sense of direction or hint of what will follow in later installments.

The art in Karmen #1 does an effective job of showing the story the book delivers. There is a special level of cohesion a book’s art and story can attain when the same individual handles both aspects. March’s art and writing hit this. While the narrative as a whole is a mess for me, the emotion within the individual scenes is written well and further given strength throughout the book because of its portrayal.

When all is said and done, Karmen #1 is difficult to rate. It could be the beginning of something unique and wondrous, or not. With so little given about where this story plans to go, it is extremely hard to say how well this book starts that narrative. As it is, it has some great art, and a beginning, unlike anything I’ve read before.

Karmen #1 available now wherever comics are sold.

 

Karmen #1 
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TL;DR

When all is said and done, Karmen #1 is difficult to rate. It could be the beginning of something unique and wondrous, or not. With so little given about where this story plans to go, it is extremely hard to say how well this book starts that narrative. As it is, it has some great art, and a beginning, unlike anything I’ve read before.