Karmen continues its bright, vibrant version of a morality play in its third issue with a sudden realization of facts, a violent and bittersweet encounter with a young man, and some hints toward bureaucracy beyond the veil.
While the Belgium original appeared as a single volume, the breakdown into single issues has only the smallest feeling of rough edges between each, and issue #3 feels like a genuine single issue — perhaps the most natural feeling so far. The issue contains what feels to be the series’ revelation, in which recently-deceased protagonist Catalina comes to understand the true nature of her predicament and lashes out at the cold, unfair nature of mortality.
With earlier issues delivering the rich, surrealist nature of this world’s afterlife, here we begin to feel the tug of final gravity. While the concerns aren’t exactly presenting a fresh take on mortal philosophy — there’s only so much room, in a comic, to present a whole moralistic treatise or something of the kind — how it’s delivered makes the sudden, frightening fact of our mortality all the more urgent, and underlines the pointed revelation itself. Time is limited, don’t come to regret how you’ve spent it.
If the message doesn’t seem to you to be a wholly world-changing revelation, neither will the grim implication that death truly is like taxes, and some form of rigid governmental machine operates beyond our lives, replete with paperwork and quotas, a corporate-feeling hierarchy, and even in-department rivalries.
While all of this might seem familiar, what does not is creator Guillem March’s lush, colorful, and — let’s face it — nude presentation of the afterlife; there’s a sense of floating freedom from earthly worries inherent in Catalina’s adventures through her city, unclothed and unburdened from societal concerns, able to come into contact with humanity all the better for being outside of it. March’s artwork becomes celebratory, the palette almost Mediterranean with its teals and pinks, the page around the gutters itself a magnificent sky blue.
Karmen, our titular force of the cosmos, loses some of her free-wheeling, joyous tone in this issue, by the nature of the moments presented — a firm, guiding hand of purpose. March’s stark conceptual design for her — a skeletal presence wrapped in a black void body, a shock of candy-colored hair — feels iconic, powerful in its simplicity and its assertion of humanity, obliquely nodding to the Grim Reapers of classic Old World paintings. Her presence alone makes the book noteworthy, a sort of Death of the Endless as conceived from warmer, pleasanter climes.
What makes Karmen special is its lovely, immaculate vibrancy, and what makes this third issue special is its application of violent reality to this peaceful, meditative dreaminess. It is a forceful issue, and incredible moments might leave a reader reeling, breathless, shook.
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