Having made a name for himself at DC with his work on Batman, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn, Spanish artist Guillem March started off the European world of comics with stories that seem to be about young love and the destructive response that comes with it. Originally published by French publisher Dupuis in 2020, Karmen makes its western debut with Image Comics publishing all five issues, which you can now purchase in a new hardcover edition.
Set in Palma, the capital city of the Spanish island of Mallorca, Karmen is also the name of a highly unconventional angel with a body that looks like a Halloween skeleton costume. Taking under her wing is the young woman Catalina, who has decided to take her own life after heartbreak strikes too hard. Accompanied by the otherworldly Karmen, Catalina roams through the city as a naked ghost, looking back on her past and the sins she believes has committed.
From its opening pages, where we go from the childhood inception of Catalina’s relationship with Xisco to the possible end of that relationship, leading to her fateful decision, Karmen sets up this familiar scenario and throughout the course of the comic, tricks about what is really going on. Certainly, with the presence of the titular angel, whose upbeat attitude is reminiscent of Death from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, there is an air of mystery, but also levity when it comes to the relationship between the two women; for instance, jokingly talking about Cata’s lack of film knowledge.
Deliberately referencing other media like the 1990 film Ghost, Karmen isn’t breaking new ground by telling a story about the afterlife where the protagonist briefly witnesses the lives of others as a way of looking back on their own lives. When we delve more into how the afterlife works, it can be dense towards the end and actually works best when it is more about metaphysical musings about religious beliefs, whether it is towards sins and such. For Catalina, she may question the actions of an angel, which may sound cruel, but no crueler than what she has done. Even though she was suffering from depression and social anxiety, she did not think about how her actions can affect those around her.
Guillem March may be best known for illustrating the streets of Gotham City, but when it comes to the streets of Palma and beyond, Karmen is a thing of beauty. While March perhaps relies too much on heavy dialogue, March’s true strength is his gorgeously-drawn art, with nearly every page bringing a new layer, whether it is the use of color, page layouts and even character designs.
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