Guillem March has trodden the mean streets of Gotham in the past, with work on Batman, Catwoman and Harley Quinn for DC Comics. However, the Mallorcan artist is back on home ground with this lush and provocative fantasy of the afterlife, which was published in bande dessinée format last year by Dupuis (Belgium) and is now being served up in English as a five-part series from Image.
The book kicks off with a whizz through the early lives of two friends, Catalina (Cata) and Xisco, whose close bond since childhood has started to become a little problematic in adulthood, affecting their other relationships.
Then, in a sudden sideways step, the announcement that we’re in the middle of a ‘Code Red’ heralds the arrival of the supernatural title character – an altogether sunnier Balearic cousin of Pretty Deadly’s Deadface Ginny. Her smart-arse chatter soon becomes a bit wearing, especially when it turns out that the scene she’s turned up at is the bathroom suicide of Catalina, whose newly disembodied spirit is understandably a little distressed and disorientated by the turn of events.
With her freckles and skeleton jumpsuit, it’s not immediately clear who or what the youthful-looking Karmen is. However, as she takes the invisible and intangible Cata on a stroll round Palma, she provides a few hints about the latter’s new state of being and the possibilities that open up when you’re no longer bound by the laws of physics. Cata is soon living out her recurring dream of swimming through the air, and the issue ends abruptly with Karmen saying she’s got to go and take care of another problem.
I’m not familiar with March’s superhero work, but Karmen is in the classic idiom of Euro-comics, treating the reader to beautiful draftsmanship and inventive points of view and layouts (and backed up by delicate colour work from Tony López). Of course, one element that’s worthy of mention is that the spectral Cata spends the bulk of the issue as naked as the day she was born, with no indication that she’s going to slip into something a little more comfortable any time soon. However, March’s rendition of the initially modest Cata seems naturalistic rather than exploitative (although, as a middle-aged bloke, I’m probably not the person to be making that call).
The biggest potential problem here is the transition from the splendour of the European album format to the more limited and disposable US floppy. Losing that much area on the page will always diminish the impact of such exquisite artwork (and cramp the page uncomfortably where it has been designed to exploit the full scale of its original publication). The arbitrary cut-off point at the end of the issue doesn’t give us much of a hook about what might be coming next, and suggests that reading this piecemeal over a number of months will be a much less satisfactory experience than being immersed in it from beginning to end in one package.
This is a book you should definitely be aware of, and it’s always great to see grown-up European work being made available for an anglophone readership. However, the nature of both the story and artwork makes this a definite candidate for trade-waiting (or maybe even hanging on for a fuller format that does justice to its origins).
Guillem March (W/A), Tony López (C), Dan Christensen (Tr), Cromatik Ltd (L) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by Tom Murphy