This Week’s Finest: Karnak #5


By Warren Ellis, Roland Boschi, Dan Brown, Clayton Cowles, David Aja

As I sat in thought trying to decide on TWF, I went through the contenders in my head trying to narrow down what would be the deciding factor. There were a lot of strong books, even a few great ones. Soon I came upon “plot” and there were only two, but then I remembered “execution” and after that only Karnak #5 remained. That is because Karnak’s execution is flawless…

This being the final book I read, I was determined to give the title to one of the earlier frontrunners. “The Twists!”, “The Drama!”. Once I read this issue,  I felt it envelope my mind as I tried to understand its larger message and what it means for the title character. See, I’m becoming convinced that each issue isn’t about Karnak fighting someone but instead, facing a more existential problem. The key isn’t landing the right hit or being stronger, but instead finding an answer that defeats what’s in front of Karnak himself.

You could sum up this issue as “Karnak argues with someone over what his life means” and that would be both enough and leave you wanting more. What does his life mean? Have we seen his flaw? What does that mean in his mission? There’s a single punch in this entire issue, but its only one of three important events.

The most important and first event is that Karnak becomes shaken during his debate with his opponent, as he accuses Karnak of fearing change and needing to elevate his own ego due to his lack of powers. Perhaps he resents his parents making such an important decision to his life or maybe his doubts unhinge all his beliefs about his own state of being? What if he does fear change, which the boy Adam can create with a thought? The book doesn’t give a definitive answer, but the result is clear: one of these questions causes Karnak to change his mind and decide to kill Adam rather than rescue him, which is the second most important event in the issue.

By delivering that aforementioned punch, Karnak admitted defeat. True he found the only answer he could at the moment, but not by using logic or philosophy but raw emotion. In doing so he compromises himself and his mission, as Adam is not likely one who can be beaten with force.

Despite his protests, Karnak experiences change and not the good kind.

What has changed and become good is Boschi’s art, which is much more defined and personal than his first issue on the series. While previously his art resembled Zaffino too strongly, here Boschi seems to be showing us his own style which moves the series forward at the right junction with the story. Little touches like the comic dots as Karnak and Coulson leave the Chapel of the Single Shadow, or the expressions on Karnak’s face as he sees past memories appear inside his mind give Boschi the chance to show his capabilities and skill. His art is more solid here, not completely but not ephemeral either. His use of line clearly separates the real world from the mindscape, but the two blur boundaries once or twice in the issue. While Karnak may resist change, Boschi accepts it and is better off for it as he grows into his role as the artist for this series. By this point I’ve stopped comparing him to Zaffino and instead just see what Boschi, along with Brown’s incredibly earthy palette, can bring to the book on his own.

This is a very condensed, focused story. It opens with a mediation on cubes and what they represent, which comes into play later as well. They’re a symbol of perfection, the absence of anything not necessary. It’s an apt metaphor for this book, nothing that isn’t needed is in these pages. While that may sound unremarkable, its that simplicity and totality that make Karnak so great. Each issue is its own exercise in life and how to respond to it, not literally but in their own way. I look forward to reading the collection of this someday but for now the individual parts are enough to examine and deconstruct to learn what is actually happening.

The only answer I have so far is “perfection”…

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