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‘Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose’ Gets Bitten on Her Ladyparts By an Eel. Seriously. [Review]

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about one of our all-time favorite titles here at ComicsAlliance, and to be honest, the past few issues of Jim Balent’s Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose have actually been pretty boring. As much as I love the book, there just hasn’t been anything even remotely approaching the usual level of insanity set by stories of hainted ladybits, nuclear breast implants, or even a naked lady with a rare strain of lycanthropy that only turned her into a wolf from the neck up.

But when I got the latest issue this week, I knew we were in for something special, partly because I’d had other Tarot readers warn tell me that this one was a return to form, and partly because it’s not every day that you read a comic that spends three pages on an eel biting the protagonist’s vagina.When I say that things have been boring in Tarot lately, you have to understand that I mean that it’s been boring by Tarot standards — if “standards” is actually the word I’m looking for. To be fair, the book just went through a story that should’ve been exciting, as it involved almost every character being graphically murdered by the Norse Gods — occasionally after being magic-raped — in what had to be the absolute least official tie-in to this year’s Thor movie. Even so, the fact that you could see the big reset to that story coming a mile away undercut the tension just a little.

Then again, it did get resolved by having the character who’s actually based on the creator who writes and draws the comic beating up the gods until they agreed to set things right, which means it basically read like a dude doing fan-fiction about himself in a book he created. So, you know, it’s got that going for it.

Regardless, there was nothing fun about that story, and I actually thought I’d hit a turning point where, after reading it for the past eleven years, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Seriously, I’d recap the story after that for you so we could all be on the same page here, but I have no idea what the hell is going on in this book anymore — and I’ve read every issue. I mean, I know there’s some kind of weird coral reef and Tarot’s magic powers don’t work there because some bad witches stole some pirate treasure or something and the mermaid who lives there turned off the magic, but I could not for the life of me tell you why any of this is happening or why Tarot’s there.

All I know is that Tarot #70 was a comic where a woman got hit in the face with an octopus.

That, by the way, was the only thing that kept me reading this book, because it is probably the single greatest comic book panel of 2011. Progress indeed, Jim Balent. Progress indeed.

Beyond that, the whole thing’s a mess, to the point where I don’t even understand basic things about the comic, like why the mermaid has the ability to just turn off magic, which you’d think would be a pretty big deal in a comic that was entirely about witches and their breasts. Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually know exactly why the mermaid has the power to turn off magic; it’s because Balent wanted a somewhat plausible reason for Tarot to be overpowered, stripped naked and bondaged. In-story, things are a little more nebulous.

And that brings us at last to Tarot #71, which opens with the mermaid taking her revenge on all of witchkind by chaining Tarot up in a grotto and leaving her to the sharks.

Now, I know I’ve had a lot of fun at the expense of Tarot and Balent over the years, but I’m not gonna lie, you guys. This opening sequence is f***ing awesome.

I don’t mean that in an ironic way either. This is great. Tarot grabs a shark with her legs and then uses it to bite through her chains. And while you can’t see it in the image above, she doesn’t just choke it out like Riggs from Lethal Weapon — she straight up throws that sumb*tch at another shark. She is using a shark as a weapon to fight a shark, while naked, while her hands are chained.

If someone had done that in an issue of Savage Sword of Conan, it would be painted on the side of every custom van in America, and that is a stone cold fact.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, and brother, it is a steep decline. To start with, Tarot drops down from Crank 2 silliness to a far less enjoyable silliness when Tarot breaks through her remaining chain by reciting a poem.

Admittedly, this could be great. If you think about it, busting a rhyme so good that even inanimate iron chains themselves go “snap!” is definitely something Dolemite would’ve done to get out of trouble, but I’m just not buying it here. Possibly because, as Twitter’s own @theMirai pointed out, it reads like she’s been lifting rhymes My Little Pony‘s Zecora.

Either way, it’s not all that great. Even if it was the best rhyming couplet since Shakespeare, however, it wouldn’t make up for what comes next:

Folks, the one thing you can say about Jim Balent without question is that he is a man who has definitely made a study of the human breast in his life, so I cannot even begin to imagine how this panel happened. Yes, he draws them improbably huge, but at least they’re usually stuck on there somewhere near the right place.

These, however, appear to be arranged vertically on the right side of Tarot’s torso, with one breast emerging from her neck and the other wobbling over underneath it. I’ve been staring at this thing for five minutes and I just can’t figure it out. I mean, you can see where they’re supposed to be, but then you get to the weird spine, the ass that’s shaped like the end of a cartoon dog bone, and a set of legs that look like the hour and minute hand on on a clock, even when you adjust for whatever Lovecraftian perspective we’re supposed to be using here. And the longer you look at it, the less it makes sense. It’s like a magic eye picture of horrible anatomy.

Eventually, she gets all her parts back where they’d be on something vaguely recognizable as a human being. But then Tarot gets crabs.

Sorry — I meant attacked by crabs. Probably a slight difference there.

Now, those of you who are familiar with panel composition may recognize some shenanigans going down between Tarot’s legs with a moray eel. You may think this just a little what you might call “phallic symbolism,” but the key thing to remember is that this is Tarot, a book in which subtlety does not exist.

That sucker’s going in for the kill.

Three things about this panel:

1. It’s clear by the way that he draws it with Tarot’s Looney Tunes reaction and the cartoon star emerging from her area that this is being played for laughs. Keep that in mind as the story continues.

2. Aquaman has been around for, what, sixty years, and we have never once seen him command a fish to go for the vajay? Get with the program, DC. You’re getting beaten at your own damn game here.

3. Maybe the best thing about this comic: Because of this scene, Tarot spends the rest of the issue with a bite mark that is drawn as a red dotted line around her vulva. Seriously, it looks like Billy from The Family Circus has been walking around it on his way down to the store, and it is amazing.

Once Tarot frees herself from the eel — which she does by pulling it straight up between her breasts, because of course she does — she does something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Tarot comic: She puts her clothes back on. Then she goes to talk to the mermaid, who hits her with some pretty unassailable logic:

Wait, no reason to fight? Lady, she just got her vagina bitten by your eel! I think you two have a lot of reasons to fight!

But for some reason, this works, and Tarot decides that the smart thing to do is have a team-up with the person who just took away all her super-powers, chained her in a shark cave, and tried to feed her ladybits to a fish. Apparently I’ve beeng going about acquiring friendships in exactly the wrong way.

So now it’s time for Tarot Team-Up, because the evil witches — remember the Evil Witches from like 18 crazy things ago? — show back up to… hell, I don’t even know anymore. Get the rest of the treasure that appears to be entirely made up of seashells maybe? What follows starts out as a pretty normal fight scene with sound effects cribbed from Jack Black…

…but then it takes a turn.

Okay, remember that scene above where Tarot’s vagina was almost eaten by a moray eel? You probably do, but if your brain has blocked it out to prevent further trauma, scroll up and take another look so you’re ready for this next part.

It’s funny, right? Goofy slapstick cartoon violence? Well this is where the eel comes back for a little scene I like to call Eli Roth’s Got Your Nose:

Apparently the eel has developed a taste for human flesh, which can only be satisfied by tearing off whatever fleshy parts are in front of it in a spray of blood.

See, that’s the thing about Tarot. With all the goofy slapstick, incompetent protagonists, overt fetishism, fever dream storytelling and mind-boggling anatomy, it’s easy to forget that this book is also ridiculously violent. I’ve read entire runs of Garth Ennis comics, but the last few pages of Tarot #71 are the goriest thing I’ve ever read: The bad guys end up getting chained up and fed to the sharks, vomiting blood while their intestines are torn out.

It is insane. I mean, I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to put up a panel of intestines getting ripped out — even if they’re drawn to lok more like raw hamburger than anything else — but when I asked, Laura Hudson told me to go ahead and “have an intestine party with your shark buddies,” so there you go. Welcome to the party pal.

So that’s Tarot, back on the track of setting a new and more incomprehensible standard with every issue. But at least it ain’t boring.

And in the next issue? Robots.

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