Ask Chris #224: Tarot And The Krampus And The Worst Christmas Story
Q: What's the worst Christmas comic you've ever read? -- @franzferdinand2
A: Folks, I have read a lot of Christmas comics. For a while, they were the only thing I actually "collected." I'd buy any Christmas story I could find, any comic with Santa Claus in it, anything that had the requisite number of sleighs and trees with lights on 'em, and as a result, I have seen some genuinely terrible Christmas stories. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good ones too, but when you're reading every Christmas story out there, you run across plenty that are overly cynical, mean-spirited, or just plain not very good.
And every now and then, you read the two-part Krampus story in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, which is a piece of work unto itself.
If you've been reading the things I write about comics for a while, then you probably know all about my love-hate relationship with Jim Balent's greatest creation -- I'm pretty sure that my review of the issue that includes the line, "You have to get out of here! Your vagina is haunted!" will be etched into my tombstone. I'm even asked pretty regularly why I'm not still reviewing every single issue of the comic as it comes out, and the short answer is that it's just not that fun anymore.
See, here's the thing about Tarot: The best issues, the ones that are actually fun to talk about, are the ones that are sort of charmingly insane. They're the comics that just bounce from one ludicrous sex-charged, magically fabricated plot point to the next like the fever dream that you'd have if you passed out reading an issue of Juggs. I mean, say what you want about Tarot, but that is a comic that had a good ten years where it never even got close to being boring, and you almost have to respect that, even if those surprises weren't always pleasant.
Of course, the flipside to that is that it's awfully hard to keep topping yourself once you've done a comic about the ghosts of the firefighters who died on 9/11 showing up to defuse a bomb that was almost set off by a supervillain with nuclear breast implants.
I'm not kidding about that, by the way. That's actually in an issue.
Unfortunately, the book's taken a pretty severe downward turn in the past few years. Instead of the endearingly ridiculous unfiltered id that made the early years of the book so fun to read, the last couple of storylines have been notable mainly for plowing headlong into pretentious capital-S Serious Drama, with a pretty constant and extremely off-putting level of sexual violence against the title character.
And in these issues where she fights the Krampus, that's all happening at the same time, along with the well-established idea that Tarot is literally the worst superhero of all time.
Seriously, remember that Haunted Vagina story? The actual haunted vagina wasn't even the weird part. I mean, okay, yes, it was in fact very weird, but from a narrative standpoint, the weirdest part of the story was that the Good Guy -- Tarot's boyfriend, the Skeleton Man -- was really only into fighting the ghosts that were going around killing people as long as the ghosts told him exactly where they were going and what they were going to do, down to actually providing the street addresses of their victims. When they decided not to tell him where they were going, the story just ended, and has never been followed up on. This is, by any measure, pretty bad superheroing.
When Tarot fights a handful of Krampuses, it goes even worse.
It all starts when a little girl from Austria writes to Tarot to complain that her town is beset by Krampuses every year on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. This is actually pretty normal, except for the part where Tarot, who is sworn to secretly protect the world from magical threats, is suddenly famous enough that children can send her letters like Santa Claus.
There are still places where dudes dress up in Krampus costumes and run through the streets on December 5, swinging around switches, throwing back cold ones and presumably threatening to drag children off to Hell if they're bad. You know, it's for the kids.
The difference here is that the Krampuses are actually straight up monsters who just cold show up and murder a ton of children every year, and everyone in the town is completely fine with this.
Seriously, you'd think somebody in town would maybe have a problem with kids being murdered by monsters, but the only person who seems concerned in the slightest is Nora, the girl who somehow got Tarot's address and decided that a track record of about 50/50 against evil magic was better than nothing. Unfortunately, when Tarot shows up to stop the Krampuses and save the girl, she fails, to quote Achewood, "with a focus and intensity normally seen only in success."
I want to pause here and point out that Tarot enters the story by magically teleporting to Austria, and finding out almost immediately that she has failed to prevent a child from being murdered by Krampuses. One more time for those of you in the back: She TELEPORTS, and still gets there too late. You had one job, Tarot. You had one job.
Incidentally, I'm going to go ahead and assume that you're familiar with the Krampus, since the previously obscure Germanic Christmas Beast has had a pretty big pop cultural renaissance in recent years. It's worth noting that his role as the Bad Cop to Santa's Good Cop is usually beefed up to the point where he's more of a yuletide villain than one of Santa's more monstrous helpers. Noted Christmasologist Benito Cereno once told me that thinking of Krampus as the villain of Christmas was sort of like calling Batman the villain of the Justice League, but he also admitted that Krampus was pretty into drowning people in creeks, so, you know. There is that.
Anyway, Tarot initially swears revenge against the Krampuses, but, as is so often the case for Tarot, she is immediately hit with a hoodoo that causes her to lose all interest in fighting and instead spend the rest of the issue getting drunk and having sex with the Krampuses while they go about their merry murderous ways.
So yeah, Worst Superhero Ever status pretty much confirmed. Say what you will about Aquaman, but I don't think he ever showed up to fight Black Manta and ended up getting blitzed and making out with a narwhal. Not until I start writing Aquaman, anyway.
That's basically where the issue ends, with Tarot promising to return the next year and fight the Krampuses then, and the interesting thing is that that's exactly what happens -- this is actually a two-part story told a year apart with a year's worth of comics (well, six issues, Tarot's bimonthly) between 'em. Which brings us up to Christmas 2014, and the sequel.
The premise here is that it's the rematch, and Tarot has brought along backup in the form of Raven Hex (really), her sister and occasional arch-nemesis. Raven, being significantly more self-interested than Tarot, is mainly there to see if the Krampuses are actually real, something that she is surprised by despite being fully aware of the existence of dragons and personally commanding an army of goblins.
The fight starts and goes about as well as last time -- which is to say that our heroines are completely ineffective and incompetent -- and sure enough, they get hit with the same whammy that they went through last year, which naturally makes them super drunk and super horny.
Sidenote: There is so much spanking in these comics, and with it, so many terrible descriptions of spanking. My personal favorite? "Their enchanted branches left thin red stripes across my bottom as well as my psyche."
But what's this? While Tarot (our title heroine, who is often referred to as a "strong female character" in the letter column) has been enchanted to just sit around getting drunk in a cage and drooling on herself for the duration of the issue...
...it seems that the far more extroverted Raven Hex has magicked herself up a spank-proof dress that attacks the Krampuses when they try to spank her. And then she defeats them by getting so drunk that she pukes on one of them.
According to the tortuously overwrought narration, this is the first time that the Krampuses -- who have the magic to make this town party so hard in a booze-fueled festival that they don't even mind their kids being dragged off to the local creek for a quick bit of drowning and have been doing so annually for a thousand years -- have ever had anyone throw up on them before, and it makes them so upset that they just leave because there's no way the town is ever going to do this whole Krampus thing again.
And that is how the story ends.
There's actually a tease about next year's Christmas special, because it turns out that the Krampuses were the only thing keeping the town free of the Yule Cat, who shows up to eat children who don't get new clothes for Christmas, but yeah, mainly they just get really pissed off that a drunk lady threw up on them and decide to go home. It's a pretty lighthearted, slapstick resolution for, you know, a story about children being drowned in a creek.
There might be worse Christmas comics out there, but you'd have to work overtime to top that one.