I've been reading Jim Balent's "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose" for the majority of its ten-year (and counting) run, and in that time it's been the most consistently amazing comic book on the stands. Admittedly, this isn't quite the traditional definition of "amazing," but it always leaves me pretty amazed. And the most recent installment, #63, is the best/worst/best-again issue in quite some time.

I've discussed the series before, but for those of you who aren't familiar with it, here's the quick rundown: "Tarot" is about the title character, a witch with incredibly large breasts (even for comics) who defends the mortal world from supernatural threats, which mostly involve her sister (who has even larger breasts) and the occasional super-villain with nuclear bombs implanted in her even larger breasts. I'm more or less obsessed with the book to the point where I even got a sketch of Tarot by Colleen Coover, because it is frequently the craziest damn thing I've ever seen in my life.I talked about this issue a bit back when it was solicited, because the variant cover featured Jim Balent drawing a naked lady and then just cold dropping Courage Wolf's head onto her neck, but it's even crazier than I could've hoped. Tarot herself barely appears in this issue -- for newcomers, that's not her on the cover, but I'll get to that in a minute -- but it offered something even better: A story that focused on her boyfriend, Jon Webb.

Much like Tarot, Jon has supernatural powers. In his case, it's the ability to see and talk to ghosts, which has led him to become The Skeleton Man, who is unquestionably the worst super-hero of all time. Far more often than not, he plays the bumbling, often-imperiled sidekick/love interest to Tarot who is often tied up and molested by sexy monsters and/or supporting cast members, and I gotta be honest, that's actually the one thing I like about the book completely without irony. It'd be a fantastic subversion of traditional adventure story gender roles, if, you know, most of the stories didn't involve Tarot getting tied up, stripped, and occasionally raped and literally milked. Seriously. That happened in #45.

Anyway, the fact that Jon's even worse at having adventures begs the question of why I was excited to get an issue about him, and that's easy. Because the last time we got a story about Jon, this happened:

Incidentally, that's also the story where Jon had to give up chasing down a cadre of murderous ghosts because they would not tell him the address of the next person they were planning to kill. That's how that story ended. I wasn't kidding when I said he was the worst super-hero ever.

And that brings us to this issue, and while it doesn't quite measure up to the standards of the haunted vagina, we are way down the rabbit hole right from page one. Well, actually, if you want to get right down to it, we've entered the world of Jim Balent's mind on the inside front cover, where colorist/letterer/BroadSword Comics Vice President Holly Golightly is cosplaying as Princess Leia. You can tell because she has her hair in the little cinnamon rolls and she's holding a blaster, which is handy because otherwise, she's naked. For "Tarot," this is actually not an unusual occurrence.

But it's page one that sets up the story proper, as the Skeleton Man steps in to stop a mortician from raping a dead body.

When I hit a guy making necrophilia porn on page one, I honestly considered just closing the comic there and calling it a night, but I figured after that, there's pretty much nowhere to go but up. And I was right, because this is about when this issue gets completely insane. No sooner has Jon left the morgue when he runs across a werewolf!

Now, given the enduring popularity of werewolves in horror fiction and movies -- especially given the recent boost in popularity from "Twilight" and the Harry Potter books -- you probably think you've got a pretty good handle on what a werewolf looks like and how they tend to work. But you are not Jim Balent, and you have not achieved the transcendant consciousness that he has. You do not live on his world.

And on Earth-Balent...

...lady werewolves are just naked women who have absolutely hilarious wolf-heads and tails.

Again, that's not actually that out of the ordinary for "Tarot." The dragons are naked women, sea monsters are naked women, the gingerbread golems are naked women -- even Jim Balent's mermaids, which are already half-naked women, have scaly legs that join together to form fins at the feet, but are essentially regular ol' legs from the ankles up, so that he can draw both mer-breasts and mer-ginas.

Even so, considering that one of the main characters of the book is a werecat who has fur all over (on the off chance that you thought there was a fetish this book might not cater to), you'd think the same would hold true for werewolves. Especially since the dude werewolves are totally just wolfmen in Incredible Hulk outfits.

There's a gender discrepancy here, and while that might be something one would expect from a book that's little more than a supernatural porn, but "Tarot" is a book that both prides itself and has built a substantial readership on the pretense that it showcases strong female characters.

Not that this is a revelation; even if you discount the aforementioned events of #45 because Tarot eventually overcomes her assailant and the fact that he makes butter out of her bodily fluids so that he can eat magickal toast (I swear that is exactly what happens), there's also the issue where she fights her male counterpart and he's so much better than she is at swordfighting that he's able to strip her naked, which causes her to become aroused, which makes him pause long enough for her to be rescued by Skeleton Man, who as we have already established is the worst super-hero ever.

It just doesn't add up the way he thinks it does. Either way, the fact that he's just cold drawing a clearly photo-referenced wolf head on a naked lady never stops being hilarious.

Getting back to the plot, matters are complicated with the werewolves with the introduction of a new character, Vera VanGuard: Werewolf Hunter, who is based on a real-life model friend of Balent's named, as you might expect, Vera VanGuard. Balent's been doing this a lot over the past few years, drawing friends and fans into stories, and the when the photorealism is dropped next to his somewhat distinctive art style, it tends to come off as a little weird. Of course, that might just be because people tend to show up in scenes where they're being brutally butchered by dragon witches or something, but it's pretty much just a one-way ticket to the Uncanny Valley for me.

Vera, as her name suggests, has been hunting down werewolves, but the key factor here is that she shows up and almost immediately says the best line to grace the pages of "Tarot" in almost two years:

Oh is that what they're for! You know, I've been wondering.

For the record, Vera's breasts aren't merely convenient handles, they're actually a cunning trap: Her black vinyl bra and fishnet bodice are actually wired with enough electricity to kill the two werewolves, while leaving her more or less unharmed. Which... Okay, look, I know this is a book about witches and ghosts and werewolves and that's fine, but I'm pretty sure that an sending a hundred thousand volts through one's own electric bra would probably be a phenomenally bad idea. Just sayin'. But then, that's what they're there for.

I'd like to point out that when this happens, we're not even halfway through the book, but clearly, we have peaked. The rest of the book is mostly devoted to werewolf combat, although there's another high point in this panel...

..which features:

a) Vera explaining her origin in the format of Sailor Moon's "in the name of the Moon," speech,

b) a sword that is also a gun, and

c) Jim Balent doing his level best to draw a sexy pouty lady face... on a wolf head.

And then the Skeleton Man gets punched so hard that his face gets ripped off.

One would think that this would be the dramatic climax of the issue, as what narrative structure there is that isn't based entirely on breasts is about Jon's reluctance in becoming the Skeleton Man and how he decided to use his powers to help people even after they were killed. Having him suffer for his actions would actually provide a bit of a character arc for him that could play out in future issues, much like what happened with Tarot herself a few years back when she got stabbed. That seems like the logical conclusion to everything going on here.

So of course, that's not what happens at all.

Instead, he gets dumped into a combination Lazarus Pit/Hot Tub and Boo has sex with him while he's unconscious.

"Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose" everybody. It might not hit the high/lowlights of a man telling a woman that she has to get away from her own reproductive system because it's become infested with ghosts, but truly it can be said, this one's got it all.

And that's not always a good thing.

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