Look, I think it's fair to say that I've had my difficulties with Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, Jim Balent's long-running epic of mostly-naked witchity adventure. We all have. Dubious werewolves, eel trauma, the occasional haunted bathroom area... put it all together and it's a hard comic to love.

But there's a reason I've bought every single issue for the past nine years, and never, ever want it to go away. And that reason is that every once in a while, Tarot will give you something amazing, like the image above of a woman with golden breast-mounted Gatling guns. It may be the single greatest image to grace a comic book since Superman smashed that car on Action #1, but here's the thing: That is nowhere near the craziest thing to happen in the latest story.The latest mind-boggling story from Tarot is called "Kittens vs. Robots," and let's be honest: That's probably one of the top five titles in comics history. As you might expect, it features one of Balent's lesser-known creations, the 3 Little Kittens, and while they've popped up in Tarot before, this time it isn't actually a crossover. Instead, it's just a full-on 3LK story that occasionally cuts away to Tarot and her boyfriend Jon getting naked on a rooftop and blindfolding each other for some sexy fun that's interrupted by a couple of naked blue ladies with butterfly wings, something that -- according to Tarot at least -- happens at least three times a week in Massachusetts.

In fact, Tarot's adventures in rooftop nudity are so completely unrelated to the rest of the issue that it's never quite clear whether the Kittens' section of the story is actually happening, or if Jim Balent is doing a comic-within-a-comic on some Alan Moore jazz. In previous crossovers, it's been established that the 3LK star in a comic, and the opening scene of this story, I jazz you not, is Tarot seducing Jon by telling him to watch her laying on his bed reading his comics. What if she creases a cover and knocks it down to a VF minus?! So naughty!

Have I mentioned yet that Jon looks exactly like Balent? Because this would probably be a good time to do that.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Balent's BroadSword Comics Universe -- which delivers on its promise by focusing more on broads with swords than any other publisher -- the 3 Little Kittens are a cat (and bondage)-themed anti-terorrist strike force that's essentially What If Jim Balent Created Charlie's Angels. They first showed up in a self-titled mini-series back in 2002 called -- wait for it -- 3 Little Kittens: Purr-Fect Weapons, but they've never gotten another shot at an actual solo title. As a result, their occasional appearances in Tarot are kinda like seeing a unicorn, except that the unicorn is made entirely of fetishes. And every time they show up, it is the greatest thing that has ever happened.

The reason for this is that 3LK seems to be where Jim Balent goes with his ideas that are too weird for Tarot, which means that there actually are ideas that are too weird for Tarot. In the past, they've dealt with a super-villain who has menaced Massachusetts with a pair of nuclear bombs embedded in her breast implants, and who also wanted to kidnap Saddam Hussein (whose mansion was equipped with a Bat-pole) for reasons I still don't understand in a comic with political implications so incomprehensible that I wouldn't even know where to begin.

This one, though... is even better.

Like that other story, this one gets a little political. The Robots the Kittens are up against in this titanic tussle are actually renegade TSA Security Robots that have gotten a little handsy with the people trying to get on airplanes, smacking them around in search of weapons and occasionally stripping them naked right there on the concourse:

Well, I say it's political, but I imagine it's just as likely that this story is Balent working out his own frustrations with the TSA. Let this be a lesson to you: When you're heading to the airport to fly out to San Diego, leave the "Coed Naked Quidditch" shirt at home.

Also, this happens:

Again: An idea too weird for Tarot. I am hoping with every fiber of my being that this guy becomes a recurring villain.

Anyway, it goes without saying that when their transport crashes, the robots end up escaping and terrorizing people. Their first target is a pregnant lady whose fetus somehow registers as a "personal item" that needs to be handed over for inspection, which I think plays on that innate fear of government-sponsored fetus-hunting robots that lurks within all of us. Fortunately for the young mother-to-be, Jaguara shows up on a motorcycle from Tron:

If you want to get technical about it -- and there are few things in this world that I love more than getting technical about Tarot -- that's actually Jaguara II, the sister of Jaguara I, who stepped into the corset when the original had her head violently bashed in with a rock in Iraq. It's okay though: Jaguara I's invisible ghost now watches over her sister, as revealed in a story where the ghosts of the firefighters who died on 9/11 helped Tarot defuse a bomb in Manhattan.

I may have mentioned that this is a weird-ass comic.

Anyway, the 3LK pick a fight with the robots, and this fight goes on for forty pages. As much as I hate to admit it, I was actually pretty disappointed by this story for being so boring. The only thing of note in the entire second issue is that the robots make stripping our alleged heroines their number one priority, and I've read enough issues of this comic that the constant nudity has lost a bit of its luster.

But then, this happens:

Gun Cat, the Bosley of the 3LK dynamic, shows up in THE HIGH CALI-BRA CAT-LING GUNS. There is also a jetpack, but I can forgive you for missing that one.

If there was any doubt that Tarot was the Id of Jim Balent brought to glorious life on the page, then this should dispel that tout de suite. There's not even anything I can add to it, except to say that from a technical standpoint, the HCBCLGs aren't really practical. Gun Cat would always have to be standing (or jetpacking, whatever) at like a 45-degree angle from what she was shooting at, and they don't really seem to be mounted on a stable surface. Still, I think we all just need to accept that practicality wasn't even a tertiary concern when it came time to drop this one on us.

But that's not the scene that pushes this comic over the edge and into the territory of the amazing. No, that comes from the fact that, during their battle with the TSA robots, the Kittens are aided by someone who looks suspiciously like Iron Man. And when it finally comes time to reveal his identity...

It turns out that it's President Barack Obama.

It's a hell of a surprise. Or at least, it would've been if the title of the issue, as revealed on the inside front cover, wasn't "Ro-Bama-Tron," complete with that awkward hyphenation that makes absolutely no sense. But that doesn't matter either, because Balent now turns his attention to the question of just what President Obama is doing flying around in a suit of Iron Man armor.

The answer... is mind-blowing:

I think I need to make it clear right here and now that there is no longer any irony in my love of Jim Balent's work. That dude has created a world where every single American president has flown around in a robot suit in order to battle against evil (or in Nixon's case, hippies), and that is fan-frigging-tastic.

It only gets better on the next page, where -- and again, I am not even close to kidding about this -- Obama details the secret robot suit battle between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis that settled the Civil War:

You heard of the "Battle of the Ironclads?" Well they weren't just talking about the Merrimack and Monitor.

And yes, Lincoln's battle suit had an iron top hat.


Say what you want about Tarot -- I certainly have, and will most likely continue to do so -- but after 74 issues, it's still a comic that surprises me. Not always in a good way, you understand, but occasionally in the best way possible.

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