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The Stupidest and Most Problematic Comic Ever

I have made the mistake of reading several issues of Jim Balent's Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose and I feel that I have become both stupider and politically retrograde because of this waste of a couple hours I will never, ever get back. Believing that the combined terms "fantasy" and "comic" and "cult following" would lead to something awesome (I love fantasy and comics and things with cult followings!) I decided to download this abomination of a comic. Perhaps in the past I would have paid for it at a local comic book store but, since I am currently jobless, that is not an option. Also, now having seen the cover art I can honestly say that, "fantasy cult comic" notwithstanding, I would not buy anything that looked so hideous.

Of course, fantasy-sexist-erotic covers might not, to be fair, be adequate representations of the content. I made that point in a previous entry, and so perhaps these terrible covers, one would hope, are like the glistening buttcheeks of Delany's Neveryona: inside there is something brilliant.

No, there is not. This is positively the worse comic I have ever read on multiple levels that are aesthetic AND political. In my defense, I did not choose to read this comic because of the words "fantasy cult comic," I read that it won numerous Project Fanboy Awards in 2009, including "Best Artist," "Best Indy Title," and "Best Graphic Novel." And though I should probably not trust the quality of awards handed out by an institution called "Project Fanboy," there were other things as well. Apparently it has a wide female readership and is considered "empowering" for women [something I now believe to be completely unsubstantiated]. And yeah: swords and magic and shit... I love that stuff.

After reading the first issue and gaping with shock and horror at its stupid multiplicity, I even made the mistake of reading more. I mean, I downloaded a torrent containing around 40 issues and I figured, hey maybe the first few are bad and it becomes awesome, deserving of the name "fantasy cult comic," in later issues. So I cut in at random intervals in the downloaded ouevre, reading five of these things all together. I should have stopped halfway through the first one. They do not get any better. If anything, they get worse. There is, however, a certain hilarity to its badness.

Here follows my top complaints of this supposedly award-winning and female-empowering comic so that other readers foolishly drawn to "fantasy cult comics" will avoid the hideousness that is Tarot.

1. Terrible Dialogue/Writing.

It generally reads like some sort of early 60s superhero comic. All bombastic phraseology where everything should be exclamation marked. It also has explanatory narration, such as this gem: "His gaze lingers on the bewitching beauty... Her spinning body and whirling blade cuts deep into memory and limb." And in every one of the five comics I read, and I chose ones at random points throughout the 40 I downloaded, from earlier period to later, this narrative strategy remains. Why does every action scene need to be explained in WORDS when you have PICTURES? Why do I have to read about a character's gaze lingering on a "bewitching beauty" when you could draw it?

As for how bad the dialogue gets, I cannot even begin to do justice to how bad it is. However, I think the stupidest line (and one that also demonstrates the comic is terribly, terribly sexist) is one that I found in a review of one of the Tarot issues I did not read:

"You have to get out of here! Your vagina is haunted!" I really cannot say anything further on this one: it speaks for itself. Comic Book reviewer extraodinaire, Chris Sims, has written an entire review on this issue of Tarot. Sims regularly trashes Tarot and, in this review, has done a pretty good job revealing the stupidity of its dialogue by mashing it up with Courage Wolf.

2. Rampant Misogyny Posing as "Empowering"

As I mentioned in the introduction, there is this rumour that Tarot is seen as "female empowering" and has a "primarily female readership." While the latter might be the case (I have not seen the statistics), the former is definitely not true. Anyone with an inkling of feminism would be deeply offending by the comic.

First of all there is the fact that the titular [pun intended] character "Tarot" and all of her female friends are drawn simply so that they can be next to naked or naked. In the first issue, we discover that the awesome armour worn by this ass-kicking heroine is really nothing more than a chain bikini a la Red Sonja:

Seriously. Her armour is her tiny bikini: what moron wears a bikini into some sort of uber-sword battle? (And her ridiculous fetish boots have chains, batwings, skulls, and massive spikes - anyone wearing that to combat would trip all over the place!) Answer: every woman in Jim Balent's world. The comic feels like an excuse for some porn-addled man to draw women with very large breasts wearing nothing or next to nothing and then justify this with a bunch of idiot babble about how witches like to go "skyclad" and how it's wrong to be embarrassed of our bodies. Maybe this point would be progressive if his heroines were not drawn to look like porn models: this is not equal opportunity nakedness. And the way the characters interact definitely follows the pornographic, rather than simply pro-sex, tropes rightly critiqued by Andrea Dworkin.

Furthermore, considering that in the issues I read almost every villain was a scantily clad or naked woman as well, it is very hard to take the "female empowering" claim seriously. Tarot, the witch hero of the series, is not some female crusader for gender equality: she spends most of her time killing other women. So does her annoying boyfriend, whose superhero name is "Skeleton Man" on account of the fact he wears a skeleton suit and can speak to the dead (because he had a near death experience, of course, but more on him later). When a male character who dresses up like a skeleton goes around slamming his fist into naked women you can't claim your comic is "female empowering."

3. Pro-Imperialism.
I wonder if it was completely by chance that one of the five comics I read was a disgusting homage to the current imperialist onslaught in Iraq, complete with Saddam Hussein being "brought to justice." Was this the only instance of Balent's patriotic imperialism or are there multiple issues where he supports American militarism? I'm almost curious enough to investigate. Almost.

In any case, this issue is all about how great for freedom and America the war in Iraq is. It is complete with a shout-out to the troops at the end where one of the characters says: "To tell you the truth everyone over there is a hero. From reports to the military. They're all boots on the ground and that makes them heroes." And, following this issue's ending, we even get to see real life examples of these "boots on the ground" (whatever that means) posing with guns and copies of the comic. Our boys in Iraq sure love their "fantasy cult comics"!!

4. Shameless Fanboy Self-indulgence.

The main male character, boyfriend of the protagonist hero, is a fellow named "Jon" who goes by superhero name "Skeleton Man." He can speak with the dead, he guards a graveyard, and he wears a hilarious skeleton suit. And yet he looks strangely like Jim Balent, author of Tarot.

Here is Balent posing with an awesome sword:

And here is "Skeleton Man" without his ridiculous mask:

Except that Skeleton Man is totally pumped, unlike skinny Balent. He also gets lots of chicks. And also, as aforementioned, beats up on a lot of women. Which makes you wonder about Balent's way of seeing the world. If you make the only male character look like you, and then make it so that he tends to end up with a lot of naked women, and then have him beating the shit out of some of these naked women... Balent scares me.

5. Mystification.

I entitled this complaint "mystification" mainly because I know it will make some of my friends/readers laugh. (I'm talking about you, Shipley and Shin!) Specifically, I mean stupid superstition.

It's one thing to write a book about mythic witches with magical powers. It's quite another to actually believe in witchcraft. And yet Balent gives space at the end of his comics (at least the ones I've read) for "real world witches" to speak about "the craft." There is also this preachy tone to his writing, all about how witches were oppressed for being witches in the past. Actually it was women who were oppressed, Jim, and scape-goated into being called witches - not that I'd expect someone who thinks his misogynist comic represents "female empowerment" to understand the history of misogyny.

When the comic's superstition becomes truly superstitious, however, is when it pretends it is anti-superstitious. Here Tarot speaks about fighting against the enemy of...

Yes: the enemy is SUPERSTITION. Which must, apparently, be combated with more superstition. Such as the belief in the occult, faeries, and whatever semi-feudal garbage Balent publishes in his interviews with self-proclaimed witches at the end of every issue. He probably also believes that modern science is "superstitious" and anti-witch and that we can heal the world with "magick" ... Especially if said magick is wielded by naked women with impossible anatomical proportions.

6. More Rampant Misogyny.

In the fifth comic I read, the main character was recovering from a terrible wound that happened in the issues before for some reason I do not feel like investigating because it would require reading more comics. Not that it was difficult to figure out the general details of her wounding: the god-like narrator's constant interventions pretty much gave me an idea.

In any case, the nature of said wounding had something to do with her womb and resulted in the fact that she could never have babies. She feels "less attractive" and his much more psychically damaged because of this fact. The wound is more horrible than any other wound, apparently, because it destroys something essential about her womanhood: baby harvesting.

I am not saying that such an injury would not be devastating in real life, I am simply pointing out that Mr. Female-Empowerment-Balent has this essentialized view of women and childbirth that is deeply sexist and one that some of the best radical feminists have spent a lot of time investigating. There is a reason that Shulamith Firestone (despite her other problems regarding race and class) argued that part of the feminist struggle should be around the forces of production connected to childbirth and that she argued that there was a problem with the ideology surrounding women as childbearers.

This same issue also promotes male-centric lesbianism: the kind you see in porn aimed at straight men who are deeply homophobic; the kind the majority of real world queer women would find heterosexist. In the five issues I read, this type of anti-queer lesbianism was always present if not, like in this specific issue, an explicit focus. And to connect this instance of sexism to my above complaint about bad dialogue/writing. Here's a wonderful bit of writing from the pseudo-gay sex scenes:

And this narration concludes, on the other side of the page, "I am right on the edge."

Wow. What a poetic use of the word "edge" - it brought me to tears. And I am so frightened by the sexual tension: it could heal or kill! It is all way too intense for this reader who, unlike the author or his characters, is apparently not "living on the edge."

In conclusion, despite all the "fantasy cult comic" hooplah surrounding Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, I am happy that the folks of Comics Alliance included it in their list of "The 15 Worse Comics of the Decade." I just wish I had read this article, or any of the ones by Chris Sims before harming my intelligence.


  1. "Her spinning blades cut deep into memory and limb." FML! This sounds like Nightcat, only misogynist and warmongering.

    I love the mystification section. The only way to rid the world of superstition is to inundate it with superstition! It's like when you accelerate some sort of cell growth to hieghtened proportions in order to overwhelm it. Maybe that explains the misogyny... the only way to beat sexism is to be EXTREMELY sexist!

  2. Yeah, maybe that does explain the misogyny: it all fits with Balent's view on superstition. Seriously, though, aside from interviews with Balent's friends in the Wiccan community, some of the comics I read include frikking spells! Spells! I suppose my rejection of parascience, though, is due to the fact that I am the one who is "superstitious."

  3. I've never read Tarot, but I can see what you mean with the first misogyny section. People often mistake female protagonists as "empowering" or somehow feminist. Like, the very idea that a female may take the lead is in and of itself a feminist act, so all the other sexism is somehow excused.


  4. Yeah... especially when there's those films where the female action hero has to be scantily clad in order to kick ass. Men are allowed to be fully clothed to kick ass, but women can only do it if they look sexy-slutty at the same time. (The trailers for that new Suckerpunch movie, for example, seem like more of this.)

    Well you know what topics I'm supposedly obsessed with...


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