Before we get started tonight, a quick word of warning: Tonight’s ISB has what your local cable provider would refer to as “Adult Themes” (and not the good kind), and since I know there are at least a couple of you out there reading while you ought to be working, this might not be the time. In fact, considering that it’s a review of an issue of Tarot you might want to skip it altogether and save yourself some suffering. Seriously, guys: This one’s gonna get bad.
Why not check out Dave Campbell’s new site instead, and then head back here later.
In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of ROM: Spaceknight fighting a bear, and I’ll meet the rest of you after the cut:
Still with me? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #53 is the worst comic book I own.
It’s tempting to say that it’s the worst comic I’ve ever read, but let’s be honest here: It might be in the running, but I read three issues of Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood and that Jeph Loeb Buffy comic just last month, so it’s up against some stern competition on that front.
Still, when you look at something like Youngblood, you get the idea that Rob Liefeld just couldn’t do any better. Maybe, if he wasn’t hampered by his (considerable) lack of skill as an artist and (even more considerable) lack of skill as a writer, he could’ve done a better job getting what was in his head onto the page, and maybe–however unlikely–it would’ve been a tiny bit better.
With Tarot, though, there’s a basic level of craftsmanshp that makes it hard to imagine that what you get is anything but exactly what Jim Balent wanted it to be. It’s his exact vision, laid out on the page. He actually meant this to happen.
Point being: This is a very bad comic book. So bad, in fact, that I’ve actually gotten requests from readers to review it, presumably because they enjoy seeing me suffer. But trust me–and I know I’ve said this before–it is the worst issue of Tarot so far. Every time it comes out, I’m convinced that it just can’t get any worse and I’ve always been wrong, but man, there is no way he can top this one.
To start with, Tarot–whose latest exploits involve being out-dueled by her male counterpart, who is so good that he’s able to cut her clothes off during the swordfight, which of course arouses her to no end–isn’t even in this issue. Instead, the focus is on third-stringer Crypt Chick, whose major claim to fame is that she’s the only recurring female character in the series–up to and including Tarot’s mom–who hasn’t appeared naked. This may have something to do with the fact that she’s a ghost, which would make her clothes ectoplasm or… something. Don’t ask me to understand the mind of Jim Balent, folks, I just read ’em. I didn’t build the fucking thing.
In any case, she’s Tarot’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, their relationship having hit something of a snag when she dies in the car accident that gives Jon his alleged “super-power” of being able to talk to ghosts, which in turn led him to become The Skeleton Man: The Worst Super-Hero Ever. And she’s nominally the star of the issue, although this being Tarot–a book lauded by its fans as being “female empowering” that had a recent story arc where its main character was bound and literally milked so that a bad guy could steal her witchity power and eat it on toast–her contributions to the plot are mostly standing around, being duped by the bad guys, and acting as transportation. Another victory for the Sisterhood!
The story–such as it is–gets started when Crypt Chick summons Jon to a suitably spooky crossroads so that he can have a sit-down discussion with a haint of ghosts that CC describes as “evil.” See, she has this feeling, but hey, who among us hasn’t had the urge to send our exes to a gang of poltergeists? Thus, we meet the bad guys:
It’s the night staff of SuicideGirls™ Memorial Hospital! And pay attention to the one just to the right of center. I hate to say it but… she’ll be important later.
Shockingly enough, these aren’t the discarnate spirits of a bunch of strippers. They are, in fact, a group of nurses–which means that that’s what Jim Balent thinks nurses look like–who died in an accident when they were carpooling to work, and subsequently had various body parts removed by unscrupulous doctors and used for plastic surgery.
In a better horror book, like Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, this is an idea that might have some legs to it, but, well, this is Tarot, and the only legs you’re going to find here are going to be covered up in tattered stockings and be as far from something resembling plot as possible.
But back to the nurses: They are, of course, Back For Revenge, but in case you were one of Tarot‘s slower readers, Balent goes so far as to spell it right out for you, down to giving the address of the intended targets:
Why do they give him the addresses? Because the story needs Jon to know where to go to keep the plot lumbering along, and having Jon actually, you know, do some detective work or show any signs whatsoever of being competent would take precious time and pages away from the mind-numbingly awful horrorporn.
Thus, the Nurses trundle off into the night and Crypt Chick performs her primary plot function by flying Jon after them in what could best be described as tepid pursuit. A few pages later, she drops him straight down out of the sky at one of the addresses, which makes him crashing through the window sideways in the next panel a pretty mean feat. But let’s be honest: At this point, violations of the laws of physics are the least of our worries.
After all, when Jon gets to scene of the crime, he finds that the ghost has ripped poor Janice’s lips off, and it’s revealed that the ghost nurses bleed constantly from wherever their harvested parts are now. Janice had a collagen injection in her lips, and Samantha underwent “vaginal reconstructive surgery,” and that’s why the one I pointed out above is wandering through the afterlife constantly bleeding from her ghostly vagina (PLEASE DO NOT CLICK ON THAT LINK).
So now it’s a race to get to Samantha in time, and while I’m pretty firm in my belief that this is one of the worst comic books I’ve ever read, I honestly can’t decide if what happens next is the worst piece of dialogue in comics history… or the best:
You Have To Get Out Of Here.
I gotta admit, folks: For the first time, I am legitimately envious of Jim Balent as a writer. I mean, I like to think of myself as a pretty creative guy and I’ve come up with a couple of wacky premises in my time, but man. A Haunted Vagina?! You could lock me in a room with nothing to do but come up with the weirdest plots I could imagine, and not in a year would I come up with a man fighting a haunted vagina. And even more, it makes no sense: If her vagina is haunted, where does she have to get out of?! Where is she going to go to escape her own ghost-riddled nether-bits?
And yet, it is beautiful in its purity. It is, in two sentences, everything that Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is about. It’s why I read the book. Because every now and then, it gets so bad, so unrelentingly stupid, that is somehow loops back around to become brilliant for eleven words.
You have to get out of here. Your vagina is haunted.
Sadly, the brief transcendence to nirvana doesn’t hold, and a couple of pages later, it all comes crashing down with a thunderous noise not unlike the death of all joy.
Shortly after Jon’s warning, the ghost nurses show up, and after smacking him around for a few panels, including a kick to the face that even I couldn’t enjoy, the ghost nurses turn their attention to the increasingly useless Crypt Chick, just in time for one of Tarot‘s more ludicrous affectations to show up: Self-censorship.
This more than anything just blows my mind. I mean, what, seriously?! You can’t say “fuck” in Tarot?! You can have a dead fetish nurse wandering around with a bloody cameltoe, but you can’t say “fuck?!” I mean, what the hell, man, are you worried that it might offend somebody?!
I just.. I can’t… What the..
Sorry, it’s just… Man. That shit doesn’t make a bit of sense. Anyway, Crypt Chick and the Nurses: To keep her from interfering, since she can actually touch them while Jon just waves his arms like the ineffectual lump he is, they start to drain her… Hell, I don’t know. It’s not “life force,” I guess, because she’s dead, but they somehow make her… more dead? Death Force, maybe? Whatever, I don’t care anymore: They do something that starts to turn her into a skeleton instead of a fetish model, and while Jon’s distracted by their shennanigans, they stab him and then use a scalpel to… remove the woman’s vagina.
And this, for the record, is the worst part of the book–which would put it in the running to be the worst part of any comic ever, held in check only by Jeph Loeb’s dialogue–because of the sound effect. And what’s the sound effect of vagina removal?
Of course it is.
So, having proven at this point to be completely unable to stop his enemies, Jon resolves to try to stop his enemies in their future efforts as well. But unfortunately–for him, not us–it doesn’t look like he’s going to get the chance:
Because they won’t tell him where they’re going. Once again, folks, The Skeleton Man: the super-hero who can’t fight crime unless crime phones ahead to let him know where it’s going to be.
Thus, nothing whatsoever is accomplished beyond the eye-searing pain of the alleged plot, and as always, we’re left with more questions than answers. Why focus the story on characters who never do anything useful? Why did they bother to give out the full street addresses of their victims in the first place? Why do some ghosts have the ability to make another ghost more dead? Why do they go after the women who got the surgeries, and not the crooked doctors who harvested their organs? Why “f*ck?!” Why?!
Because this is a terrible, terrible comic book on every conceivable level, that’s why. But if we can learn one thing from it, it is this:
You have to get out of here. Your vagina is haunted.