A Comic Book Entry – Women Without Spandex Bikinis

First, a warning.  This entry is snarky but in a serious way, and it’s probably best to just assume the links are NSFW.  This is also a long entry.  If you don’t like the serious tone of this entry, please know I’ll try to post something funnier on Wednesday.

So I heard about this comic called “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose” that was about neo-paganism and, I quote, “boobs.”  Well, I couldn’t resist taking a look to see if it was as bad as all that.  I figured I could snark at its awfulness.  Well, it is as bad as all that, and worse.  It manages to embody everything that’s wrong with women in spandex bikinis through a character whose own spandex bikini is so often removed from her one wonders why she even wears it.  I can’t decide if the artist and his wife (who does the inking) are so clueless that they intentionally make this supposedly empowered woman the very model of a male dominance fantasy, or that they are so brilliant as to be making a terrible, terrible parody of everything that is wrong with comics that try to empower women.  I.e., is this Lobo and I’m just missing the joke, or is there no joke intended?

Tarot is a buxom redhead drawn like the artist copied the body of a distinctly silicone-enhanced porn star.  Her breasts are so large that when her boyfriend commissions a doll of her, the dollmaker looks at the drawing and thinks, “Pretty, but he drew the boobs too big.  He must have a breast fetish.”  Not only is Tarot proportioned like a porn star, she’s also groomed like a porn star.  I know this because after about the sixth comic, the title got rid of the Comics Code Authority and the modesty-preserving scenery.  Let’s just say the artist has a good grasp of female anatomy and is proud to show that off (and thus shows off his main character).  Tarot’s “ritual armor” embodies every comic book or RPG heroine’s fetish – string bikini bottom, corset top that barely holds her chest up, and of course thigh-high boots and over-the elbow gloves.  She also has an ornate mask with horns on it and some pentacles and moons here and there to make it witchy and it’s of course in Halloween colors of black and orange.  The “armor” aspect of it is played painfully straight.  The worst part of the armor is, from a writer/artist point of view, is that I can tell there was a lot of thought put into it, and it’s drawn pretty well.  The mask is actually kind of cool (if probably really heavy).

If Tarot were the only woman built like a porn star, or the only one shown naked so often, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.  But every nearly every female in the 50+ comics I looked through is built just like Tarot and ends up naked just as often.  Even Tarot’s own mother, often ends up naked.  The standard cast is:
1) Tarot (formerly Rowan) – chosen Swordmaiden (maiden, really?) of the Goddess (Wiccan flair to her magick)
2) Jon, the Skeleton Man – he can see the dead and he and Tarot are a couple within mere issues; often saves her; to be fair, Jon also ends up naked not infrequently, but he gets scenery modesty and his nudity is usually written for laughs; also, and not unintentionally I’m sure, he looks a lot like the artist when he was young, only buff.
3) Raven Hex (formerly just Raven) – Tarot’s evil gothy sister, who is built exactly the same but has white-grey skin, black hair, and some black tattoos on her body
4) Tarot’s Mom – I’ve never seen her named (according to the website, this is intentional); she has red hair that turns to black and has a Ruben-esque figure
5) Boo – a nymphomanic were-cat and Tarot’s lover and built exactly the same as Tarot; in were-cat form she has blue fur and orange stripes but anatomy is clearly illustrated; Boo also works in a lingerie store; Boo also ends up not quite Jon’s lover but having sex with him with Tarot’s permission
6) Licorice Dust – a vampire buit exactly the same as Tarot and also Boo’s lover; she has grey skin and wears spiders as pasties, sometimes
7) Crypt-Chick (Brandi) – Jon’s dead ex-girlfriend; yes, even a ghost has a giant rack
The artist clearly is deliberately drawing porn stars and knows it (as evidenced by the lampshade hanging in the doll issue).  Even non-mammals are built exactly like Tarot if they take even vaguely human forms (such as the dragon-witches) and often even have mammalian anatomy (and spiked heels somehow).  When Tarot goes on spiritual journeys, the female figures she encounters are generally naked, including the Major Arcana of the tarot deck.  And in nearly every situation where a female wears clothes, including when Tarot’s mother is performing surgery on her to save her life, the emphasis is always on the bosoms (either through improbably tight-fitting garments or prominent headlights).

Tarot is supposed to be portrayed as a strong, powerful woman.  This is what many writers/artists insist they are going for with comic book women in general.  And Tarot epicly fails.  As a powerful woman, she ends up stripped naked (or otherwise forced to fight in the buff or only partially dressed) in nearly every story arc.  She often ends up needing saving from Jon or Boo or even Raven.  Raven, as an evil version of Tarot is supposed to also be strong and powerful, but she too often needs saving.  Tarot and Boo and even Raven are often the victims of attempted sexual assault.  Tarot spends so much time tied up even Golden Age Wonder Woman would call it excessive.  Part of the reason Raven turned evil was that she was a) a witch and therefore outcast and b) had huge breasts.  Her breasts caused her so much distress it damaged her self-esteem to the point she just stuck spikes on them and punished anyone who looked at her wrong.  That’s not just unempowered and insulting; it’s also just stupid.  Tarot lives in a modern world and Raven never thought to get breast-reduction surgery?  Or, because she’s a witch, she never thought to magically alter her breast-size?

The writer has Tarot narrate her own comic, but it is so clear to me that what is put in the thought bubbles are not a woman’s thoughts (the dialogue is also ridiculous; for example, no one uses the term “bed chamber”).  These are what men think about women.  As the sex increased, this was made painfully obvious.  Initially the sex was just stylized stars and flowers but when the scenery modesty went away, the sex got more explicit, although Jon still merits scenery modesty.  Tarot is of course bisexual (because that’s totally hot) and while promising to love Jon and Jon only, he’s fine with her continuing to have sex with Boo and/or both of them.  There’s also some subtext indicating before Raven turned evil, she and Tarot used to have regular threesomes with men (or possibly women) they found attractive (because that’s also totally hot).  Tarot (and Boo) also occasionally take a break to satisfy themselves if their lovers are not around, and this is illustrated (although not entirely explicitly).  Every time Tarot is shown explicitly having sex, Jon is in a dominant position, although I suppose if Tarot was on top the risk of smothering Jon with her giant breasts would not be insignificant.  Most of the sex scenes are clearly porn-tastic, in which hardly any stimulation is required to go from interest to foreplay to intercourse and scenes frequently start with sex for no good reason except to start with sex (one comic literally starts with Jon and Tarot going at it on a balcony).  For example, Jon has just rescued her from a bad guy while she had an existential crisis.  In the course of the fight with the bad guy (who happened to Tarot’s male counterpart from another world who of course was *fully clothed*), he stripped her naked, so naturally once the day is won, she pulls off Jon’s belt and they go at on the stone bench, which Jon of course on top and nearly completely covered.

The biggest arc that proved to me that the writer is either clueless has to what a strong, powerful woman should be, or is deliberately subjecting his character to male fantasies of a strong, powerful woman, was the arc where the witches were kidnapped.  Tarot’s narration often has her proud of her body and saying she has no problems showing it off.  This is in stark contrast to her evil sister, who as stated above is very body insecure and hates her giant breasts (which, again, surgery and/or magic wasn’t an option to fix for some unknown reason).  I’ll try to summarize the numerous fails in this arc without boring you with the details that really don’t make any sense anyway.
– The arc starts with Tarot going to a meeting of witches in Fairyland.  No one is there, so she immediately decides to investigate what’s going on as this is obviously worrisome.  I’m kidding!  Of course that’s not what she does.  This is Tarot!  Instead she strips down to indulge herself in the water, in the air as she dries off, in the sun as she warms herself, and finally just humps the ground (and possibly a mushroom).  This is justified as her embracing her sexuality and melding with the four elements.  Also, she’s an exhibitionist for the tiny male imps whom she narrates are worshipping her as a goddess.  Did I mention this goes on for pages and then she decides to take a nap instead of investigating the missing witches?
– Obviously she gets captured and taken to the bad guy’s Arctic lair and mostly stripped (she’s left with her mask and gloves), then violated by the bad guy’s henchwomen before she manages to escape.
– While trying to get back to rescue the other witches before she freezes to death (remember, Arctic lair and she’s got a mask and gloves), she is captured by yetis, escapes while they fight over who gets to violate her first, and actually finds enough cloth to make a bikini (because that will totally prevent her from freezing to death).
– Now covered, she meets a bunch of pint-sized goblins who threaten to capture her so they can violate her.  She scares them away by removing the bikini and pleasuring herself in front of them.  According to the narration, they just couldn’t handle that display of raw sexuality.  Also, she doesn’t even put the bikini back on.
– At the bleakest point, Tarot decides she’s not going to let herself freeze death because she loves Jon; specifically (and the narration says so), she loves having sex with Jon and wants to live to have lots more sex with Jon.  The power of her erotic thoughts gives her the strength to not freeze to death.
– When she frees the witches, the artist shows he can draw more reasonably sized breasts because said bad guy had all the witches stripped naked, which, of course, the audience gets to see.  So not only does Tarot lose her armor but all the witches are also stripped of their armor, and therefore, symbolically lose their power.
– When the witches get all their gear (because the bad guy was too stupid to destroy it), they prepare to go into battle.  Tarot comments on how beautiful they are and how diverse their gear is, from the tiny panties to the leather corsets to those who wear nothing at all.  That’s right, Tarot’s ridiculous “armor” is actually par for the course for what witches wear in her world.

Women don’t think like this.  Men who fantasize about women think they think about sex all the time.  Women who own their sexuality don’t need to constantly reinforce that.  She can be proud of her porn star body and walk around her own house with her own lover nakedly.  That’s not a problem.  But if she’s not stripped down by the bad guys (symbolically stripping her of power), she’s stripping herself down, or is in a bathtub, or a pool, or some other situation where there is an opportunity for nudity or near nudity.  She also tends to satisfy herself a lot, which is fine (in a general sense) except the writer feels the need to have this illustrated for pages.  And in a life or death situation, I don’t know of any woman, or man for that matter, who would actually think, “If I die, I can’t have sex anymore with the ones I love.”

There is also a certain ugliness to the comic which makes me think this is probably not a parody, but I suppose it still could be.  See, when something is rated R for sex and violence, generally those involved in that thing don’t just show one or the other.  Thus, there is a lot of sex but there is also a lot of horrible, horrible violence and gore.  Briefly:
– There was a one-off where Jon was trying to be a hero (which he sucks at in general) and came across five dead nurses who were going to confiscate their donated body parts from the living recipients.  Naturally, because this is Tarot, they weren’t wearing scrubs; they were wearing “Naughty Nurse” Halloween costumes.  Even when given the names and addresses of two victims, Jon utterly failed to save them from being mutilated by the dead nurses and the story ended with the nurses deciding against telling Jon where to find the other three victims and presumably going to mutilate them too!  Nothing was ever said about this again either.
– In a particularly crazy crossover with the artist’s cat-girl fetish “Charlie’s Angels” stand-ins, the twist at the end was revealing one of the cat-girls was killed earlier in the comic complete with panels of her comrades finding her dismembered body!
– Tarot is captured by a mermaid (who does not wear a sea-shell bra and has legs that eventually join to become a fishtail) in some plot about pirates who stole mermaid treasure.  In the course of this, she is bitten in a rather intimate place by an eel, but it’s played off as very cartoonish.  However, at the end when the bad guys are captured, that same eel bites off a woman’s nose and it’s played perfectly straight.  The final gory, gruesome panel of the bad guys is them vomiting blood and getting their intestines ripped out by sharks.
– An arc ended with a showdown between Tarot and other witches versus the bad guy.  Several of the witches were horribly and graphically killed in that battle.  Worse still, many of these witches were based on fans!
It’s violence worthy of a snuff film and oddly juxtaposed with what is otherwise porn-tastic vapid camp.  Now, I know in a lot of horror movies (especially low-budget ones), the line between horror and porn is pretty blurry (i.e., people who have sex die in gruesome ways).  Tarot is not actually meant to be horror, which is why this sort of graphic gore is really disturbing.  And when the fans are inserted in the comics and then killed, well, I really wonder what the hell is up with this comic.  It’s not just insulting and demeaning to women, it’s also pretty creepy and mean.

So, my curiosity satisfied, I have no need to ever read this comic again and I regret that I did spend so much time on it.  Sure, some people like it, I guess, but I don’t.  To me it’s not merely awful.  I can handle awful, and I can snark at awful.  I don’t like ugly and I don’t find much to snark at in ugly either.  And this comic, despite the voluptuous heroine and obvious artistic skill, is really ugly.

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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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