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Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose

Femme Fatales
by Artemis

How to explain Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose? TV Tropes goes half-way with "a mixture of action, tits, magic, tits, neopagan propaganda, tits, author rants, and tits," but as is often the case with pithy soundbytes, it's only superficially accurate: "propaganda" is a rather pejorative term for what is essentially fairy tale-style allegorical writing, and there's quite a lot of vag as well (in one case, famously, a haunted one - not Tarot's, I hasten to add). Think Touched by an Angel, except Wicca instead of Christianity, and the angel's quite happy to touch herself if neither of her lovers are handy at the moment.

The second born of two sisters, Tarot follows a path of harmony, balance, and tolerance when it comes to magick. On top of the everyday issues of being a woman, Tarot has to face the townies and their ignorance regarding her being a witch. After accepting the responsibility of being the swordmaiden to the Goddess and passing the trial of the sword, Tarot donned her magical armor to fight the forces of prejudice and dark magick. She is not afraid to use her sword for justice to hack at evil but, at the same time, she will equally use a gentle hand to heal.

While admitting that Tarot is often (always, if you're being cynical) silly as all get-out, it's got a lot going for it. Ignoring all the points people generally raise - it's fun, it's varied, the art is gorgeous, the characters actually evolve over time, they haven't shipped an issue late in over a decade, and Jim Balent got married to a hot redhead who wore a slave Leia costume at the wedding so clearly he's doing something right - the thing I appreciate most about the comic is that it is exactly what its creator intends it to be. Maybe that's not always a great thing for every reader, but nobody's ever going to like everything - the point is, if you'll forgive me for sounding high-falutin' intellectual about a comic featuring hot girl-on-catgirl scenes as often as it can possibly manage, that it's got an artistic purity that you rarely find in modern comics. Whatever other qualities it may possess - or lack, if you're no fan - it's an excellent example of an artistic vision going straight from mind to page, without the often-deleterious intervention of the executive middlemen who plague the mass media.

Anyway, enough with me being an unashamed fanboy, on to the statue. This is what passes for Tarot's work clothes, the "magical armour" she wears as the Swordmaiden - I wouldn't say it's her usual attire, because usually she's naked, either on purpose or because whoever she's fighting has got a claw, sword, or whatever close enough to her to take out her bikini straps. Although the armour has changed very little since its debut in issue #1, this one is based specifically on the cover to #37 - which saw Tarot, mostly in self-narrating mode (which she does more every member of the Atreides family combined), rescuing a child who'd been kidnapped by some kind of tree demon, losing her bikini in the process.

The Black Rose sword (Black Rose being the coven her family is part of, if you were wondering; she also has a black rose as one of those incredibly precise birthmarks fantasy is full of, on the back of her left shoulder - not on the statue, since the cloak covers it) is a creative addition, although a very forgivable one - she's not wearing it on the cover, but she does in the issue (and in general) in the manner the statue shows, and it would've been a shame to omit it on general principles. What has been omitted - also a shame - are Tarot's nipples, which are sculpted into the metal on her bikini top, Schumacher-Batman-style.

Being something of a child of the '90s, there's a lot of decorative detail on Tarot - her version of infinite gunbelts and pouches is lots of spaghetti straps and golden symbols on everything, giving Diamond Select quite a task. Luckily they've come through, largely thanks to a superb sculpt - Sam Greenwell is the man, and fully deserves the on-the-packaging credit he gets - that captures every single detail, right down to the pentagram on the palm of her glove. The irises of her eyes are literally the only instance of a paint application that doesn't have sculpted lines to work from, and this matches Balent's meticulous style and brings the golden spirals, loops, pentagrams and whatnot to life as vividly as Holly G's (the aforementioned Leia) high-gloss colouring does in the comics. Nipples aside - put that down to Diamond wanting to keep things sedate - the only real deviation from model is the pentagram formed by straps between the collar and bikini top, which is black and conforms to Tarot's cleavage, rather than silver and stretched across it; a natural enough concession to practicality (and in some issues they're rendered as plain black lines anyway).

Balent has had 60-odd issues to get accustomed to Tarot's face - and he's drawn her in every one - so as you'd imagine, she's much more consistent in appearance than comic characters subject to a wider range of artists and tastes. The statue is as near as spot-on as makes no difference, from any angle you care to choose, and as on the body, her face's paintwork mirrors the glossy, lustrous colours of the comic, with nigh-glowing healthy skin, pristine red lips, and finely-painted gold decoration on her gloss-black mask. The only oddity worth noting is that the mask/crest's horns aren't quite symmetrical - the left is touching the edge of the mask's pointed edge where it emerges from beneath her hair, while the right has a gap between them. Also - more even than the Femme Fatales Dawn statue, which sported an ineffective but visible effort at shading - her hair is a monotone red, which sells her comic-self's vivid scarlet well short.

There is, of course, no articulation - although if you're curious, her cape is soft enough to bend out of the way to reveal that, yes, she does have a suitably pretty bottom, to go with the rest of her stupefyingly idealized figure. The only point of motion comes from the sword, which is attached via a plug just beneath the swordbelt-attachment on her g-string, and can be tilted one way or the other, or even removed - obviously it leaves an orifice where Tarot shouldn't have one (believe me, we know), but anyone with the patience to fill it in and match the paint and finish could produce a cover-accurate swordless version of the statue.

Her base - plain but suitable stone, with a circular pattern - lacks the add-on high-heel supporter Dawn had artificially boosting her height, but Tarot's got her horns, and all in all she comes in at just over 10", nine and a half of that being her. She's thus pretty much in scale with the Cover Girls of the DC Universe statues DC Direct has been releasing, so all those crossovers that DC's too prudish to consider (but you know you're thinking about Tarot on Themyscira and grinning) are theoretically on the table, or the mantlepiece, at any rate.

There is/was a variant available, coloured in white and silver as Tarot appeared on the cover and inside issue #11 - very briefly, but in a suitably dramatic moment (back from the dead - or making out with her sister, depending on which moment you choose to dwell on). If you want to get all picky, she didn't actually have the swordbelt attached when she was all in white, nor was the sword's scabbard anywhere to be seen, but otherwise the costume was identical, just recoloured, so it's a perfectly sensible variant.

Being an indie comic - even a long-running one with something of a reputation - Tarot merchandise is far from ubiquitous, so this statue is very big news for fans, and I'm happy to say that it should satisfy them entirely. Certainly she's not for everyone - her design is about as sexualized as a superheroine can be, and without reading the comic and knowing how she owns that quality, rather than the other way around, it's pretty over the top. But that's Tarot, and head to toe, she is Tarot - no glaring errors, no botched sculpting or paint, nothing but a physical representation of what you see on the page, which is what 95% of her buyers will have wanted; the rest presumably just ordered her because she's a hot woman in a magic bikini, and she's that too, so everyone's happy.

-- 10/02/10

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