Sunday, February 2, 2014

Deck Review- The Vertigo Tarot

I think everyone has their favorite decks, or favorite types of Tarot decks- either the more traditional ones, or more abstract designs. The Vertigo Tarot, published on the Vertigo/DC Comics label, of many graphic novels fame. Art in this deck is by Dave McKean, and tends towards the abstract. The Majors are linked to many of the Vertigo comics characters, and fans of the genre will no doubt see familiar faces, though some of the assignments are abstract, like assigning long-time demon hunter John Constantine to The Fool. However, the assignments are valid ones, though it may not at first be apparent.

The Hermit, depicted here as the Phantom Stranger
The Minor Arcana cards tend towards the abstract, too, and overall the deck has kind of a dark, gloomy and brooding feel to it, for those who like that in a deck. Personally, I do, but again, not for everyone. The reissued edition (the deck was re-released in 2008) comes with a companion guide with somewhat small print, but otherwise interesting and insightful. It's difficult to assign this deck to a particular tradition, (i.e. Rider-Waite, Thoth) as it seems to borrow elements from both of these, and what it doesn't borrow comes from original interpretations. This is often a tough aspect of reviewing and recommending a deck, as there are often two aspects to Tarot decks- there's the "little white book" interpretations, which are more traditional and straightforward, but not in-depth, and the artist's take on the deck, which in this deck plays a prominent role. 
Case in point, who could say no to that face?
So all in all, this is a great deck for those who are more familiar with the more traditional layout and design of the Tarot, and are looking for a new take on an old favorite. However, these cards are very symbolic and abstract- this is for some a plus, for others not so much. Again, personally speaking, I would recommend this deck for readers with a fairly solid background in the Tarot- for those just starting out, you may prefer a more traditional route. The abstract and often odd imagery of the deck are certainly thought-provoking, but at the same time could prove a bit overwhelming to someone first starting out. In the hopes that doesn't sound patronizing, I think we've all been there at some point! 

A good example of this comes from the Devil card, whose image comes from the Sandman series- Lucifer Morningstar eventually retires, giving up rulership of Hell, and here's the interesting part- because he's tired of people blaming the Devil for everything, when his only crime was rebelling against Heaven. So he leaves Hell for retirement- hence the beach chair. Comparing this to the Devil card's own story, we see that often it's not the Devil making us do it, but rather our own actions- we hold ourselves in the Devil's chains, not the other way round. This is just one example of the stories you can find in this deck. Couldn't you argue that the Tarot is meant to be a model of the world around us, and within us? If that's the case, the all-too-human characters we encounter in our own lives, either real or imagined, are bound to have their parallels in the Tarot. 
Summing up, I use this deck on a fairly regular basis, and it's a favorite precisely because it tends towards the odd and abstract. The companion book provides a good deal of insight as to where the images came from and what inspired them, so it too is worth a look. In reading through other reviews, many have noted the unusual Zodiac associations the Majors are given, and this too prompts me to put it in the "more experienced readers" category. But if you're a fan of Vertigo comics, you'll definitely be in familiar territory. While the cards are a little gloomy and abstract, I'll leave it up to you to decide if this is a positive or a negative- as before, not for everyone, but overall this deck gets the Horse's stomp of approval! I'd recommend this for any reader who has a familiarity with the basic layout and workings of the Tarot. It's a well thought out and well-executed concept deck, and its layers of symbolism often get your mind working, developing sometimes surprising connections between the cards.