Stop. Before going any further, ask yourself: Are you a creature of the night? Does the idea of the lights going out send you scurrying for a candle to light, or does it bring a mischievous grin to you face, and an almost vampiric sigh of, "Now we'll have some fun!" If so, then proceed onward, for the Vertigo Tarot is a splendidly dark treasure of the night.
The images in this deck are hauntingly close to Timothy Lantz' "Archeon Tarot," so much so that one must wonder if they both sprang from the same eldritch pool of nightmare horrors. Yes, that's the right word; while many of the images are adapted from comic book art and bear standard recognizable tarot symbols, they are twisted in ways that approach the abyss of Lovecraftian angst. These are not the cheap, gruesome stuff of the movie theater, but the more subtle, and through that subtlety all the more frightening, chimeras of madness touched by supernatural horror. If you like gothic decks, and particularly if you liked the "Archeon", then this deck is a must-have.
This is one case where the packaging actually enhances the atmosphere of the deck itself. When I reached into the carton to pull the box out, I noticed something strange about it. Like one of those coffins with a window, as seen in "The Serpent and the Rainbow," the beautifully designed box has a window that reveals the substantial book contained within. Now I'm not a big fan of Tarot books, but as they go, this one is quite good. There is historical information on the Tarot in general and this deck in particular, and general background information on how the deck is set up. There is the usual "Journey of the Fool" story, a myth I find somewhere between tedious and outright irritating, though perhaps insightful to some. Then there is a description of each card, detailing its origins within the Comic Book world, and the concepts on which the card is based. And then a few key words of "Divinatory Meanings." What? No long-winded oration on your personal faults and defects, or exhortations about cleansing you inner child's diapers? No, thankfully, the book is brilliantly sparse, and therein wonderfully suggestive, on interpretations of the cards. Ditto on how to read them - there is very little "how to" in the book at all, which is how it should be. This is a deck that lives in the world of imagination, and it is through the imagination that one must learn the cards, and how to read them. Does this mean it "Isn't for beginners?" Beginners at what? At spewing volumes of memorized nonsense at the prodding of the same old symbols, no. At plumbing the depths of one's darkest dreams and fantasies for whatever is left of a soul lost in a nightmare world, or as Lovecraft said, at gazing upon Hell and understanding the meaning of what is seen there, well, yes indeed.
And then, lifting the book carefully out of its resting place, we arrive at the deck itself. No, wait, not yet - instead of the usual mosquito net, here we have a plush velvet bag, black as the darkest darkness, embossed with almost iridescent gold lettering. One gets the feeling, that one is removing some mysterious, hidden sacrament from its resting place, disturbing that which should be left alone. But we proceed, untying the knot that holds the inner secret from prying eyes. And at last we arrive at the treasure itself - the sacred Key that opens the link between inner thoughts and the outer Unknown.
OK, I have carried on in this style for a reason - that's the way this deck impresses me. Everything from the use of color, design, collage, and even the odd backs that look like they came from an art gallery at Innsmouth, suggests brooding horror on the verge of escape. Perhaps it's the times we live in (though what times have not had their darker side?), and maybe it's personal experiences and circumstances (though what sentient being has not experienced its own moments of angst?), but there seems to be a proliferation of this type of deck, and they are getting better and better at illustrating the leering face of the abyss. That's a good thing, if you are a fan of this genre, and/or if it reflects your own outlook on things. This isn't just another gothic deck - it's another face of the ultimate dread that lies beyond the shadows of consciousness, whether within the mind beyond the limits of reason and sanity, or without in the world, beyond the limits of science and experience.
Maybe the authors didn't intend it that way, or maybe they did. And others may not find it as hypnotically dark as I did. In any case, this latest addition to the lineage of Dark Tarot is one you won't want to miss, if you relish exploring the Unknown.
* * * Review Update, Dec 18,2008 * * *
Based upon comments received, it appears others may have received decks that are of inferior quality. The deck I received does have some marks where the cards were cut, but they do not interfere with the use of the cards. What I said about the artwork stands, but it appears there may be some quality control issues in the production. If you feel the deck you received is of poor quality, please either return it or post a review noting your dissatisfaction with it here, and maybe the manufacturer will take steps to remedy this. I hope no one feels mislead by my comments, as the deck I received, while not the quality of the old AGM Swiss decks, is certainly on a par with many that are currently available.