While the Two of Swords typically shows an individual blindfolded and numb to a reality that they don’t want to accept, I chose to show Ash Gravedust instead clashing swords with eyes open wide to a reality he is failing to comprehend. If he were able to process what’s standing before him, the horrifying possibilities of Ash’s afterlife would be introduced through this encounter with his former bounty hunting partner, Ryuichi Mishima, the infamous Zombie Red.
The Gardens of Hell Are Lined with Poison Ivy
Like Ash Gravedust, Zombie Red is actually plucked from deep within my mythology, having made appearances in a comic book I was writing as a kid. In those days, his origin story was largely the same as it is here, inspired by a physically and psychologically excruciating bout of poison ivy that I personally endured. For weeks, my eyes were swollen and itchy and a red rash covered me from head to toe, barely soothed by numerous baths of oatmeal and scrubbing with lye soap. It got so bad that my mother took me to a doctor who prescribed me a steroid to help my body fight the effects of the poison ivy. Yet, after almost disappearing, it returned with a vengeance. Baffled by the dramatic resurgence, the doctor told me I was psychologically manifesting the outbreak. During this time of discomfort bordering on outright torture, I recognized how agony could be used to mentally twist somebody; a theme that I’d found disturbing since childhood but now experienced firsthand. It seemed the constant itching and physical shame were warping my mind into something miserable and cruel. I felt abandoned by humanity, isolated in my relentless irritation.
Virulent Red Transforms Ryuichi Mishima into Zombie Red
Ryuichi Mishima was initially a bounty hunter who partnered up with Ash Gravedust but was abandoned on a planet after contracting a virus called Virulent Red. Ash believed that he was leaving his partner to die an excruciating but inevitable death. However, he was ignorant of the nature of the virus, which actually killed his partner and reanimated him while retaining his memories. The result was Zombie Red, an undead husk with red swollen eyes and constantly itching skin, cracked bleeding lips and a burning hatred for the former partner who left him to his fate. Zombie Red will haunt Ash throughout the Suit of Swords but the Two of Swords is Ash’s first confrontation with the partner he failed. While Ash is shocked into disbelief, the undead Mishima is calmly smiling, feeling that he has the upper hand.
Paralysis and Chosen Ignorance is at the Center of the Two of Swords
While the Two of Swords typically incorporates a person who chooses blissful ignorance to a looming problem, Ash isn’t exactly ignoring the issue. He’s just too paralyzed by shock and horror to adequately handle it. Normally a skilled fighter, Ash is instead only able to defensively block an introductory sword slash from Zombie Red. Surprise and confusion has found Ash’s skill abandoning him and though his sword is defending him from physical damage, he is too stunned to actually save himself. However, Zombie Red is not at this point trying to murder Ash. Rather, he’s dreamt of nothing but vengeance in his itching, frenzied state of madness and is enjoying toying with his former partner before he carries out his revenge in full. If anyone understands control, restraint, and even pleasure delay, it is the abomination known as Zombie Red. Thus, while Ash is locked in a stalemate, Zombie Red has the advantage of awareness.
The Paralysis of Disbelief Must Eventually Give Out
The result of the Two of Swords is a precarious balance that will likely tip in favor of the ignored problem quickly. Ash is having trouble not only processing the resurrection of a dead partner but also recognizing his own role in the agonizing final moments of Ryuichi Mishima. The confrontation takes place within a haunted house with a window looking out on yet another haunted house with storm clouds gathering ominously above it. A few symbols are worked into the haunted house in the distance such as the metal bat atop a spire. In Native American medicine cards, the bat is symbolic of death and rebirth or a need to let go of an aspect of oneself. This can include old beliefs and tired philosophies. Bats are also tied to the element of air. The insignia of an eye glows in neon pink from the roofing of the haunted house. Here, the eye is a signal to open one’s eyes to face disturbing truths.
Zombie Red’s Sword of Doubt and Fear
The Two of Swords also introduces us to Zombie Red’s sword which is much different than Ash’s sword. The blade itself is curved with the guard fashioned to resemble a closed eye with razor lashes. This shows the shadow qualities of the Suit of swords; deception, confusion, fear and an inability to accept the truth. Zombie Red is an agent of Ash’s fears and doubts and his blade aptly reflects this in its grip and pommel, crafted to resemble the vertebrae and skull of a rabbit. In Native American medicine cards, rabbits symbolize the tendency for people to attract problems through fear addiction. The ribbons at the end of the rabbit skull pommel further allude to the floppy ears of a rabbit.
The Rigid Restraint of Leather
Though not a unique symbol to the Two of Swords, it’s also worth noting the bondage gear that adorns Zombie Red. This is a window into his masochistic, highly restrained nature. Zombie Red is marked by a militant sense of control and self-discipline with his leather suit preventing him access to the majority of his virulent rash and thus depriving him of any relief. This is also symbolic of his closed off, rigid focus. As he represses any means of soothing his irritation, his mind is further steeped in madness with one outlet: the death of Ash Gravedust. This singular sense of control is very in line with the themes of the Swords.
The border is punctuated with blindfolded masks that each shed a single tear. These masks are reminders of those unwilling to face necessary, yet painful truths despite being aware deep down of a growing problem. The corners depict a stalemate clash of Ash’s and Zombie Red’s swords.