Promising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde’s only way home may be to reclaim her mother’s dark crown.
In a genre often centered on white men, Tartarus’ cast — predominately composed of women and POC — is unquestionably a breath of fresh air. Still, its diversity is far from the only thing Tartarus has to offer.
Johnnie Christmas’ writing is fast-paced, punctuated by frequent gunfire and the odd explosion. Christmas’ story is compelling and generally a good balance of character depth, world development, and driving plot.
With the size of Tartarus’ story, a standard issue might not have been able to fully submerge readers or really start the story. In many ways, the first half of the issue acts as a prologue setting up the conflict between Baxna and Tartarus, central themes, and the backstory of the main protagonist Tilde via the escape of her warlord mother Surka. By the issue’s close, the narrative has reached its inciting incident as Tilde comes face-to-face with her past. Christmas’ skillful use of dramatic irony means the reader knows this far enough in advance for it to be suspenseful but not infuriating.
Additionally, Christmas refreshingly refrains from regular info-dumping. Nonetheless, the one major info-dump (around forty-ish pages in, finally offering a bit of explanation for Liquid and the war) feels in some ways too late.
The art from Jack T. Cole is not only beautifully alien but incredibly ornate. In a genre where complexity is typically reserved for control panels and mechs, Cole’s rich detail appears equally in embroidery, tattoos, and architecture. Far from traditional, it borders on the baroque and maximalist. Combined with saturated and acidic colors, Cole’s art may remind readers of Moebius or Kirby, but remains something all his own.
Yet, there are occasional moments where the images are difficult to “read.” Characters can blend too much with backgrounds, and exhaustive detail can make it difficult to decipher the important parts of the image before the rest. The eye can be equally drawn to tattoos, a caution symbol, a facial expression, a pose, a clothing pattern, etc.
The cover — also by Cole — offers a vague taste of the plot along with acidic pinks and greens. Rian Hughes’ elegant serif logo works beautifully with Cole’s intricate style. It also offers Tartarus one more way to differentiate itself from its competition and draw in curious (much deserved) readers.
While a bit higher in cost than a standard comic, Tartarus’ lengthy first outing is well worth the entry fee.
Tartarus offers readers a refreshingly diverse and complex world to sink their teeth into. Equal parts driving plot and intricate art, this story is one to keep an eye on.
Tartarus #1: Not Your Father’s Sci-Fi
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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