Tilde's on the run from an empire. Klinzu has a date in a war zone. Their plan, a fiery escape to the most dangerous place in the galaxy: Tartarus.
Though its opening may be peaceful, Tartarus’ second issue is anything but. Smuggled in a sarcophagus on a funeral ferry, drugged into a quasi-death, Tilde’s mind takes a turn for the symbolic as she finds herself torn between not only life and death but Past and Future, Baxna and Tartarus. Tartarus’ creators’ interest in the religious, mythological, and arcane means that an issue heavily focusing on literal and metaphorical deaths seems unsurprising (though more so for its genre). Johnnie Christmas’ narrative is well-crafted: peaceful moments are consistently subverted or threatened, undergirded by pressure. That said, there are still plenty of fast, explosive moments to be had as well.
One noticeable feature of this issue is its prominent use of sign language. Sevno isn’t Deaf or disabled, but uses sign language rather than speak. In a comic laden with symbolism, Sevno’s signs are the only ones ever translated and so carry a particular weight. As a disabled reader, it’s refreshing to see sign language normalized, though technical aspects could be improved (i.e. at one point, his signs have speech bubbles but no one is looking at him, and, at another point, he signs while turned away). Tartarus’ approach to signing is nonetheless very different from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, which used diagrams and focused on Deaf experience. Were there world enough and time, a larger analysis would surely be possible in regard to how comic books — a simultaneously static and silent medium — depict sign language, and whether Deaf or hearing (and disabled/non-disabled) audiences are prioritized.
On the artistic front, Jack T. Cole’s work remains fascinating and endlessly complex. His approach to architecture and ship design is organic, resembling both the visceral and floral. The introduction of natural elements in Baxna’s coldhouse feel simultaneously alien to a sci-fi setting and perfectly… well… natural to Tartarus. Cole excels at detail: imperial uniforms, sarcophagi, and plant life are hyper-detailed and all collectively accentuate and add to the depth of Tartarus’ universe. Strangely, Cole’s most noticeable weakness in this issue is probably faces: both consistency and in terms of how they sit on the skull (which is slightly too shallow). That said, it’s never too prominent an issue as to draw readers out of the story. Like almost everything else about this comic, Cole’s approach to color remains refreshingly antithetical to expectations of science fiction, often dominated by bright pinks and acid greens and luscious purples rather than gunmetal grey or blue.
In terms of covers, as with its first issue, Tartarus’ front and back covers remain equally engrossing (which cannot be said for many comics) and hypnotically antithetical to audience expectations for a science fiction comic book cover. The front offers a close-up of an innocent-looking Tilde in the coldhouse, Surka’s hand reaching out behind. Over all, this manages to offer a balance of theme, beauty, and plot. The back cover, meanwhile, depicts the 16th Major Arcana from a tarot deck: The Tower. The Tower represents distress, calamity, and unforeseen catastrophe, and foreshadows the issue’s final events. If Tartarus’s plot were a person, “Unforeseen Catastrophe” would be its middle name. That said, it’s also an unforeseen triumph of storytelling.
Tartarus continues to offer readers an engrossing, symbol-rich, trope-defying science fiction epic worth sinking their teeth into.
Tartarus #2: Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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