Family secrets deepen and Tilde must decide if blood is thicker than duty. She won’t have much time to decide as they go up against a faster, stronger, and more deadly enemy that will either bring her and her long-lost brother together or tear them apart.
Tilde may still be adjusting to the existence of her twin brother, and unravelling her past, but the present has a way of butting in, as it does for everyone. With Tartarus on its fourth issue, Johnnie Christmas’ science fiction space epic gains yet more momentum as the lives of its protagonists continue hurtling downhill.
Each issue of Tartarus ties thematically to a tarot card – in this issue’s case, the Hanged Man. When upright, the Hanged Man is symbolic of self-sacrifice, but can also mean uncertainty or a change in perspective. Reversed, it can become representative of needless or sacrifice, or fear of sacrifice. This issue constantly forces both its characters and readers to question what the “right thing” is at any given moment. What people and relationships and ideas are worth sacrificing yourself (or other people) for?
Wanting only to save her friend Klinzu and stop a string of kidnappings, Tilde is more than willing to pay off a powerful criminal syndicate – one which her twin Mogun is part of – even if it means further betraying Baxna. Of course, Klinzu has his own perspective. And while Mogun wants to protect Tilde, he also has less savory motivations he is willing to sacrifice – seemingly others more than himself – to achieve. For all of Tartarus’ prophetic/clairvoyant imagery, the future still feels far from certain for Tilde or her friends. Christmas consistently pulls the rug out from the reader’s feet the moment anything begins feeling too comfortable.
Choices always have weight, but how much weight is never guaranteed.
As per previous issues, Jack T. Cole’s art is for the most part incredibly strong, with his detailed backgrounds adding a sense of depth. While the world of Tartarus may be densely populated, its spaces often feel vast. Vaulted ceilings and top-down lighting can add a cathedral-like ambience, even in the belly of a space ship or down a hole. However, doorways always seem scarce, making these places feel paradoxically oppressive. These may be beautiful (if imposing) spaces, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to leave.
Coles’ character designs are satisfying, with main characters always recognizable. Sadly, the most satisfying one (from my own personal standpoint) is too spoiler-heavy to discuss. Occasionally a head can feel too shallow, or limb can feel too long, usually as a result of being pushed too far in action sequences.
His color work remains outstanding. He moves elegantly between deliciously hyper-pigmented pink/lime/orange/gold scenes on Tartarus (the planet) and the grimy metallic innards of ship ruins. When the two fully clash at the issue’s climax, it’s breathtaking.
The covers of Tartarus never cease to be satisfying, with the tarot cards on each back cover being a particular pleasure. That said, the front cover is nothing to sneeze at. Its depiction of Mogun, masked and offering a package of cigarettes at gunpoint, feels incredibly emblematic of his character so far. While he may welcome his long-lost sister (represented by the outstretched cigarettes), his penchant for violence and potential for betrayal (the gun) aren’t far behind. Like his hidden face, so much of him remains hidden from view and impossible to trust.
In Tartarus #4, every character is forced to question what sacrifices are worth making. For readers, it’s more than worth sacrificing $4 and an hour of one’s day to read such a beautifully executed book.
Tartaus #4: Lives Hanging In The Balance
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Art - 9.5/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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