In TARTARUS #4, Tilde is horrified to discover that the Baxna Empire hasn’t paid Klinzu’s ransom, which means he’s for the chop. In desperation, she declares she will find the funds to pay the ransom, and embarks on a quest to find liquid, a rare material sought by many. But on a planet named Tartarus, beware Cerberus in your next mighty Major Spoilers review!
Writer: Johnnie Christmas
Artist: Jack T Cole
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Editor: Stephanie Cooke
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: July 22nd, 2020
Previously in TARTARUS: When your career as a promising cadet with the Empire is suddenly threatened when you discover your mother is a warlord of a rival planet, things tend to go pear shaped. And that’s what Tilde finds when the truth about her past is unveiled. Trapped on her mother’s world, Tartarus, Tilde has had to use all her skills and nous to survive…
ARE YOU MY MOMMY?
TARTARUS #4 is distinguished by two things – wildly inventive writing and worldbuilding, and evocative art that captures the spirit and form of writer Johnnie Christmas’s creation. Tartarus is a world run wild, a huge bazaar of people and creatures and robots and mutilated humans all marinating within a galactic war of conquest. It is a breathtaking achievement complemented by a unique artistic vision.
Multiple storylines run in parallel and occasionally intertwine in TARTARUS #4. The sole survivors of the funeral ferry crash find themselves stranded behind enemy lines on Tartarus, and embark on a mission to find the secret behind the distortion field hiding the planet from its enemies. While that is going on, Tilde (daughter of the warlord who once rule Tartarus) has to embark herself on a mission to find a substance known as liquid, an incredibly rare substance, to pay for the ransom to save Klinzu from being mutilated beyond recognition.
Along the way, we are treated to the warped delights, sights and sounds of Tartarus, as brought to vivid life by Jack T Cole. Cole’s coloring and line work mesh together to create an organic whole, a world filled with people of all shapes, sizes and augmentations, and a blend of architecture inspired from classicism. Cold doesn’t skimp on the details, from the different uniforms and clothing worn by the characters, to the interior decorations in different buildings. There is so much to take in, panel to panel, that it really is an assault (a pleasurable one, granted) on the eyes. The latter scenes are especially impressive, where Cole takes full advantage of the Greek myth inspired setting to create the Cerberus 9 guard unit, a massive robotic dog tied directly into the structure around it. There’s a sense of mass here that is ably conveyed in the art, which has the feel of the ‘space jockey’ scene from Alien, which gives you something of the sense of scale and menace his talent has conveyed to the reader.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
On top of the variegated artwork, the character creation by Christmas is also varied. There’s Tilde, who wants to understand her place in a vicious world. There’s the dreamy gang boss Syghus, who spouts philosophy even as he breathes through the lungs of two augmented humans. Klinzu’s phlegmatic attitude to his possible fate if his ransom isn’t paid draws a wry smile while Tilden’s brother, Mogen, just seeks power. And on top of this, most of the characters are POC, which makes a world of sense, as class and racial divisions would tend to fall away in a future where humanity has spread across the stars. It is a refreshing and much needed change from the essential whitebread future so much of science fiction has depicted over the last century. People are people, after all, regardless of their ethnicity, in all their glorious faults.
One of the enjoyable facets of TARTARUS #4 is the way Christmas weaves the ongoing storyline around an issue that contains a self contained adventure. All good writers seek to advance the plot from scene to scene, building character and motivation with each step. TARTARUS #4 does this very well, creating an adventure within the overall structure of Tilde’s efforts at revenge. Her willingness to tread where few others would to save a friend demonstrates the depth of her character and desire to see the job done.
BOTTOM LINE: IMPRESSIVE CREATION
TARTARUS #4 is an impressive achievement, and all the more astonishing because it comes so early in the run. One would expect the creators to gradually build themselves up to the fireworks, but this is brilliant straight out of the gate. Most of the characters are delightfully amoral, fuelled by greed or narcissism or just plain spite. Tilde is swimming upstream to achieve her goals against a whole legion of characters with similar agency. All told, TARTARUS #4 is a fantastically entertaining read, and one I urge you all to buy.
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