Dish Of The Week 2/12/20: Tartarus #1

Each week I highlight the ultimate Comfort Food Comic release. This is the comic that gets me the most hyped. The comic I’ll remember and revisit the most. The one that gave me that special feeling above all the other releases that new comic book day.

The Dish Of The Week for 2/12/20 is Tartarus #1 by Johnnie Christmas, Jack T. Cole, Jim Campbell & Stephanie Cooke

A few weeks back I watched the movie Uncut Gems and throughout and right after completing it, I could not form an opinion on whether I loved it or hated it. As the hours and days went on I found myself constantly thinking about the film in my head. After taking up so much headspace, I realized I pretty much loved it, and thats what great singular media should do, pull up a seat and make permanent residence in one’s head. Tartarus #1 has had this same effect on me. When I first finished it I was overwhelmed by the ground up foundation building of a vast, expansive, mythic sci-fi world. I wasnt so sure I liked it. I often find myself a bit hesitant to go full in on first issues that set up so much. But the hours went on and in deciding on the Dish Of The Week, this book had already moved into my brain and started unpacking its things.

And thats really the strength of this book. It does so much, it introduces so much. It takes your hand and sucks you into its world, whether you like it or not. And trust me, this is a world. A grungy, lived in, intriguing world full of all manner of exciting new characters. So what is the book even about? Writer Johnnie Christmas describes it as: “A series that would mix the cool sci-fi of Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fith Element with the drama of Breaking Bad, True Detective, The Odyssey, and supercharge it with the excitement of Claremont’s X-Men, Otomo’s Akira, and the work of Moebius.” Dear reader, the man is not wrong, thats pretty much exactly what this feels like. To me, it felt like an old 80’s Marvel Epic comic book – some undiscovered gem from France or Japan, that we are lucky enough to be reading now in mass market comic book form. If you gave me this book along with Marvel Epic issues of Akira, Moebius’ OGNs, Stray Toasters, Alien Legion, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and the like, I would think its definitely published under that imprint. It feels full of that old school comic creativity in a refreshing way. This is no pilot for a movie. This is that good good raw exciting comic stuff. If that interests you at all, this book is for you.

The book starts in a mining colony city named Tartarus. We find ourselves in an enormous prison complex, deep under the ground with handy schematic info page!

Its here were introduced to Surka, a big bad imprisoned warlord left to rot in the bottom of this huge prison. But she’s free now and determined to bust out and nobody in this prison is ready to deal with her brand of violence! Surka is awesome. I immediately loved the character. She has an amazingly cool design and I was actively rooting for her and her fellow gang of prisoners as they made for the surface.

We eventually see Surka is successful in her daring breakout. I loved the whole breakout. It reminded me of in One Piece when Luffy escapes from Impel Down, a similar tiered underground prison for the baddest of the bad. We then see Surka’s main reason for breaking out, a reunion with her daughter Tilde.

Its a really beautiful scene and extremely effective at making us care even more about Surka. This rampaging warlord who seems ready to kill anyone in her way upon seeing her daughter starts to openly weep and cradle her close. This book wows you with emotions and really endears you to just about every character. (Look at baby Tilde’s Moebius hat!!!)

We then see Surka throw down with the warden, essentially, of the prison, Master Of Locks, Hisa Ikeda. During this all manner of characters are introduced on both sides and a weapon is used, supplied by a mysterious ne’er-do-well with trademark teeth. The weapon either vaporizes or mysteriously vanishes both Surka & Ikeda and with that, this part of the story ends as we are dropped 17 years into the future.

So…….yeah, damn!! It’s quite the tone setter for this comic series. You may not know what the hell is going on, what planet youre on, who all these characters are or who you should be rooting for, but you sure as hell are gripped in and immediately invested in just about everyone’s journey here and then……youre taken to the actual main story of this series.

We are now in the station orbiting Tartarus and a very different version of Tilde, who is now a Baxnan military cadet. Here we follow the stories of her & her cadet friends as they grapple with their place in this society at war on the Olympus station. We see that a Sergeant from the intro is now the General. We see Tilde has no idea about her real parentage. We see that same ne’er-do-well with trademark teeth deliver a package to the General. We see more about the people referred to as Djinns, who have the ability to engineer liquid and make the most advanced weapons in the galaxy with it.

That General, Kabe, reveals to Tilde her heritage and asks her to commit suicide for her people. Its here that all hell breaks loose, as the mysterious package that was delivered blows up Olympus and Tilde fights back rather than killing herself! And its there our oversized issue ends. Its a lot to take in, but its EXTREMELY interesting. You really get invested in Tilde’s story and everything thats put into world building makes you want to read more.

If theres one criticism I have with the book, its that Tilde is seemingly one moment scared, confused,obedient and bewildered by all the revelations, but then she almost immediately starts fighting back. I hope to see it addressed in the next few issues, and even then its a minor nitpick that can be explained by her inborn heritage doing a fight or flight attack.

I REALLY want to praise Jack T. Cole’s artwork here. It is some of the most fluid, gorgeous stuff Ive ever seen in comics. Its as if he is some superhuman artist version of Serpentor but made with the DNA of Katsuhiro Otomo, Moebius, Paul Pope, Kevin Maguire, Kim Jung Gi, Geof Darrow, Shiro Masamune and Milo Manara. Also the guy (I assume) colors it himself and shows even more talent there. His color palette is so on point and really brings the images off the page.

Here are some of my favorite panels & parts of the art:

I LOVE that prison guard lady’s mutlicolor camo pattern and how well its done. I love how fluid the fight and action scenes are. You feel every movement, every punch, every lunge, every hard hit. (I would KILL for Cole to illustrate a King of Fighters or other fighting game comic someday). The Olympus station and Tartarus itself feel so real and lived in. There are no background shortcuts here, you get a vast world before your eyes. I love the faces and expressions. Some artists just cant do them that well, but oh my God are they great in this book. Everyone has a different look, or ethnicity, and you can almost feel your own face mimicking the panels theyre that lifelike.

Another thing I want to point out that I really dig in this book is the agency of women. Its an extremely empowering woman led book. Ikeda, Surka, Tilde – all on different sides and paths, but all women, and strong, complicated multilayered real people women. Its refreshing and its honestly a part of why I like the comic so much. I dont think I’d be as jazzed if all those characters were prototypical men.

Dont overlook this book. Please try it out. Let it marinate, read it multiple times. It will soon crawl into your head like Mister Mind and not come back out. Its a book that matters because its a blend of so many different genres but done in a blend of European, Asian, and American comic artstyles in a woman led book with all types of ethnicities. Thats not exactly common on the shelf at a comic shop.

This week was a tough one for deciding the Dish Of The Week. Im not really into ties here but Tartarus just won over the Terrifics 25 and Ronin Island 10 and I’d be remiss if I didnt shout those releases out as well

The Terrifics 25 – This is an oversized issue drawn COMPLETELY by Dan Mora of Klaus fame, one of the industry’s greatest active artists. The entire issue is a Choose Your Own Adventure comic. I know, I know, it sounds like a stupid gimmick but it actually REALLY worked and was just pure insane fun. Everyone should own a copy.

Ronin Island 10 – One of my favorite series going right now. We get so many plot threads come together in an emotionally satisfying way. There is also an old woman that rides a furious pack of horses into a spore cloud that turns living things into gruesome monsters. Its as amazing as it sounds. Read this series, everyone.

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