Lately I really haven’t been feeling comics. From the deluge of questionable ideas over at DC Comics between Death Metal and more beating of the dead horse that is Watchmen, to the rampant, systemic abuse and harassment of women in this industry, I have never felt more disinterested and disgusted in this medium I love. Creators continuously showing their asses. Old white men continuously being given high profile assignments on books that cry out for change and new blood. I love comics but they are always a rotting fruit. I’m tired. Hell, I’m exhausted. I recently read through the manga Dorohedoro and I was just blown away by the creativity and how creator Q Hayashida just did whatever she wanted with the comic. It felt satisfying. It was charming. It was real. I tried to remember the last time an American monthly comic book had made me feel that same way.
Before I hung up my Air Jordans and went to go play baseball though, I sat down to read Tartarus #4 this week. I’ve been singing this book’s praises since Issue #1, so it’s no surprise I loved this issue too. This comic man, this comic!! It’s like Mana from Heaven, or I should say Liquid from a three headed Cerberus robot thing. Don’t get it? Read this book. I finally felt that magic again. That certain special something. That blend of writing and art that only comics bring that hits you in the gut, takes over your brain and hypes you up with the biggest smile in the world. Tartarus is the book that makes you love comics again. Issue #4 wraps in the flashback plot elements from Issue #1 perfectly in sweet little dollops to keep you intrigued and wanting more. It expands and clarifies this rich, lived in sci-fi world. It continues the insane quality Issue #1 set the bar for.
For anyone not reading this comic, I’d love to give you the easiest way I can describe it but nothing about this book is easy. Tartarus is a blend of pre Comic Code 1950’s space stories, cyberpunk, sci-fi, fantasy, manga, Euro-comix, 80’s indie comics, fight comics, slice of life stories and so much more. I’ve rarely seen a comic that is able to pop every story genre out there into a blender and pour it on to the page, but Tartarus does that and leaves you wanting more.
Reading Tartarus and experiencing Jack T. Cole’s work feels like the first time you laid eyes on Milo Manara’s art, Moebius’ art, Jack Kirby’s art, Katsuhiro Otomo’s art, Marc Silvestri’s art, Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri’s art, James Stokoe’s art. You know you are seeing someone morph an artform into something entirely new and unique. You are bearing witness to a masterpiece being created in real time. It’s stunning.
The best part of Tartarus though is even if I go on and on about how it’s the height of the medium it’s also full of that 1980’s indie comic steam. It’s rough, it’s loose, it’s unafraid to take chances. The creators are unafraid to just do what they want. No one here is afraid they’re going to chip the sculpture. What gets made, gets made, rough edges and all. I respect work like that. That’s the type of comic that satisfies me. That’s the type of comic I want more of.
Another way Tartarus bucks the trend is this book isn’t a Republican meeting in space. The cast is full of women, of all races and sexual preferences. And it’s all done naturally, organically like the real world is. It’s more “the world outside your window” than most Marvel Comics. The characters are all down to earth and relatable. You never feel like the creators are just throwing kooky space words and concepts at you to prove how big their brains are. It’s never condescending, it’s just fun and charming. I think that is Tartarus’ real strength. It brings the high concept galaxy brain content in a slice of life package with a diverse female lead. Read that sentence again and tell me that isn’t what we all need in comics these days.
Tartarus is a modern space opera that deserves a place on the shelf next to Akira, Marvel’s Annihilation, Ghost In The Shell, The Incal, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Final Crisis, and to wrap it all back around, Dorohedoro. If you want more carefully crafted comics that are bursting with that iconic energy and special sauce that sets them apart, then PLEASE read Tartarus.
Tartarus #4: 1,000,000/10
Writer: Johnnie Christmas
Artist: Jack T. Cole
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Image Comics