Tartarus #1 Review

by Jay Hill on February 14, 2020

Created by: Johnnie Christmas and Jack T. Cole
Written by: Johnnie Christmas
Art by: Jack T. Cole
Lettered by: Jim Campbell
Published by: Image Comics

Between two galactic empires, there lies a disputed area of space. In that area is a planet, once prosperous, now unruly and dangerous. On that planet is an underground prison. In that prison, at the lowest depth with the highest security, is a woman. At least… there was a woman because right now Surka is making her escape from Tartarus.

This is a comic in 2 acts. The first is the jailbreak, the second is about what happens after. Within those 2 acts (almost 40 pages) is some of the best world-building, character work, action, drama, and everything in between I’ve ever seen in the first issue of any comic. Some of the most engrossing, interesting, and creative fiction I’ve ever read. The world is lush with ideas. Every second of this book is presenting something new. From the first shot of Surka, she is obviously no one to mess with. And the book goes on to make her an, no other word can be used, absolute badass. The first panel she’s in says she’s a former warlord, and the way she carries herself and executes the escape from Tartarus shows that she must’ve been a force in her day. It’s one thing to make a comic and say, “This character is so bad they put her under the jail!” It’s another thing to show through action alone what a character is all about. And she’s just one of the many, immediately interesting, characters introduced in this outstanding issue. The “main story” that plays out through both acts is so well-staged. It has a feeling of a classical epic. The second act goes on to introduce more great characters, flesh the world out even more, and begin a narrative that can go anywhere. Johnnie Christmas has breathed palpable life into this story and created something special. There are no hints that this first issue was a fluke or the best showing. This seems like a comic book that is once in a generation. It may be soon, but I’m ready to call 2020 “The Year of Tartarus”.

The substance of this comic is matched by the style of it. You couldn’t ask for better, more perfectly suited art than what Jack T. Cole brings to the table. The lines in his art paired with his colors create an aura that few artists in any medium can achieve. He illustrates intricate and detailed backgrounds and landscapes. Then, fills them with stylish characters to shape this creative fictional world. The visuals in this book are like a portal to another fully-realized realm, one exploding with flavor thanks to a unique palette and atmosphere controlling coloring. The style of everything is fantastic. I’d go as far as to say comics haven’t seen such unabashed stylistic creativity since Moebius. Other artists like Jean-Claude Mézières, Egon Schiele, and Aeon Flux’s Peter Chung come to mind. Along with flairs of Japanese anime and manga, particularly Akira (especially with the anime’s use of color). But words cannot accurately capture Cole’s art, you have to see it and then you’ll understand. To pick some issue standouts: The opening with its great use of blue, Surka’s hand being seen climbing from the hole, and the first display of the intricate lines. The movements in the active scenes are captured perfectly, the way clothes sway add so much. The use of white, particularly on the uniforms, in the second act. The detail of expressions and faces. I feel overwhelmed trying to give this art it’s due. Jim Campbell also does some great work lettering, there are some great SFX throughout.

This is my favorite new comic I’ve read in years. No need for me to think about it or give it time, it just is. This issue is the introduction to a world brimming with life and creativity. The characters are crafted beautifully. The ideas are abundant and presented naturally. And, the narrative has already gripped me like none other. The art is as unique and creative as the story it visualizes. Awe-inspiring is all I can say about it. Read this comic, do it now!

Our Score:


A Look Inside