Review - Tartarus #1 (@ImageComics)

"As above, so below...stars in your belly, stars in the sky..."

Prison has a way of redefining people and relationships. There are some who figuratively are kings and queens on the outside, only to fall into nothingness on the inside. There are others though who maintain their "regal" status even when imprisoned and Tartarus #1 from Image Comics is a great example. The issue is written by Johnnie Christmas, illustrated by Jack T. Cole and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Promising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde's only way home may be to reclaim her mother's dark crown.

Christmas packs a lot into the first issue and with good reason. Breaking the issue up into the two halves is extremely effective at showing both sides of a familial coin, with Christmas focusing on Surka in the first half and Tilde in the second. The entire first half of the book is devastatingly effective at conveying to the reader how dangerous Surka truly is through an extended prison break. Christmas characterizes Surka as cunning, commanding and dangerous not by having another character wax poetically about her exploits; rather, he shows the reader her abilities en route to the end of the first half of the issue. This sets up the second half very cleanly, providing a contrast for Tilde while at the same time hinting that her development might hew fairly close to her mother's.

The density of each panel is a testament to Cole's ability to keep the reader's eyes engaged on everything all at once. Cole gives the first part of the book a sense of claustrophobia that resonates with being in prison through overcrowded group shots and perspectives. There's also a nod to a more futuristic design style through Cole's character designs and settings, both of which fit perfectly within any preconceived notion of a futuristic prison planet. Cole contains the chaos through very clean panel arrangements, confining each individual shot in its own box that doesn't spill over to the next. The artwork is awash in paler colors like pinks, blues and yellows to give the book another sense of otherworldliness.

In a way, Tartarus #1 is an exercise in extremes. Tilde is a character poised to be more like her mother than she initially thinks, but getting to that point required learning more about Surka for context. Christmas' script is primarily about defining two characters invariably linked to one another by blood and that relationship drives a lot of the narrative. Cole's artwork is a fitting match to the script as it effortlessly encapsulates the atmosphere. Tartarus #1 has a lot of positive things going for it as it seeks to explore the relationship between a mother and daughter--however unconventional that relationship may be.

Tartarus #1 is available February 12.