Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #166 by Drew Barth

The Long Violent

How much do we really inherit from our parents? Right before the plague hit, I took a look at the first issue of Tartarus and how the dual narrative of parent and child influenced how the story presented itself and its grand sci-fi landscapes. As the series has come to a close, we can dive a little further into what Johnnie Christmas, Jack T. Cole, Andrew Krahnke, Hilary Jenkins, and Jim Campbell have done with this new world and just how the blood of a warlord can shape entire star systems.

Tartarus, at its core, is the story of a mother and her daughter—Surka and Tilde, respectively. We begin with Surka’s death and, seventeen years later, the discovery that Tilde, a young cadet in the Baxan empire miltary academy, is her daughter. Tilde is immediately flagged as a threat to the empire and given the option to kill herself as punishment for being Surka’s daughter. Happenstance occurs and Tilde ends up on the cut-throat mining planet of Tartarus to try to find her way to her childhood home, but not before becoming entangled with her estranged brother, helping him launch a war against a local criminal organization, and attempting to stop said war from spilling into political assassinations. The latter, of course, fails. But not before lights appear in the sky and a ship hovers above Tartarus with the mother Tilde, and the rest of the world, long thought was dead.

While we don’t know how the world will react to Surka’s return, the series is taking a hiatus after issue ten, we do see the deep fear of everyone associated with her. From the first issue, Surka is the boogeyman of Tartarus. Even in prison, it’s expected that she’ll escape to cause more havoc. Even her blood being out in the world is enough to cause the head of the Baxan military academy to confront Tilde directly. But then Tilde is great at the kind of violence that defines Tartarus. She fits right in with her brother as the pair tear across the planet. But she has reservations—her own dreams providing visions of what she could become should she fully succumb to that desire for violence. As much as she tries, though, Tilde is still caught in the wake of the bloodshed around her. She wants to escape, but the world will not let her.

Is the war around Tilde simply circumstance, or is it something invited in because of her mother? And is that something that can ever be changed for the better? Christmas, Cole, Krahnke, Jenkins, and Campbell grapple with these questions throughout Tartarus and the answer is never really clear. We see Surka appearing to change—looking to find a way to bring one of her loved ones back—but she is still Surka, the warlord that broke Tartarus. But then this is the family saga we’re audience to—one with as much bloodshed as any other. Change for the both of them likely won’t be easy.

Get excited. Get violent.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.