Alex Braith boards the tanker/liner Southern Cross on a six-day trip to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to collect her sister’s remains. To no one’s surprise, Alex discovers that there is more to her sister’s death than the official accident report – and more, indeed, to the Southern Cross itself. What follows is a space noir verging on surreal horror, with a gritty, sci-fi universe as its backdrop. Alex has her own secrets, and aboard the Southern Cross, she isn’t the only one.
Southern Cross is written by Becky Cloonan and with art by Andy Belanger, who together bring the retro-future of the comic to life. Southern Cross could easily be set in the same universe as Alien or any number of sci-fi films from the late 1970s and 1980s; it is grimy, lived-in, and dark, nearly dystopian. There is no implication of mankind’s expansion beyond its own solar system. Those in power – whether criminal organizations or major interplanetary corporations – still prosper on the backs of the less fortunate.
While Belanger’s art possesses a kind of gritty unattractiveness that works well to render the stark reality of Southern Cross’ universe (and to deliver on some interesting layouts throughout, especially when things get weird), Cloonan takes a little while to find her legs on this one. What is, at first, a very slow burn becomes a rushed climax, and Alex’s investigation into the strange goings-on aboard the Southern Cross seems driven more by happenstance than anything. All the same, when I reflected upon the story after finishing, I found that several of the characters had revealed more complexity than I first realized. Cloonan sold me on them and made me sincerely want to know what becomes of them after the end of this first arc.
The first volume of Southern Cross is probably strongest in what it sets up, though. Much of it feels almost like an extended prologue by the end, especially given where the story ultimately goes. Like the world of Southern Cross, this volume’s a bit messy, but it is only the beginning. Consequently, I’ll probably find myself more comfortable recommending the series once I know there’s a good payoff in future volumes. But, Cloonan and Belanger left me wanting more, and really, isn’t that what volume one should do?