Thee Comic Column #131: Southern Cross

So CrossLast week at the shop I found issue #3 of Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger and Lee Loughridge’s Southern Cross. Reading this issue was a lot like my experience reading issue #5 of Southern Bastards in that this is the issue that sealed the deal and made me a hardcore fan of a new monthly book that I was initially skeptical of. Southern Cross is a brilliant Sci Fi mystery/ghost story (maybe?); I picked issue #1 up without knowing anything about it and really dug it. That said, I dawdled a bit before buying issue #2. my skepticism didn’t have anything to do with the book itself, but the fact that I’ve really been trying to watch what I spend on comics lately as it’s in danger of getting ridiculous again and that’s making me a little gunshy on adding new series. Then I remembered what I should be doing to control my spending at the shop is NOT giving in to those Marvel books I’ve tried to swear off several times now – mostly succeeding but not always. Not paying $3-4.99 a book for a bunch of interconnected franchise stories, no matter how good they might be at times, will free up enough money for me to painlessly indulge in all the indie/creator-owned stuff I can. Also, Elephantmen creator Richard Starkings frequents the same comic shop I do – my beloved Comic Bug –  and he spoke very highly of the second issue of Southern Cross so lucky for me, I found I couldn’t resist.

After Elephantmen #59 I’d pretty much follow Richard Starkings to hell.

Once I’d read issue #2 I knew I was in for the long haul, thus #3 coming home with me last week, all skepticism gone and forgotten. And since it’d been a while since I’d read #1 I took the opportunity to re-read those first two issues before jumping on #3 and what I found in that nice three issue jag was the beginnings of a story that not only has potential to be huge in scope but also feels like a very crisp take on space travel Sci Fi that accents the creepy claustrophobia a human being would no doubt feel when dwarfed for the first time by the vastness of space. This intimate portrayal of a very internal emotion is the key here – the long, quiet commitment of traveling away from the world you know and into the cosmic night and the body/mind’s reaction to it. Not to say that Southern Cross doesn’t hit some genre marks because it does. Howver, the story mostly seems to use those tropes to navigate its own course through what could very easily have been standard territorty. That’s usually one of my big gripes with what hardcore Sci Fi fans call ‘Space Opera” – a lot of it is very directly predicated on the pillars of the sub genre, much the same way a lot of modern Fantasy is little more than indirect continuations or openly acknowledged love letters to Tolkien’s work. While I’d definitely say Southern Cross flirts with the idea of being Space Opera, I also think it directly bypasses it’s trappings in favor of something far bigger and at the same time more immediate and personal.

The characters in this book feel relatable, i.e. not the evolutionary products of hundreds of years of unseen social evolution that requires drawn-out backstory to catch up on or understand. Main character Alex Braith has a very solid and emotionally understandable motivation for taking the journey to Titan, a dangerous and unhospitable moon most frequented by rough-around-the-edges workers for the Zemi company, which mines the planet for oil. Alex is investigating the death of her sister Amber, and when she realizes her bunkmate on the ship is heading up an official inquest into Amber’s death, well, the Sci Fi begins to take a decidedly Hitchcockian turn. After a series of disarming encounters with members of the ship’s crew and some fellow passengers Alex’s own investigation begins to feel as though everyone she’s surrounded by are in on something she is not, and in the endless expanse of night called space things do indeed begin to go bump in the night; the intimation is undenaible –  there may be a supernatural presence on the ship. Or worse, powering the ship.

Southern Cross is sophisticated and unique in that it is inspired by the visuals first and the story second. Ms. Cloonan has said the book began as Mr. Belanger’s idea and it shows. As artist Belanger – with Lee Loughridge providing a dark and at times extremely haunting southern cross 1palette – gets so much use out of every single page, without ever making the space feel cramped or overdone – that Alex’s journies through the ship flow in a very realtime manner. Nothing ever feels to small or insignificant for us to not see and this level of exposure gives the ship a massive, almost omnipotent role as both setting and character. And Ms. Cloonan plays to this; as an artist first she knows where to guide us with words and where to let the art do the talking. I may be mistaken but I believe this is the first outing that Becky Cloonan has as writer only. Regardless, her fluid relationship with the visual side of things very much helps inform the way the story of the Southern Cross and its passengers is told. I am extremely eager to see how Alex’s story develops and where it will take her. Thus far Belanger’s ship is such an enormous part of the story it almost seems hard to believe that Southern Cross would ever actually conclude the five day journey and arrive on Titan. But then, once you see what he has done with a setting like this ship, an enormous but admittedly limited space in the cosmic scope of a story set on another planet in the deep reaches of space, you begin to wonder just what Andy Belanger could do with a setting like Titan. Imagine, an entire planet for this story and these creators to play with. Kind of staggering, eh? If you’re like me it definitley makes you want to come back for every subsequent issue. And that’s the foundation for a great book, one that will hopefully last long enough for us to be able to not only solve the mysteries surrounding Alex’s sister’s death, but to experience as much of the world that Cloonan and Belanger are building in this book.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!! 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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