Southern Cross #1-5 (2015)
Written by Becky Cloonan
Art by Andy Belanger
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Serge LaPointe
Published by Image Comics
In a dark future, ex-con Alex Braith travels to a refinery rig on Titan to retrieve the remains of her sister, Amber, after she died of mysterious circumstances. The ship Alex boards, the Southern Cross, is not what it seems. Ghosts and hallucinations plague the passengers, and the crew might know more about it than they are telling. Mystery abounds as Alex navigates confined spaces. How did Amber die? What is haunting the Southern Cross? Alex will find answers to these questions…if she doesn’t go mad first.
Becky Cloonan has made herself a household name artist in the indie scene with works such as Demo and American Virgin. Recently, she co-wrote Gotham Academy with Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. Now, she has teamed up with Andy Belanger (Kill Shakespeare) for her first Image series. Southern Cross is a horror/scifi comic inspired by Alien and Event Horizon. A mysterious entity is picking off passengers; Alex searches for clues and discovers a larger conspiracy going on.
Like the aforementioned movies, Southern Cross has a dark, claustrophobic tone. Andy Belanger’s retro-style art captures this tone with a pessimistic vision of the future. He introduces the world through a city-sized space station. It is similar to an airport: sterile, artificial, and with people waiting in endless lines surrounded by ads for pointless commodities. Along with Lee Loughridge’s neon colors, the space station looks like a seedy alleyway, a far cry from the sprawling cities of Tomorrowland. Southern Cross is not a hopeful future in which humanity unites to achieve a scientific-minded, humanitarian utopia, but a nightmarish hellhole of runaway capitalism. Instead of using technology to improve quality of life, it is used to expand consumerism. There are no reusable energy sources, but instead mining colonies, which destroy distant moons for fuel. Most of the products and clothing are branded with the Zemi corporation logo, suggesting this one company has a huge amount of power in the world. Some critics find that Belanger’s art feels too artificial and rigid, yet it fits given that the whole world is an artificial consumerist box.
On board the Southern Cross, the artificiality becomes amplified by the claustrophobic space. Andy Belanger utilizes panels to show the length and width of the ship’s corridors. Watching characters walk these corridors is like watching mice in a metal maze with movement limited to up/down, left/right. When ghosts appear, there is a tense feeling of dread because the characters’ escape options are few and leaves them helpless. The basic fear of death is accompanied by a more existentialist fear: not only will the character die, they will die inside a cold, lifeless ship having only ever seen the endless blackness of space and ad-ridden environs of space stations. It is dying without truly living because there is not much to live for except a new pair of glasses.
Belanger draws the ghosts in great detail. They are gritty and surreal all at the same time, much like the monsters of Dario Argento and Roger Corman. Hallucinations are as equally trippy and full of symbolism. Their meanings remain a mystery, but suggest something beyond the corporeal.
Alex Braith is a complicated character. Becky Cloonan first introduces her as a quiet tomboy, but she becomes frightening when alone. She is an ex-con that suffers from extreme anger issues, sometimes breaking objects. She avoids people, only talking to them when necessary. She puts on an emotionless façade, yet her narrative boxes tells the reader she is experiencing a mixture of anger and regret over her sister’s death. The ship seems to cause Alex to have hallucinations of outer space and strange symbols. Is the ship affecting her? Does this mean Alex has a connection with whatever is haunting the ship? Alex is as much of a mystery as the ship, making her an interesting protagonist to follow.
The only people Alex slightly opens up to are the crew, yet they are suspicious. Captain Tetsuya Moa, First Mate St. Martin, and even the doctor seem to know what is going on and are actively covering it up. Are they villains or scared? The interaction Alex has with the crew is only to drive the plot, so they aren’t complex, but this is fine given that complexity tends to slow down horror, a genre reliant on scary thrills more than drama.
Sometimes the story does feel slowed down by its own world building. There is a good amount of focus on the Zemi corporation, suggesting that it is tied to the Southern Cross’s haunting. The reader becomes interested in learning more about Zemi, yet also wants to see ghosts. Some might find the balance between sci-fi and horror a little confusing. Originally, Southern Cross was meant to be a six-issue miniseries, but is now planned as an ongoing. This gives Becky Cloonan plenty of time to explain the plot.
Southern Cross is a trippy series wrapped in mystery, scares, and a little existential angst. The sixth issue comes out this month plus the trade next month. Highly recommended for fans of old school horror/scifi.