The only people who ever travel to the filthy industrial moon of Titan are desperate, and Alex Braith is no different. She boards the Southern Cross, a cargo ship on its way to Titan, after the sudden death of her sister Amber, who worked on the surface of the moon. It isn’t uncommon for miners to meet untimely deaths in the bowels of the moon, but Amber was an administrator working in relative safety, and the circumstances of her death were a mystery.
Although on paper Alex’s mission is just to collect her sister’s remains, she is hell-bent on discovering the truth behind Amber’s death. When her bunkmate disappears under mysterious circumstances, Alex becomes even more desperate to uncover the truth. As the ship inexorably makes its way toward its destination, Alex begins to discover dark secrets about the strange ship and its unscrupulous passengers. The more deception and intrigue she exposes, the more it becomes obvious that the Southern Cross itself is not only inextricably linked with Amber’s death but is also spiraling toward a potentially world-ending disaster.
Southern Cross, Becky Cloonan’s (Gotham Academy, The Punisher) latest offering, is a murder mystery flavored with cosmic horror. The story is a slow burn rather than an immediate punch to the gut, and gradually building tension often makes for the most chilling horror stories. But I found the volume missing what I really craved: a creeping sense of dread and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in space with nowhere to run. Furthermore, initially, I struggled to connect with Alex because she maintained the attitude of an aloof, unfriendly loner for much of the story. Excitement and tension do begin to ramp up in the last third of the volume, and Alex becomes infinitely more likeable as we discover more of her past. The cliffhanger at the end of the novel left me on the edge of my seat and curious about where the story would go next. However, readers will need to struggle through the beginning to get to that point.
Unfortunately, aspects of the story also had me struggling with my suspension of disbelief. Chief among these instances was the fact that Alex could walk right onto the bridge of the cargo ship and pull the captain away from his work whenever she wanted. It smacked of contrivance rather than careful plotting, and it was so bizarre that it jarred me out of the story. Further revelations about the captain’s character during later issues made it even more unbelievable that he would humor an amateur investigator’s whims.
Southern Cross’s chief strength lies in its artwork. Andy Belanger excels at painting the setting—a dirty, industrial ship that is inhospitable to passengers and crew alike. Belanger’s art for this volume is gritty and mostly gray, and it immediately establishes the tone of Alex’s journey and makes you feel like you’re right there with the seedy passengers of the Southern Cross. Pops of color are jarring and almost otherworldly, and they serve to draw the reader’s focus exactly where Belanger intends. It is a superb complement to the mercilessly dark story.
While my overall impression of this volume was lukewarm, the cliffhanger ending was so sensational that reading it left me excited for the next volume. It has the potential to change the direction of the story entirely, and I am eager to see where Alex and the remaining crewmembers and passengers will end up. Any reader that can power through the slow opening and enjoys a good mystery with a Lovecraftian bent likely won’t be left disappointed. However, selectors should know that graphic violence coupled with mature language and situations leave this graphic novel best suited for its intended adult audience.
Southern Cross Volume 1
by Becky Cloonan
Art by Andy Belanger
Image Comics, 2016