Thursday, 21 January 2016

Southern Cross, Volume 1 Review (Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger)

Mining’s a tough gig - especially on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons! But Amber Braith didn’t die in a mining accident - she was an administrator. How did Amber die? Her sister, Alex, sets out on the space tanker Southern Cross to claim her sister’s remains and find out for herself what happened. 

Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger’s new series Southern Cross is a brilliant sci-fi horror murder mystery. Obviously it’s set in the future or an alternate timeline where humans have mastered space travel and begun mining celestial bodies for resources; yet at its core the comic has the flavour of an Agatha Christie or Patricia Highsmith novel. The Southern Cross’s design is similar to real oil tankers mixed with elements of a cruise ship so it feels like a murder mystery on an ocean liner-type story! 

Alex shares a room with an annoying young woman with a secret - who then disappears. Could it have something to do with her sister? And then she discovers a man was murdered in her room during the last voyage - and the murderer was never caught! Cloonan ratchets up the tension by slowly releasing pieces of a larger story. Readers catch a glimpse of the captain’s scarred back, the first mate is nervous, the ship’s doctor is acting suspiciously - the paranoia builds up beautifully making for a deliciously unpredictable read. 

Belanger’s art is excellent and I loved how he presents space travel as anything but smooth like we’re so used to seeing in movies and TV. Here, the Southern Cross barrels through the solar system chaotically, rings of fire surround the ship, its engines roaring, rocks flashing past. It weirdly makes space travel seem more relatable, like it’s just a really turbulent voyage on stormy seas – a very interesting perspective. 

A lot of pages stand out visually, especially the trippier sequences, helped by Belanger’s creative layouts, and the work of colourist Lee Loughridge (Deadly Class) is a huge reason for that. His vibrant, unsettling and eye-catching choices for colouring space (and Loughridge’s space is wonderfully BRIGHT!) and the strange direction the series goes in towards the end makes the comic pop in such a spectacular way.

I had some minor issues with the story. Alex’s access to the captain at all times was a little too convenient (she’s just a passenger, he’s the captain – doesn’t he have work to be getting on with?!), as were what he had to say at key points in the plot. There’s also a pretty damning piece of video that happened to be lying around for an inquisitive protagonist like Alex to access! And Cloonan lets go of the reins completely by the end allowing the story to go very 2001-y which is related to my next point: there are too many questions left unanswered by the finale of the book to call this a totally satisfactory read. Then again this is volume one in a series so I’m sure we’ll start to get some answers in the next book - I’ll definitely be returning to find out what they are! 

Southern Cross has the menacing atmosphere of classic space-set movies like 2001 and Alien blended with an almost traditional Poirot-type crime mystery and sprinkled with Stephen King-like moments of horror - it’s as heady a combination as it sounds! The story is a slow burn to start but rewards the patient reader as it gathers momentum for a bombastic finish. This is a splendid first volume in a very promising new series – I definitely recommend boarding the Southern Cross!

Southern Cross, Volume 1

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