If you listened to NBC! Podcast Episode 9 you would have heard me express a little bit of disappointment for Southern Cross #1. Let me be clear though, I definitely enjoyed the book, I just hold Becky Cloonan in such high regard that I was kid-in-a-candy-store excited for it to come out. I placed too much hype on just one issue, because I know that with Becky Cloonan the payoff is the complete story. My first read’s through The Mire, Wolves and Demeter I was able to acknowledge the high caliber of writing and the interesting mysterious stories. However it was not until my second read through each where I really understood what was going on and the level of these books rose with every layer I could uncover. In the end I loved all three of the stories. It is also common knowledge that I absolutely love Gotham Academy. One of the best DC books right now and one of my favorite comics these days. So to say I was disappointed with Southern Cross #1 is like saying I was disappointed that my favorite child (Oh come on you know you have a favorite) came runner up for the math award. I know what my child is capable of and I just want the best out of them (I think this is how parenting works; favorites and disappointment…I don’t have kids). I just want the best out of Becky Cloonan and one issue of Southern Cross didn’t get me there.
Well just as expected I really enjoyed issue #2. I’m starting to get more into the story, with every new page that I turn I am being dragged deeper and deeper onto the ship. I’ve said it many times before I love slow burn sci-fi horrors. Southern Cross was such a slow burn that I didn’t even realize it was a slow burn comic after one issue! Now that is a serious slow burn. The reading of issue #2 has enhanced the quality of issue #1 in my mind. Alex wakes up and her roommate is not in the room and hasn’t returned for quite some time, so Alex the kind soul she is (sarcasm, girl aint kind) takes it upon herself to go looking for her missing roommate Erin. The more people we meet on this ship the more creepy they all seem. With every new Joe Shmoe she talks to I get a worse and worse vibe. Everyone on this ship knows something that Alex doesn’t and everyone is being super weird about it. It is not just the people that are creepy either, there is definitely something messed up going on with the ship. Alex get’s random splitting headaches whenever she starts to uncover clues about her sisters death. The issue builds the unsettling feeling very slowly. Page by page. Panel by panel. Word by word. Until the final two pages which cues you in that yes, you were right to feel uneasy because this is a horror book.
These pages are beautiful. Andy Belanger is walking us through this ship. He establishes the confined space that Alex has to live in, while also viewing the vast universe just outside her window. His space pages are boundless. Do not even get me started on that final page. Wow!
Southern Cross #2 get’s my approval. Today this father is proud of his favorite child.
The debut issue of Southern Cross is a deeply strange, sharp and curious comic that sharply builds up it’s world, character & story to great effect in it’s stunning and outer-worldly opening. Southern Cross set’s itself up as a dark science fiction mystery with a twist following it’s ornery protagonist as she leaves earth on a large space ship to investigate the mysterious death of her maternal sister in an off planet mining colony. It immediately has a feeling of the type of detail and epic scope that you saw in Prophet but writer Cloonan makes it feel more personal and contained in a good way by having the focus be squarely on it’s main character. Although Cloonen started out as an artists, with this book, her Gotham Academy writing and her self published work, she is proving to be as adept at writing comics as drawing them, where she has shown a gift to balance unique individual stories within fantastic and lively settings. If this is what she is capable of in a short time with a limited sample size, I think it’s possible she will be one of comics best creators with a little more growth and time, Southern Cross feels like nothing she’s done before in terms of it’s ambition but it carries the same style and strength that she brought to her past work. Artist Andy Belanger has been one of comics best kept secrets on creator owned work like Kill Shakespeare or the delightfully dark, dopey & entertaining small press book Black Church but Southern Cross is easily the biggest book he’s been on and he takes his visual style to the next level. The illustrations are equal parts wide screen fascinating in the way they show the scope of open space, as they are detailed in hitting the stories emotional beats. Cloonan and Belanger have an unnaturally strong connection and synergy that’s rare to see on a comics debut but that makes for a highly enjoyable and exciting first experience with the book. Image and it’s competitors may be flooding the market with new material, but so far Southern Cross feels like a cut above the rest of all the new series we’ve seen from comics so far in 2015, it’s a little bit more imaginative, a little bit more lively, a little more unique and a little bit better. Don’t sleep on this.