Southern Cross by Cloonan, Belanger, Loughridge

Southern Cross, collecting comics 1-6, is frustrating mixture of ambivalence: a story big on ideas and mystery but short on world building and characterizations; incredibly creative layouts saddled with baffling artistic choices ( 1980s fitness video costumes and original Alien movie want their scenics back); science fiction mixed with horror that wants to be 2001 A Space Oddyseey, should have been Aliens, but ultimately comes out a bit too Disney’s A Black Hole. But most of all, this is sadly a confusing mess that is hard to follow and with dialogue so hackneyed as to suspiciously seem more like a B-movie parody than a serious drama. So yes, this is cinematic but not in a good way.

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Story: Alex Braith boards a tanker to Titan to retrieve her twin sister’s body. Along the way, the ship’s power source starts to fluctuate and Alex begins to have hallucinations of her sister. Then bodies begin turning up (or missing), smugglers threaten, and everyone, from captain to ship’s doctor, has an agenda and an axe to grind. For there is something very mysterious going on with the Southern Cross – and Alex isn’t going to make her destination.

While reading this, the first thing I noticed were the creative layouts – the illustrator really made excellent use of the sci fi concept here. At times, though, it was form over function and I had a hard time figuring out which panel to follow. E.g., a great sequence had Alex being shown to her room on the ship – going across horizontal hallways and vertical stairwells to beautiful effect across the pages. But the same conceit made it hard to follow the expository dialogue – which was setting up the plot. It’s annoying to have to read a page four times in order to get the order of what is being said correct so it actually makes sense.

Similarly problematic were the characters. Alex was supposed to be tough – the bad girl who chose the wrong paths in life. But her lack of impetus, intelligence, or logic made it hard to connect with her. Of course, that she was drawn like Olivia Newton John in the Let’s Get Physical video didn’t help. Sure, it is probably the illustrator grounding of the story in the era/style of the movie Alien, which was around the same time (1979-1981). But it didn’t work for me. Any other characters other than Alex were cyphers.

People going crazy in space due to ‘phenomenons’ is not new or original. That’s what we have here though – the use of Alien and A Space Odyssey in the introduction to this review isn’t coincidental. From Sunshine to Solaris, Event Horizon to Prometheus, Lovecraftian inspired sci fi is perhaps becoming a bit too routine. As with Southern Cross, it tries to be cerebral but just ends up feeling far too well worn and overly familiar. The story here is especially over long and drawn out, with far too much boring filler in order to pad out a 1 issue story into 6.

Perhaps most problematic for me was the really bad, abrupt, or unbelievable dialogue. I can recall at least three times while reading this when I had to stop, back up, and wonder if someone left out a panel or a whole page. I’m not quite sure what the author was trying to convey with various conversations but too often nothing fit organically into the story. It made the characters feel schizophrenic, random, or incredibly bi-polar.

Southern Cross was a disappointment to me. If this was an homage to 1980s Lovecraftian sci fi, it needed both more or less to really sell the concept. If it wasn’t, then someone should have recognized that far too much ‘inspiration’ was lifted without actually creating something new. It’s a shame, realy, because sci fi rarely get some truly kick-butt characters like Ripley; Alex Braith certainly wasn’t. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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