Hello and welcome to Day Three aboard the tanker Southern Cross!
When we last left Alex Braith, she was investigating the strange disappearance of her bunkmate, Erin, only to find that a man had mysteriously killed himself in her cabin on a previous flight out. Day Three begins with Alex running down the corridor to confront the captain, in what has now become a running theme with the comic. Once again, the first mate tries to stonewall her before she reaches the captain, and once again, the captain tries to assuage most of her issues.
This time, it seems like the new gravity drive on the ship creates all kinds of odd fluctuations, ranging from headaches and hallucinations to…um…desiccated corpses walking through Alex’s wall. While the captain believes that it’s just infrasound and weird hallucinations, Alex isn’t so sure, and finds herself sneaking into the ship’s records to find out exactly who this mysterious Mr. Flask is, and what he was doing aboard the ship. But the Southern Cross has problems all its own, most of them centered around the ominous new gravity drive…
And for once, Becky Cloonan finally begins to answer some of the questions surrounding exactly what is going on here. Of course, the explanations are mostly false, since the gravity drive has flash-decomposed at least one person and has now vomited ghosts on at least two of the three days on board the ship, but at least there are some reasonable explanations for all the madness going on. And actual explanations, not people babbling about the turbo encabulator and reversing the polarity of neutrons. As the captain explains it, the gravity drive releases vibrations that give off a sound frequency similar to infrasound, one of the possible explanations for parapsychological phenomena. This would also explain Alex’s weird headaches and occasional flashbacks, as things resonating at the same frequency as the brain tend to flip the brain the eff out.
I’ve also come to appreciate the dearth of answers to questions in Southern Cross, as the sheer tonnage of mystery surrounding the ship takes some heat off of the incredibly ominous gravity drive. In any other comic of its type, it would be very obvious that the ghost-vomiting yellow pyramid that causes strange dreams would be the immediate focus two issues in, with three issues devoted to stopping the thing. In Southern Cross…that’s not as certain. Certainly, the gravity drive is the most unsettling part of the ship, and the most obvious culprit (see also: Event Horizon and pretty much any other sci-fi horror movie that’s not Alien) but with so much else going on, it doesn’t have to be the focus for the story, and frequently isn’t. It’s more of a catalyst for the interpersonal clashes on the ship (as well as whatever the crew is hiding), and is treated as such throughout.
There’s not much new to the art here, but I would like to say that I do like a few of the small narrative flourishes Belanger puts into the art. Like the processed pink slime in the mess hall that somehow not only stays in its hot dog bun, but also responds to being stabbed with a fork. Or the fact that the ship’s medical tapes are on a system similar to Betamax. Or the fake ads contained in every issue for things like Space Zubaz and a Zemi Corporation ad about how healthy and safe they are now that features a family wearing hazmat suits. It’s a nice view of exactly how screwed up the world is.
So while there are still shortcomings, I have to say I’m warming to Southern Cross at this point. I still think it’s better as a trade than as a limited series, but at this point, I’m interested to see where it goes again. And hopefully, it’ll be someplace cool.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this comic.