Hello and welcome back to the freighter Southern Cross!
Last month, our intrepid and bellicose heroine Alex Braith boarded the Southern Cross on a journey to Titan to discover the truth about her sister. She met the creepy guy across the hall, saw the weird core that allowed them to jump through space so the trip only took five days, and avoided the questions of her bunkmate, an investigator for the Zemi Corporation. She also uncovered that her sister was well-known by the crew, and frequently took trips to them. To make matters worse, something was calling to her…
And if there’s one thing Cloonan loves, it’s questions that need to be answered. Seriously, there are more mysteries here than a Moffatt season of Doctor Who. On day two of the Southern Cross’s voyage, Alex awakes to find her bunkmate Erin has vanished mysteriously overnight, the only trace of her being the pile of clothes left suspiciously as if they were in the shape of a person. The crew seems to be dealing with a crisis in the morning, and so is a lot shorter and sharper with Alex than they were the previous day.
Right away, Cloonan piles on the mysteries, including where Erin is, more about Alex’s past with her sister, and that Kyril, the creep across the hall, has creepy knuckle tattoos. Furthermore, Lon, a seemingly friendly passenger knows more than what he lets on, telling Alex that a man killed himself in the room where she’s staying.
So first the good: Andy Belanger’s art is still top-notch. The French influences are still clear, though without as many sweeping vistas, a lot of this falls to the very angular retro-futuristic ship designs and the characters, who frequently look as if they would be right at home in Enki Bilal’s Nikopol trilogy. What’s interesting about the particular color composition is that each area has a different prevailing color: Blue for the ship corridors and the exteriors, green for the mess hall, violet for Alex’s cabin, and so on and so forth. This actually helps to understand the action better, as it gives everywhere a good sense of place. The art also gives a nice feeling of slow-ramping tension as faces turn more sinister. Belanger also does a good job with panel composition, making everything feel like the cramped interior of a spaceship without making the panels feel overly cluttered.
But the issue with the comic, and there’s a huge issue, is that the writing bolted from one extreme in the first issue to another extreme in the second issue. As I said above, Cloonan has loaded Southern Cross down with a lot of mysteries and questions to be answered, without necessarily building on all the questions from the previous issue. Instead, there’s a host of new questions, linked tenuously to the plot of the first issue by the same characters. There are also some major issues with pacing in the issue, in that right when I thought I understood what was going on and things were really getting good, the issue ended.
Before that, the issue is somewhat jumbled, with nothing in particular being solved. While Alex does find out more about the central mystery (her sister’s accidental death), just about everything else raises more questions than it answers. Who was the man who killed himself in cabin 17? What do those tattoos on Kyril’s fingers mean? What’s the crisis the Southern Cross was dealing with that morning? And these are added to the questions from last issue: What was calling to Alex on the previous night? Why does it seem like the crew knew Alex’s sister a lot better than they’re letting on?
Now, I know that this is part of the fun of a serialized mystery. You don’t get to know all the facts, and things are revealed. But most of this is ruined by Southern Cross #2‘s annoying habit of piling on question after question. I know it’s all going to be solved, but at this point, after two issues of question after question after question, I’d be glad if they solved even one mystery they bothered to bring up. Just one. Any one.
In the end, while this is still a quality book, I’m looking forward to the next issue less because I want to revisit these characters and the world they inhabit, and more because I would like to see Belanger, Cloonan, and their staff answer just one question or solve one mystery in the entire glorious mess. While I’m still interested in the story, I feel like this is a chapter that will be better off read in a TPB than grabbed off the shelves at the local comic shop.
Southern Cross Issue #2 is out now.
Full disclosure: The author of this review received a digital copy of this comic for review.