Writer: Becky Cloonan
Art: Andy Belanger
Colours: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Serge LaPointe
In Southern Cross, writer Becky Cloonan and cartoonist Andy Belanger engage, to coin a phrase, the Jodorowsky drive. Un momento.
It’s 1975 and in Paris avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo and The Holy Mountain) enlists the help of illustrator Chris Foss, cartoonist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud and painter and sculptor H.R. Giger to work on an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune. As chronicled in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, this collective, with Jodorowsky as its ringmaster, creates the look and feel of what will become modern-day science fiction. The ultimate failure of Jodorowsky’s project crowns it as one of cinema’s greatest ‘what ifs;’ however, the efforts of this fantastic four will bring about Alien, Blade Runner, The Incal, and influence (almost) every bit of science-fiction from then until now. Southern Cross is a worthy successor to the spirit, to the madness, of Jodorowsky’s vision, his drive.
The inspiration for Southern Cross comes from Jodorowsky’s Parisian hothouse, but Cloonan and Belanger are confident in their craft as storytellers so as not to let their muse hector or overwhelm them. Southern Cross starts small with one-time felon, full-time survivor Alex Braith who boards the tanker-transport-cruise-ship the Southern Cross to collect her sister’s remains on the oily ice moon of Saturn, Titan.
This is what Braith wants, but not what she wants in the Hollywood screenwriter sense. From her headband to her fashion forward Monty beret which hides a shock of hair last worn by Aimee Mann when she fronted ‘Til Tuesday, this is a woman who has no truck with trends or authority. Her visual style reflects her standing as an outsider both socially and plot-wise. Briath is the strong silent type, an aura of being verboten with a dash of something almost, yet not quite … criminal, more chaotic neutral. What she wants is to be accepted on her terms. She’s, in a sense, an artist, a visionary. How very Jodorowsky, no?
Cloonan is a subtle-ist of the first order. In her self-published mini-comics (Wolves, The Mire, and Demeter) it’s always the slightest of glances or a minor tic that reveals a character’s intentions or desires. With Cloonan it’s always still waters … This short story form allows her to keep tightening the screws until the tension becomes so unbearable that when the final twist comes it’s a relief as much as a shock. Southern Cross #1 doesn’t take the same tack. Why should it? It’s the beginning of a serial, not a standalone one-shot. The tension felt in The Mire et al. gets transmuted here into the mystery of Alex herself, her sister’s death and the overt creepiness of the ‘character’ of the Southern Cross. It’s all very Alien. In the simplest terms, Alien is a haunted house story set in space and Southern Cross charts a similar course. Braith is not a simulacrum for Ripley the way the Southern Cross and the USCSS Nostromo share similarities. Sure Ripley and Braith could (probably) knock back a couple of whiskeys, but again this is where creation (storytelling) splits form inspiration/devotion. Cloonan is a cagey writer (which must make her one hell of a card player) and she is playing this one close to the vest, which, perhaps like the vest Braith wears would be lined with fringe, natch. Aboard the Southern Cross, patience is the watchword. Be advised, Cloonan waits to devastate.
More than big-eyed aliens, more than pew pew laser guns and even more than the vastness of space, every sci-fi yarn worth its phlebotinum needs a killer spaceship. Wait ‘till you see the Southern Cross. Somewhere between the graceful lines of the Space Cruiser Yamato (or for you anglophiles, the Argo) and the Sulaco from Aliens stands the Southern Cross. If Belanger’s sword and (somewhat) sorcery work in Kill Shakespeare and Black Church left the impression he was a one-trick pony, think again. Look no further than the precision and detail he puts into the design of this series titular vessel. It’s very Foss, very Moebius and proves Belanger’s love for 70’s and 80’s science fiction (and horror) and also how little he regards the ligaments in his wrist. Belanger always draws very busy backgrounds. Yet, be they books, boats or barbarian hoards it never feels busy. He’s (probably) seen a few 90’s era Image comics is all. In Southern Cross all the conduits, cables and CRT screens are choices in style not indulgence.
World-building depends on details, literal signposts or passing references like the ‘Kessel run’ or the ‘Tannhäuser Gate,’ specifics which allow the canvas to expand without having to do so, you know, do so. Belanger brands backgrounds (trademarks them so to speak) with the word “Zemi” and the letters “SLX.” In regards to Zemi, Braith says it’s “a company as dirty as the petrol they sell” and that’s all the reader needs to know, for now, about this Tyrell-type Corporation. Zemi and SLX are what they are, two devils that remain in the details, in the art, a pure example of storytelling, of ‘comics.’
Similar to how the subtlety of Cloonan’s writing bleeds through into Belanger’s art, the same holds true for Lee Loughridge’s colors. With the use of a somewhat limited color scheme, Loughridge walks readers through the Southern Cross like a docent in a haunted house (the Alien thing again). The mantis greens and fluorescent yellows above deck give way to the dark blues and blacks below. In Alex’s cabin, through the use of various violets, Loughridge triggers a synæsthesia-like smell of inhospitableness, the feel of cold glass, slight hints of the creepiness and horrors to come.
Southern Cross is a grower like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, Kiss’s Music From the Elder or Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die!. Let the 12-string acoustic solo of this debut play out, because once Cloonan, Belanger and Loughridge hit that first power chord, Southern Cross is primed to kill (if it hasn’t already).
Southern Cross hits shelves Wednesday, March 11th through Image Comics.
Keith Silva earns a living by asking questions and making sure to listen while the camera rolls. He writes about comics and pop culture for Loser City. These endeavors have made him an inveterate caffeine addict with an increasing taste for stronger vices like Kentucky bourbon and single malt scotch. He does not need his hand held unless it’s by his wife or daughters. @keithpmsilva