One might liken an actor taking up directing to a comic book artist taking up writing. It makes a heck of a lot of sense to do so since they most assuredly understand the process, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Other times, though, it’s a resounding success and you’d imagine in the realm of comic books an artist-turned-writer knows how to pace, plan and layout a story better than any actor knows how to direct. Artist turned writer Becky Cloonan proves knowing how to draw correlates with good storytelling.
We’ve got an advance review of Southern Cross #1 which comes out in comic shops on March 11th. Is it good?
Southern Cross #1 (Image Comics)
This series is being billed as a science fiction horror and by issue’s end it’s incredibly apparent it hits the nail on the head when it comes to its intentions. Protagonist Alex Braith is on a mission to find out how her sister died, gather her remains and get back home. Only problem is, to do so she needs to ride the Southern Cross, a tanker on its way to the moon of Jupiter known as Titan. Nothing is as it seems it appears, and there are plenty of folks amongst her that are hiding their secrets. In a lot of ways this is a mystery, and with any mystery there’s a large cast of characters to be introduced which takes up a lot of this issue’s time.
Excuse me, where do I stand?
Like the ship of Southern Cross, Cloonan keeps the writing tight, with a slow but steady pace that’s always relevant. Horrorphiles might cry foul after reading the issue, but it’s apparent the horror is building slowly and isn’t quite at the surface yet. No, this issue is more like the first ten minutes of a good episode of X-Files (or, for a more contemporary reference, Breaking Bad) right before the title sequence. The focus is given and the scary stuff is teased, but only just so. Instead of monsters, gore and horror we’re privy to learning more about Braith, being introduced to the claustrophobic ship and learning more about the slowly growing cast of characters. All this with a final page that screams, “stay tuned kiddies, because it’s about to get real creepy!”
In some ways Braith isn’t very likeable, but this appears to be on purpose, as she’s rather uncomfortable around other people, at least when it comes to her mission on Southern Cross. This creates a drama, particularly because she’s stuck on a ship, but also forced to bunk with someone to boot. You can’t blame a character for being antisocial when her sister has just died, but that’ll only make the friendships formed in the series all the more compelling as it progresses. After getting to know Braith and the supporting characters, everyone should be excited for what’s to come after the final page’s big reveal. That might not be enough for everyone but there’s a heck of a lot more to come and this is only the tip of the iceberg, with more to learn when the ship reaches Titan, and what exactly happened to Braith’s sister.
Glorious side scrolling action!
The art by Andy Belanger is rather great if not fantastic. The layouts are constantly shifting and changing and tell the story wonderfully. While the characters have a slightly cartoon feel to them, the backgrounds and setting are always very detailed and interesting to look at. This helps make the characters fleshy and at risk, with all the hard detailed surroundings around them. I can’t help but think Cloonan has asked Belanger to fill this book with little details to flesh out the world even though space is scarce at times. Case in point, Braith goes to wash her face but needs to swipe a card to get the water to come out. It’s a small detail, but it adds a bit of reality to the proceedings which go a long way into making this a believable story.
I also really dig Belanger’s use of side scrolling angles, which not only help fit more characters and items on screen, but help make the ship feel tight. One page in particular shows Braith walking down a corridor, down a ladder, through a room, down an elevator and so on throughout the page. It has a Shoots and Ladders feel but it’s all via a side scrolling view. It not only keeps the dialogue interesting, it makes the reader view the ship in their head all the better. Considering the script doesn’t call for any action the artist is incredibly important in keeping things interesting and Belanger does so in every single panel.
The color is by Lee Loughridge and it does a great job expressing mood and atmosphere. Cabin scenes use a lot of purple, which set a more late night sleepy feel, less busy hallways in a sickly green color that give off a creepy mysterious nature while populated areas are cast in a lighter pea soup green that’s offputting but a little more forgiving. Overall the color helps distinguish scenes from each other, but also helps define its setting.
Love the details.
Is It Good?
Color, writing and art come together in this fantastic first issue, introducing a brooding mystery that peels back just enough to dare you to read what could turn out to be the scariest science fiction comic of the year.