As much as I hate the word psychological as a way to describe writing (as if anything made by humans can be devoid of psychology), Becky Cloonan’s Southern Cross comic boasts a central focus on the psychological essence of her protagonist, Alex Bairth, as she embarks on a journey to find out how her sister, Amber, died on Saturn’s horrible moon, Titan.
Amber was the good one and got an administrative job on Titan. It’s not the most dangerous job on the moon, but it’s a mining moon with nothing but ice and oil, and the only shuttle going between it and Earth only makes the trip twice a year.
So when Alex gets on this ship, the Southern Cross, she’s not only onboard for six days straight, but she’s going to a moon where she’ll be for half a year. She’s going to collect her sister’s remains, but she’s also looking for what’s happened to Amber.
That’s what immediately got my attention and convinced me to pick up the first issue. Not only does Southern Cross have a female protagonist, her entire characterization and plotline doesn’t involve falling in love and obsessing over a man.
Alex is just a tough, powerful and protective woman who gives up a lot and puts herself in grave danger for the sake of a sister, a sister, who was successful in ways that Alex failed.
Alex’s whole character is intriguing because at first she appears a little one-dimensional—your typical monosyllabic tough-guy—but that’s far from true. Along with the art of the comic, Alex shifts from the concrete to the abstract and the art gets weird and ridiculously exciting.
Southern Cross really is on the cusp of genres, hard science-fiction in its artwork with an impressive mystery, too. Even the fact that Amber died on a dangerous moon with no way off doesn’t really afford the story a facile explanation.
It ends weirdly violent, and I suspect that the Southern Cross’ secret is something sort of cannibalistic, like a cut-up-people-for-parts kind of cannibalism. You can do that sort of thing when you’re far in space and far from Earth.
A six day trip made every six months—that sounds like a breeding ground for cannibalistic space travel to me.
That, and the massive corporation, Zemi, which owns the mining rig on Titan, the tanker Southern Cross, and the entire space port where Alex launched off and controls literally everything about the lives of oil miners—expendable miners whose lives might not be as valuable to Zemi as the ships they work on.
I hope this space opera explores Amber and Alex’s relationship in the next issues, but there’s also something obviously wrong going on, not only Titan but on the Southern Cross as well. I don’t think Alex will make it six days without noticing and doing something about it.
As much as Southern Cross is already straddling genres, taking the best parts of each, I think it’s only going to get weirder and better.
Cloonan and Belanger are both gifts to science-fiction and horror. It’s like Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidescope” and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars had a baby and that baby knows how to write women like they’re people.
So, if you’re terrified of the cold infinity that is space, you should read Southern Cross because it will only make that fear far, far worse.