Zeb Larson reviews Southern Cross #4…
As the gravity drive starts to malfunction, Braith uncovers a smuggling ring with a trail that leads back to her sister’s murder.
Southern Cross poses an interesting problem for the would-be protagonists of horror comics. If you’re a little bit crazy or a little drugged, how do you figure out what is part of the mystery, what may be a ghost, and what is just good old-fashioned delusion and hallucination? This issue continues to sustain the promise that this series showed in the first issue. If anything, it may be getting even better even as it becomes more difficult to understand. I will be discussing spoilers in this review, so consider yourself forewarned.
Braith and the captain disagree about what they saw last issue in the engine room, though another crew member confirms that somebody has been tampering with the gravity drive. While returning to her room, Braith sees Zia and the drug dealer talking about the man who was murdered on the last trip and realizes that they’re working together. After another hallucination or vision, Braith wakes up in the doctor’s room. The tranquilizer that he gives her only makes her hallucinate more, and after assaulting the doctor, she visits the drug dealer for “wolf’s blood,” a drug whose effects will be revealed in the next issue.
Refusing to settle on mental illness or the paranormal is really sustaining a lot of the dramatic tension in this book. Is it a ghost, or madness, or guilt, or something else? I’m inclined to think that it’s a bit of all of the above. Braith may not be the most stable person, but there’s clearly something foul hiding in the ship. Keeping the mystery alive makes for good horror. Braith’s characterization is what really sells it, though. She’s clearly motivated by intense guilt, which we see in her flashbacks with Amber as well as the feeling of being the screw-up in the family. Interestingly, she’s not trying to run away from it, and this issue sees her apologize to her sister, which is really an attempt to forgive herself for not being there when Amber needed her.
Yet we’re not supposed to feel too sorry for Alex either: she’s not the nicest person, at times seething with barely-restrained hostility. Was the doctor really trying to harm her, or was this all in her head? And the redemptive arc that she’s on has taken a dark turn, because she’s gone back to an old bad habit to try and figure out what’s going on aboard this ship. Perhaps she’ll be able to “lift the veil” and figure out what’s going on aboard this ship, or going further down the rabbit hole might only make things worse. She’s a truly compelling kind of anti-hero: trying to do the right thing, against her own nature, and doing it the wrong way.
It doesn’t hurt this issue that Andy Belanger’s art is especially cool here as Braith hallucinates, dreams, and dives deep into pretty some pretty trippy visions. I’ll admit that I have a strong preference for psychedelia and surreal artwork, and this issue has some of the coolest comic art I’ve seen since Translucid. Overall, this was the series’ best issue so far, and I’m looking forward to more.