"Southern Cross" #3 continues the slow burning mystery aboard the titularly named ship as Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger heaps more mystery on Alex Braith, revealing to readers some new supernatural elements that may have been at play in her sister's death. It's an atmospheric issue, full of dark colors and darker character motivations.
The issue opens right where the previous one left off, as Braith flees the mysterious presence she saw in her room. Cloonan's protagonist is a self-assured woman, though the writer isn't afraid to give her more dimensions. Braith herself seems to be afraid of that added dimension, though it seems to keep showing against her wishes. She wishes to be a Loner and a Rebel but finds herself intrigued and reliant on the captain of the ship. Andy Belanger illustrates Alex with such a poker face throughout the series that, when she does crack, it's an explosion of emotion. The opening page of the book is not only cleverly designed to incorporate credits and publisher information but displays the sheer terror in the protagonist's face as she flees from what she doesn't understand. There is some dark humor in the tale, particularly any time food is introduced, but -- overall -- Cloonan keeps things moody and dark. Braith's bunkmate is still missing and, though some tease is given to this mystery, the writer still holds onto the reveal.
The hardest part of creating a book that relies on a particularly heightened mood is drawing readers back to that mindset after a month away from it. Belanger and Lee Loughridge provide the heavy lifting for this task, filling the opening scenes with dark, under lit panels full of greens and blues. Serge LaPointe's lettering also contributes with hard angles on speech bubbles that create visual tension and sound effects that lean more on straight lines than curved. It maintains a clinical, cold nature for each page, revealing the hardscrabble environment of the Cross in a different way.
"Southern Cross" is starting to approach the mystery tipping point, as much has been teased but very little revealed. It's unfair to the creators to demand answers, but the work to this point has been enjoyable and it would be a shame to have expectations turn sour if it looks like there are none in sight. Readers have now been given three months of mysterious happenings and the dubious motives of strangers; though it has only been 66 pages of story, the real time publishing effect on an audience's expectations can lead to disinterest. Cloonan is deft at creating stories that dabble in these darker corners of the human psyche, so hopefully it will shake out, but it is something to keep an eye out for as the series progresses. It's possible that, when collected, this point will be moot, as the month-long wait between chapters will no longer exist and the compression of the story will increase the pace.
Cloonan and Belanger work very well together to create a dark, claustrophobic mystery that takes its time to unfold. It's certain that there are even more mysteries yet to be revealed on this dangerous and possibly haunted ship. Though readers are still in the dark, the story is done well enough that they are encouraged to stay on board "Southern Cross."