Long Lost #3
Matthew Erman (Writer), Lisa Sterle (Artist)
January 31, 2018
Reviewing each issue of Long Lost is making me think more deeply about horror than I usually do. Issue #1 made me think of the importance of character, while issue #2 made me think on confinement and dread. Issue #3 was a bit more puzzling. At first, there was nothing that stood out to me as particularly emblematic of horror (other than the supernatural elements and the creepiness of early issues, of course), but there’s a page near the middle that cemented it for me—ritual.
There are many elements of Long Lost that feel cyclical, like sisters Piper and Frances are participating in something that’s already been ordained before they arrived. I don’t just mean in the plot sense—I mean within the narrative, it seems that everybody knows something more than the sisters do, and that everything that happens as a result of their presence is unfolding according to plan. The car breaking down in the previous issue was certainly somebody’s plan, and though nobody might have foreseen them being drawn into some kind of ghoulish parade, you get the sense that this is all orchestrated somehow. This had to happen.
We love horror not just because it frightens us, but because it often adheres to a structure. It’s why The Cabin in the Woods worked; there’s an element of glee in watching the hapless heroes stumble into each trap, like pieces of a Rube Goldberg machine. As viewers, we feel a little sense of superiority, because clearly we would never make such silly mistakes, even as we feel sympathy and fear for the characters who end up offed for their lack of genre savvy.
In Long Lost, three issues in, there’s no immediate threat to the sisters’ life. No murderers, no deathtraps, just a looming sense of dread that continuously closes in on them. Piper and Frances aren’t mere archetypes, but you still get the sense that they are falling into order as neatly as if they were dominoes in a line. Sometimes it’s as though they unknowingly stumble into somebody else’s ritual, as in this issue, where their stalled car gets them into what seems to be supernatural trouble, but someone more knowledgeable comes along to get things back under control. You feel this rather than know it; Erman and Sterle keep the focus tight on the sisters in different stages of their lives, only occasionally zooming out to show us that there is more to come, that there’s a world of things happening outside our scope, and they’re all circling the sisters.
Because it is so tightly focused, and because there are no clear-cut answers, at least not yet, we’re as much in the dark and Piper and Frances are. Even as they’re helped by a mysterious, witchy woman in white, it only complicates things. There are events happening all around them, and they’re caught in the middle, just trying to get from one place to another as this vortex of supernatural threats swirls around them.
The interesting thing about Long Lost is that not much happens from issue to issue. There is usually one major event—in this case, the shambling horde and the visitation of the woman in white—that raises the stakes and adds a bit of flavor. Like the deliberate placing of items on an altar, or the strict ordering of words in a spell, the pieces come together to form something much larger. This is quiet horror built on dread, not a splatterfest of blood and gore. The series isn’t ritualistic in that it adheres to every expected story beat of horror, but rather that it captures the feeling of witnessing a ritual you don’t quite understand. You’re certain it means something, you’re certain it’s doing something, but you don’t know the motions.
That could easily be confusing in less capable hands. It’s not uncommon for stories where things aren’t clearly explained for the reader to turn into opaque, dense reads, but Long Lost keeps it simple. We may not know where it’s going, but it’s on a clear path; the ritual is falling into place, the curtain pulling back bit by bit.
The story is slower than some, but that works to build atmosphere. Despite not knowing exactly what’s going on, I leave every issue wanting to know what’s going to happen next, what strange item is going to appear on the altar. I might not understand it yet, but I’m enjoying the aesthetic nonetheless, and I imagine the payoff is going to be well-worth the wait.