Long Lost #4
Matthew Erman, Lisa Sterle
February 28, 2018
There’s something uncanny about small towns. I should know; I grew up in one. It was the kind of place where everybody knew your business, but more importantly, it was the kind of place where when I broke the news that I was going to go explore a dilapidated house by the river, my grandpa said, “Be careful.” I could hear the warning in his voice—be careful, not of rusty nails or loose floorboards, but of something else, something sinister, something that didn’t have a name.
Long Lost #4 is a lot like that. Sisters Piper and Frances, rescued from the strange, supernatural threat of the woods, return to their hometown of Hazel Patch, which, to them, likely feels exactly as it should. Windows are shuttered, the buildings are dilapidated, the town’s inhabitants shabby and haggard, especially in comparison to the two sisters. Rendered in a slightly sketchier, more detailed style, Hazel Patch’s townfolk are a clear contrast to our protagonists, who are gently rounded and more youthful in expression. Even Piper’s constant dour look stands in contrast to the hardship baked into the expressions of Hazel Patch’s residents.
These little details add up; the emptiness of the town, the concerned, shifty looks of the townsfolk, and the shift in lettering when one of the residents starts to cough. Like previous issues, Long Lost #4 is filled with dread, layering different kinds of apprehension on top of one another. Even when things are peaceful, they aren’t. There’s always tension between Piper and Frances, and, in the rare moments when their conversation isn’t strained, the boarded-up windows of shops in the background are a reminder that there’s something being covered up.
So much of that tension comes from the things we don’t know. Long Lost doesn’t deal much in dramatic irony; for everything we know that the characters don’t, the characters know two things that we don’t. There’s an element of voyeurism to the story as we follow the sisters through discovering what’s happened to their mother, who is supposed to be kept in an institution but has seemingly disappeared, and the mysterious invitation to her birthday party.
These questions work because answers aren’t constantly withheld; they’re given regularly, but each answer introduces two more questions. In issue four, we find out who that mysterious woman in the woods from issue three was, but that only makes us want to know more. Our questions are anticipated and answered, but it’s always revealed that we weren’t asking the right questions to begin with.
Everything is set against the backdrop of this broken-down town, riddled with empty lots for sale and neighbors with terse expressions peering out from behind the curtains. There’s a threat here the sisters aren’t privy to—a subtext the issue makes textual—that goes beyond the supernatural.
That broken-down old house in my hometown that I explored, camera in hand, was a symbol, ghosts or no. Our town was wracked with horrific income disparity, poor mental health services access, rampant drug use. A man had killed himself in that house, probably years before I was born, and still it stood there, slowly sinking into the marsh, haunted, if not by the supernatural, by all the town’s unaddressed problems. I suspect the same is true of Hazel Patch.
Long Lost’s slow, deliberate pacing may not be enough for everybody, I’m in it for the long haul.