There's more than enough of Greil Marcus's Mystery Train jammed into Steve Niles and Glenn Fabry's Lot 13. But that's not even where the real art of this book lies.
The '90s were a heady, postmodern time. I'm richer for having survived it, but sometimes I want my money back. Especially when I relive the trauma of Grant Morrison's the Invisibles (Volume Two). My particular trauma, not yours.
It's the moment at the start of "American Death Camp", where King Mob recounts his time-travel trip backwards in time to the 1930s where he discovered a much older Jack Frost who in turn recanted his own misgivings (voiced all those years ago) that King Mob had indeed time-traveled. Turn the page, and we enter the scene where a much younger Jack Frost voices those misgivings for the very first time and creates a rift in his friendship with King Mob.
My particular trauma? It goes around the line "How come you can believe in the Devil, and not in God?"; that's Jack Frost to King Mob. But after a decade of lovingly having chased down and grown into every Greil Marcus piece I could find, it's hard not to read that line as a code, a sort of literary tip of the hat to Mystery Train. Especially to the "Ancestors" section and more especially to the Robert Johnson Chapter. It's in that chapter after all, that Marcus draws a straight line from Fitzgerald's Gatsby and Gatsby having been swindled out of America, and Robert Johnson and the old blues-myth of meeting the Devil and striking a deal with him for legendary talent on the guitar.
There's a über-nerd moment that evolves from this. Isn't it clear that Morrison is saying that not having the scifi tomorrow we were promised, flying cars and moon-base cities and time-travel and the like, is us getting swindled just as badly as Gatsby or as Robert Johnson? The real trauma in that moment though, is what if I'd encountered the Invisibles first, and not Mystery Train? Would I have lost out on all that intertextual magic?
The prospect of having lost out in that way is still as real and as frightening to me as anything. But living out that fear as I do each time I read the Invisibles: American Death Camp, does rob the Invisibles of something, does rob Morrison of something, does rob me of something. Shouldn't the Invisibles stand in for itself?
Maybe it's because I not only am older, but because I can feel that I've grown older in this world that swindles, maybe it's because I want different things now, but it's Niles and Fabry's Lot 13 strikes a very different chord. It's easy to remain infused with the terror of the living moment. Ron hasn't had an easy time of it on the Soul's Journey Westwards. He and his family both have come under the power of the enigmatic and powerful Judge. And now his only hope lies with the spirits he came into conflict with when he first arrived. These are the places no Soul should ever find itself; neither Heaven nor Hell. And more and more, it seems like Ron is settling in. What if, Niles seems to prod readers, the great, grand swindle continues on after you die?
There's more than enough of the grandeur of American Gothic to be seen here in this fourth issue of Lot 13. More than enough of the dark underbelly that Marcus taps into for Mystery Train. But unlike the younger me who sought such things out as if they were prizes, with Lot 13 you only need to go there, if you so choose.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Lot 13 #4, available this Wednesday, 1/30.