Lot 13 (Steve Niles) – Graphic Novel Review

Steve Niles is a name that will be familiar to fans of horror comics, as having created the hugely popular 30 Days of Night, and The October Faction, as well as working on other horror titles such as 28 Days Later: The Aftermath, and even bringing more horror focused stories to characters like Batman.

Lot 13 is not a new book from Niles, having originally been published as individual issues by DC Comics in 2013, but the new graphic novel collection of the story by Dark Horse is the first time that it has been collected together in graphic novel form, allowing many readers to discover it for the very first time.

Lot 13 begins in the year 1670 in the small colony of Fairfax, Virginia, where a man is on trial. However, this isn’t the kind of trial that you’re used to; the man, Robert Wyatt, killed his entire family and then himself. The bodies of the Wyatt family have been dumped on chairs in the courtroom, sacks tied over their heads, and are on trial for the mortal sin of murder and suicide (with the victims somehow being condemned too). Upon being found guilty, and their souls denied a place in the afterlife, the townspeople assault their corpses.

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In the modern day a young couple and their three teenage kids are packing up their apartment and moving across country to start their new life in their own house. Unfortunately, when they arrive at their home there’s been some kind of mix-up, and the house is being fumigated. With nowhere else to stay, the family begins searching for somewhere to rest up for the night. They start to see strange things, ghostly figures that shouldn’t exist.

When the family thinks that they hit a small boy with their truck they come to a screeching halt, only to find the blood that spattered their windshield gone, and no sign of the accident. It’s then that they spot a lone apartment building, standing in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, advertising apartments to rent by the night. Realising that they’re all tired and need to rest, the family check into the building on lot 13, little realising that they may never check out.

One of the biggest issues that I had when reading Lot 13 is that despite being five issues long nothing much really happens in the book, with all of the main story being set up in issue one, and paid off in issue five, with everything that happens in between either feeling rushed, or added for the sake of padding. It also means that for a lot of the book weird stuff simply happens, and there’s no rhyme or reason for it. The ghost of a little boy shows up and says creepy cryptic things, but who knows why? The ghosts jump from scaring the family to helping them from page to page. So much of the book is just reading stuff happening and hoping that it makes sense at some point down the line.

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With this being a horror book, however, Niles tries to fill these moments of nothing by making them scary, and unfortunately he does this with excessive blood and gore. The ghosts in this book are bloody and beaten, with the wounds that killed them following them into the afterlife. As a result half the characters are talking with half their faces blown off, or their bodies ripped open.

It feels like a lot of this is done for shock or gross factor, and as such it quickly wears pretty thin. Perhaps the worst part is when a sexual assault scene is thrown into the book. This moment could have been included without the book showing the victim being assaulted, but instead a couple of pages are given over to a moment that feels gross more than it does horrific.

There are moments in the story that feel like the writer trying to make a moment feel cool, such as the family equipping themselves with more guns than the army, and mowing their way through hordes of the undead as they try to escape Lot 13. If anything, this moment just ends up feeling ridiculous, and kind of out of place, and takes out any of the horror that the book may have managed to build for itself. A family trapped in an ever shifting maze of a building filled with ghosts and ghouls could be scary, but not when they’re tooled up like Rambo.

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The art on the book, by Glenn Fabry, is decent, and manages to make the grosser elements of the book come to life well. There are several scenes absolutely packed with characters and details, and it’s clear that Fabry has put a lot of work into making these moments feel overwhelming for the characters in them. There are a lot of times the book feels too bright, however, to fully lean into the horror elements, and everything is on display. Much like a horror film that never turns the lights down, the book almost feels like it’s showing off too much, and taking some of that fear away.

Steve Niles is a big name in horror comics, and because of that I took a shot at Lot 13 but it’s a book that I failed to connect with. A lot of it felt like it was treading water, and a lot of it felt like it was trying to freak the audience out with gore and blood rather than actually trying to build tension. If blood and guts and weird stuff is your jam then you may find something here worth while.

Lot 13 is out in paperback on 18th May and digitally on 6th June.

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