(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for The Nice House on the Lake #1. For a spoiler-free buy/pass verdict on the issue, scroll to the end of the review.)
The Nice House on the Lake #1
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: AndWorld Design
Cover Artist: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
James Tynion IV is on an incredible hot streak. His run on Batman has only gotten better following the events of the “Joker War” storyline, and the ongoing Joker series, at a time when The Joker is perhaps more overexposed than he ever has been before, has avoided the pitfall of character burnout to craft a fascinating character study of Jim Gordon. Outside of DC, the Razorblades anthology has garnered great acclaim from horror fans, and his creator-owned series Something is Killing the Children with Werther Dell’Edera has done the same, while The Department of Truth with Martin Simmonds has offered a captivating look at the nature of truth and reality, landing the series on many end-of-year lists for 2020, including taking the eighth spot on The Beat’s.
This week sees the debut of another new creator-owned project from Tynion IV and artist Álvaro Martínez Bueno, from DC’s Black Label imprint. Jordie Bellaire and AndWorld Design round out the team for The Nice House on the Lake #1, a comic that’s basically everything you could want from the first issue of a series.
The cast for The Nice House on the Lake is large but not unwieldy, with eleven houseguests introduced cleverly via what appear to be bio cards put together by the book’s twelfth character, the somewhat mysterious Walter. Honestly, meeting these characters and being with them in the house felt like actually being at a party with a bunch of people you’ve just met. I’m good with faces but terrible with names, so the fact that each character gets a designation — “The Writer,” “The Painter,” “The Acupuncturist,” etc. — and a distinctive look that seems to reflect their personality offered a nice shorthand for keeping track of all of them and their relationships with each other. Ryan, the first character readers meet and the one we know the most about as events unfold, offers a touchstone as new players are introduced, like the friend who brought you to the party in the first place. It’s a wonderful effect that draws the reader into the experience, leaving them feeling like more than just an outside observer.
Part of that also comes from the way Ryan’s introduction is handled. The first handful of pages are set at some point in what looks to be a post-apocalyptic future, after the events of the rest of the issue, with Ryan geared up and making her way through unidentified ruins. Her backstory and how she came to be at the titular nice house is all told by Ryan directly to the reader, immediately bringing them in before stepping back for the remainder of the issue as described earlier. During those pages Ryan describes her relationship with Walter as an ongoing conversation, and by opening the issue this way it feels like Ryan is bringing the reader into that chat, which makes the way it ultimately plays out even more effective.
Enhancing that experience for the reader additionally are the handful of text/design pages that appear throughout the issue. Emails between Walter and Ryan are presented early that offering intriguing background for the gathering at the house, but most effective is a double-page spread later in the issue that’s made to look like messages on a social media app. World events play out in real time on Twitter and Facebook now, and that that is also how the characters in the book find out about what’s going on outside of where they are added another great layer of verisimilitude to the story. AndWorld Design brought their A-game to that spread and it worked beautifully.
The Nice House on the Lake #1 is nothing short of a stunning opener, an example of work from creators operating at the absolute top of their game. This book has everything a horror story needs: engaging characters, a startling hook, and the promise that things are going to get so much worse. In the hands of Tynion IV, Bueno, and co., I’m excited to see where the conversation goes.
Final Verdict: an emphatic BUY.
- DC kicks off their Pride celebration with Crush & Lobo #1, which is an utter delight. Mariko Tamaki absolutely packs this book with Crush’s personality, and Amancay Nahuelpan and Tamra Bonvillain make her pop off the page whether she’s fighting in an alley or dancing at her girlfriend’s birthday party. I admit I had no idea what to expect from this book, and it grabbed me and threw me around and was annoyed with me for having to do it, which it turns out is really damn fun.
- The new DC Horror imprint also officially kicks off this week with The Conjuring: The Lover. If you’re looking for either of the Warrens in this issue you’ll be disappointed, as David L. Johnson-McGoldrick, Rex Ogle, Garry Brown, and Mike Spicer spend the issue setting up…something? I’m not sure what, but it doesn’t look good for the teenaged girl at the center of it. It’s a lot of mood and place-setting that will hopefully pick up as the series progresses. The back-up story from Scott Snyder and Denys Cowan, plus a few gag ad pages from Dave Johnson, round out the package well and up the entertainment level quite a bit.
- The extended sort-of-crossover between Suicide Squad and Teen Titans Academy concludes with this week’s Suicide Squad #4. This series has been really strong up to this point, but the new issue largely comes across as putting pieces in place for what’s to come, with Red X doing the arranging. With still no information about who Red X is from the main series in which he’s appearing, he still just feels like a plot device and not an actual character, and he acts accordingly in his appearance in this book. I’d rather have seen the members of the Squad figure things out on their own without an outside character just laying things out for them (and for the reader). Hopefully next issue gets back on track.
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