This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on June 1, 2021.
This is a difficult review to write. That’s not because there’s nothing to say; there’s plenty to be said about The Nice House On The Lake and it has only published one issue. The problem here is the series’ debut benefits from not being discussed in advance. Opening the pages of this comic with very few expectations (i.e. horror-adjacent, plotted by Tynion) allows readers to be led toward a mysterious destination in the same fashion as the nice house’s many guests. It’s a rewarding exploratory experience that pays enormous dividends in the issue’s final few pages. My advice is simply this: Check it out.
However, if you require something more I will do my utmost to discuss the merits of this comic without delving into the specifics that make this such an engrossing introduction. The essential premise is that 12 friends, all young professionals, are invited to a weeklong gathering at an extravagant lakeside retreat—a nice house, to say the least—and then things start to go wrong. The opening pages of the issue don’t hide that there’s suffering ahead for this party as it flashes far ahead of the present moment to provide a brief introduction to “The Artist” and set expectations for readers. My primary critique of this issue is that these first two pages reveal too much in all of the bandages and fire. It’s easy to imagine readers becoming hung up on how this future came to be when the best elements of this comic are the slow game played across the introductions.
Following the prologue, The Nice House On The Lake presents a specific vector of American life as it introduces a group of friends slowly collected across high school, college, and early professional years. Each person is in their early 30s with a defined career and distinctive personality; these are individuals fully engaged in society with big aspirations. They may not be relatable to all readers, but as someone who occupies this class in society, the recognition was earnest and instant.
Writer James Tynion IV has been juggling expansive casts in his original works for years and longtime fans may recognize some familiar DNA from The Woods, and that ambition has been honed to effectively introduce so many distinct personalities with well-organized captions. It wouldn’t be possible without the clear designs and thoughtful expressions crafted by artist Alvaro Martinez Bueno, though. Each character clearly embodies themself when introduced, whether it’s a sulking writer dressed almost entirely in black and hanging back to smoke or an ebullient comedian whose gestures are as broad as his humor. Each person emerges fully formed and instantly recognizable.
As the introductions and exploration of the house’s estate unfold, Martinez Bueno is responsible for both establishing the setting and the mood alongside such extensive exposition. Their use of spreads is calculated and deftly deployed. Each time readers turn the page to discover immense panels connecting the entire comic, it adds something noteworthy to the proceedings. These spreads establish a sense of wild freedom and luxury at the rural compound, whether it’s a distant look at the house and its surrounding woods or a pool party with abundant space for all of its guests. Even a spread of Twitter posts crafts a portrait of the world so compelling that it’s difficult to imagine it being accomplished any better than with what small snippets of imagery readers receive.
Martinez Bueno and colorist Jordie Bellaire do an excellent job establishing a tense mood with old friends reconnecting and pondering the eccentricities of their host. Each panel is selected to inform readers about individual perspectives and the power dynamics between couples. Shadows are used to great effect in creating tension amidst the extravagance and joyful connections; many panels recall the work of Francesco Francavilla with potent atmospheres, but fewer pulp affectations. Even as the issue works to create a knot in its readers’ stomachs, its beautiful compositions are impossible to deny.
When the end comes and The Nice House On The Lake’s full premise is revealed, the issue has so efficiently invested readers in the characters and their surroundings across fewer than 20 pages that it’s almost impossible not to gape. It is a testament to the skill of the creative team that so much is introduced and quickly understood, and this allows for a cliffhanger that is nothing short of outstanding. There’s nothing cheap or quick about this story—every page builds upon its meaning and makes for a riveting first read. What’s truly astounding, though, is that it’s every bit as gripping on a second or third reading, as well. So don’t wait any longer and don’t learn any more, experience this outstanding new original series for yourself. Don’t dare to ignore this invitation.
Published by DC Comics
On June 1, 2021
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Andworld Design
Cover by Alvaro Martinez Bueno