Comic Book Review – The Nice House on the Lake

The Nice House on the Lake (2023)
Reprints The Nice House on the Lake #1-12
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

The evocative painted covers of each issue of The Nice House on the Lake hint at a dark horror tale to be unfolded, its spotlighted character standing in a stark scene of the macabre. I wish I could tell you the interior matches this outside wrapping. I also wish I could say I enjoyed this as much as I did Tynion’s The Department of Truth. But honestly, I really disliked this comic a lot. Bloated with so many characters introduced so quickly, I almost immediately lost track of who was who besides maybe two or three of them. That wasn’t a great thing to happen when this is a survival story, and I’m supposed to care about who lives or dies. It also doesn’t help that right away, the book reveals itself as some sort of post-apocalyptic narrative, which was not the story I sat down to enjoy.

We begin the story through the eyes of Ryan, a twenty-six-year-old artist who is friends with Walter. Walter asks her what she thinks the end of the world will be like, and they briefly go back and forth about how aware people will be that society is falling apart. A few weeks later, Ryan and just over a dozen more friends receive invites to a weekend getaway at a lake cabin in Wisconsin. Most of these people are big city types, so escaping the country during COVID-19 sounds like a great idea. They arrive and find a stunning mansion with all the amenities one could ever desire. Each person is identified with text boxes by their name, occupation (e.g., The Scientist, The Reporter), and a symbol representing that job. Eventually, Walter arrives, and the party gets started, only to be interrupted a few hours later when someone checks Twitter (isn’t that always the way). They turn on the tv to confirm and find that the world is being incinerated and all their loved ones with it. This is when Walter reveals he isn’t human and that they were chosen by him to be hidden away and protected when some other entity destroyed everything.

I am not a big fan of apocalyptic stories; they must be done exceptionally well to engage me. It’s just not my cup of tea when it comes to horror; I’d prefer less direct & more existential fare. The way my mind works, if I was put in a similar situation where my loved ones were all gone, I’d simply kill myself and be done with the chaos. Walter has thought of that, and early on, the characters find that any wound they get heals almost instantly, and even being shot multiple times doesn’t end with death. The book focuses on laying out the complex rules of this pocket prison the characters have been placed in. Yet, I believe it doesn’t devote enough time to unpack the mysteries intriguingly like Lost would.

Instead, each chapter is focused on a different character, and flashbacks to their relationship with Walter take up much of the issue. Now that we know Walter is something else, everything he says has this cryptic, knowing air. Yet, this doesn’t come across as a fully realized character piece because, despite these intentional spotlights, I still felt like I was forgetting characters almost as soon as I was done with their issue. Nothing about the story makes it clear why any of these people would be friends with Walter. He’s a reasonably flat character which I guess is sort of the point; he’s observing humans potentially to deliver a report about them to his superiors. But even Scarlett Johanssen’s troubled alien in Under the Skin conveyed some sense of personality. Walter felt highly annoying to me, and I didn’t have much interest in spending that much time with him.

You might think the other characters are featured as more important. Well, there are many of them, and we learn nothing about them outside the context of their friendships with Walter. The flashbacks we get feel interchangeable and don’t give a distinct feel to each person’s perspective. They also don’t provide important insight into why anyone is friends with this bland, pretentious asshole. Things happen to the characters; at least one person dies over the course of the story, but I felt nothing when it happened because I couldn’t remember much about that character when it went down. The art doesn’t do enough to distinguish people’s looks beyond hair or skin color. It was easier to tell the women apart, but the men mostly felt homogenous in their designs. There is also a proliferation of emails, texts, and chat logs, and none of it provides the insight I think Tynion imagines it does. They felt like filler, not building on anything or establishing anything new.

I hoped that somehow the story would right itself in the end, that there would be a satisfying payoff. But oh no, it’s worse than that. The ending teases that this is the end of “cycle one,” implying there will be a sequel. I have to say I have zero interest in reading that and will definitely be passing it by. If you follow this blog, you know I’ve enjoyed Something Is Killing the Children and The Department of Truth, so I’m no Tynion hater. The Nice House on the Lake was just a massive dud for me. There are attempts to explain things happening behind the scenes, but honestly, I think more ambiguity about the details of the situation and more focus on making each character distinct and complex would have served the story far better. 

This may have been like many non-superhero books these days: a backdoor pitch for a streaming platform series. It might work better in that venue or be as bad. That way, I could tell the characters apart better. They would also have to flesh out the spotlights more and make these people feel distinct. The series appears to be mostly liked, sort of a 70/30 split when I check reviews at the typical sites. I’m definitely in that bottom 30%, though. Oh well, plenty more comics to read and certainly better ones from this author.


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