The Nice House on the Lake: Volume One by James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno and Jordie Bellaire
DC Black Label, pb, £14.07
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
It’s supposed to be a holiday of a lifetime, a group of people hanging out by a pool and enjoying some spectacular scenery in a house that’s just out of this world. But things go wrong on the first night. Something attacks the world outside the house’s grounds, consuming everyone in a fire so hot it melts flesh from bones. It would appear the house’s occupants are the only survivors. When Walter arrives, things get further out of control. He was part of the something and knew the world was about to end. He arranged the holiday to protect the people he loved from it. Then he vanishes, leaving his friends to come to terms with their new situation and a few other surprises that Walter didn’t tell them.
If ever there was a story about 2020, this is it. A group of people find they cannot leave the house and gardens because there is an apocalypse event occurring everywhere else in the world. They are cut off from friends and family; in one instance, a wife was invited, but not her husband. They can have everything they want via Walter’s magical notepad, from everyday groceries to Oscar awards; it all gets delivered to their door. They have a movie room with every film or series known to man. That pretty much sounds like my 2020 and most of my 2021.
Each issue follows a standard format with a survivor reliving how they met Walter and his oddities in a location that is not the house. Then we have documentation, whether it’s an email exchange, transcripts of conversations in the house, lists of things the house residents want; the last is the most hard-hitting. Finally, we have current events with the characters finding ways to cope, from exploring every inch of their protected space to drinking and burying their heads in the sand.
The Nice House on the Lake holds a mirror to our experiences of the past few years, and it does so spectacularly. There are no boxes around the panels or no clean lines. Álvaro Martínez Bueno uses shading to create detail and realism, and Bellaire uses consistent colouring to ground us in the event. Each apocalyptic panel is made up of reds, yellows and oranges, while the colours of the panels in the house are muted except for splashes of colour coming from Ryan’s blue hair or David’s bright shirts.
In the issues section where the characters reminisce their time with Walter, the shading is thicker, almost dreamlike. There is no doubting we’re looking at a person’s memories. When we jump to the documentation, the switch from the past to the clarity of email exchange is stark. No doubt the point, as we read the emails and transcripts, knowing what Walter is up to at this stage. The effect is quite breathtaking and, for me, the best part of the comic.
However, the story falls short for me. We only spend one issue up close and personal with a character before moving on to the next, so the character development isn’t there. The characters are the same from the first issue to the sixth, which is the range of volume one. This could change in the following issues, but I didn’t feel like I’d seen enough of them to understand why Walter singled out these people. The exception to this is Issue #4, which follows the Comedian, David Daye. He is making the best of his situation. Walter left his friends with a notebook, and whatever is written on its pages will be delivered to them. David tests this to the extreme, as does the Accountant, Molly Reynolds. I won’t spoil this issue by telling you what they’re asking for, but he gets what he wants where she doesn’t. David demonstrates a greater understanding for Molly than anyone else in the house, and this is reflected in his clothing choices, the bright joker in the pack becoming a subdued mailman.
As I have already said, this is Volume One, and there is more to come. Issue 6 ends on a cliffhanger, suggesting that the characters change their situation. While I had issues with the characters, not a great thing for a character-driven story, I trust the creative team working on this that my faith will be rewarded if I stick through it. There are still questions I need answering, such as why Walter has assigned a title and icon to each person, so I will be hunting down Volume Two.