I fully expected to dislike this issue of The Nice House on the Lake.
That is no fault of writer James Tynion IV and artist Álvaro Martínez Bueno. In a sense, the duo are victims of their own success. The first issue was one of the best single comics of the year; could they really top it and maintain the series’ momentum?
Here’s the good news: this second issue is even better than the first. Tynion sheds more light on the extensive cast of characters, explores their relationship to the mysterious Walter and, ultimately, reveals more of his grand design for the series.
SPOILERS AHEAD for The Nice House on the Lake #2!
Now that the houseguests know their friend Walter is not who he says he is — and, in fact, is complicit in some apocalyptic takeover of the Earth — all hell breaks loose.
Tynion captures this sense of frenzy well in a data page showing a transcript of the guests’ reaction to Walter’s big reveal. (A typical line: “He just blew Norah’s ARM up with his BRAIN, and then f-----g DISAPPEARED!” It only gets better from there.)
It is one of several, intriguing structural elements that relax the rhythm of the story while increasing the reader’s understanding of the characters.
It’s not every day a comic comes along that can support a multi-thousand word structuralist analysis, but The Nice House on the Lake accomplishes that through a synthesis of symbols, intratextual links, and art that mixes surreal and hyper-detailed images.
Most immediately noticeable is the sequence of the story itself, which mirrors the first issue almost precisely. Instead of Ryan (the “Artist”) as the spotlight character, Tynion homes in on Rick (the “Pianist”), who we see in a flash-forward before jaunts to his past with Walter and a scene reacting to the harrowing events of the first issue.
The repetition would be off-putting, if not for the slight tweaks Tynion adds that expand the scope of the story and build out Walter’s shadowy character.
Where Ryan saw Walter as an aloof, if interesting, acquaintance, Rick views him as a dear friend. Walter is not an abstraction to him. He was the best man at Rick’s wedding, a person who loves new friends “with every fiber of his being.”
Another standout creative choice is Tynion (or rather, Walter’s) decision to label each houseguest with a unique logo and title — which Rick mockingly calls their “mutant name.”
The concept seemed a bit overwhelming at first, as if Tynion was giving the reader another helping of information to remember on top of the characters’ names and backgrounds. But their purpose is much clearer here: they serve as shorthand, an easier way to define the houseguests as they mingle with each other and explore the mystery at the heart of Walter’s machinations.
The transcripts included as interstitial documents identify the characters only by their titles and hint at relationships and insecurities that will surely provide fodder for future issues. Tynion leans into this gamemaster element to Walter in a different data page that lays out the schedule for the guests — including an ominous “farewell” speech from Walter.
None of this would work, of course, without Bueno’s sublime art. His style at its most horrifying often resembles Jock on a book like Wytches, but then he’ll switch gears and give a remarkably lived-in portrait of a messy college dorm room, complete with an overflowing bookshelf and laundry lying everywhere.
Bellaire is just as versatile, giving this issue a much more subdued color palette. It’s as if Walter’s revelation sucked all the energy out of the house.
At this early stage in the series, it still is not entirely easy to identify each character. I had to read some scenes while keeping the first issue open in a separate tab, so I could consult the capsule bios Tynion helpfully laid out there.
Not everyone will care to devote this much effort to deciphering each scene, and I guarantee the context makes things quite clear. The point is not to have an encyclopedic understanding of the cast quite yet; that will come in time as Tynion keeps shifting the focus to different characters.
What emerges from the group is an abiding sense of black humor and grief — for their loved ones who Walter failed to invite to the house and, somewhat surprisingly, for Walter himself. Whatever monster he may be, he is still a person they long saw as their friend.
His devotion to them comes through in his design of the house, which perfectly anticipates their needs and takes its cue from their shared history with him. But it also reveals a sinister bargain at the heart of his plan: a hope that he can guilt the guests into abandoning the outside world.
Walter is as conscious of the design of the house as Tynion and co. are of the look, feel, and tone of the book. Each creative choice feels deliberate in a way that could easily draw attention to itself but luckily does not. Right now, the only drawback of this terrific comic is the knowledge that at some point, regretfully, the adventure must end.
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