When The Nice House on the Lake debuted in June, I found myself stunned by its surprise twist and anxious to see how writer James Tynion IV and artist Álvaro Martinez Bueno would resolve it. Five issues later, we’re still some ways away from cracking the story’s code, but the distance between what we know and what we don’t is closing.
Usually that would be a good thing — everyone wants answers! — but with mystery stories, resolution can be a double-edged sword. Reveal one secret too many and the house of cards might crumble. As much as I wanted to know what motivated Walter (and what provides the source of his powers), I didn’t want to know too much.
Tynion, in the last issue before a five-month hiatus for the series, does well to balance that desire to know everything against a storyteller’s need to keep some things vague. For the first time, he breaks from the strict sequencing of previous issues and flashes back for several pages to Walter’s high school days.
SPOILERS AHEAD for The Nice House on the Lake #6!
Our perspective this issue is filtered through Reg, who was not initially introduced as part of the main cast of houseguests, but has emerged through flashbacks as a kind of ally to Walter. His presence at the house has the air of a late-stage twist that is just a bit too convenient to fully buy in to, but Tynion sketches him out with such skill — particularly through a series of chat logs that serve as this issue’s interstitial documents — that he feels fully realized as a character.
I don’t mind Reg’s sudden importance to the story. His high school flashbacks reveal Walter’s deep ambivalence about his “people” and their plan, which Bueno represents in a spellbinding spread that shows Walter’s fractured face across multiple panels. Without that context, it would be harder to accept the frustrating impermanence of the issue’s finale.
Walter’s ability to wipe someone’s memory was introduced last issue when he was shown doing it to Ronnie back in high school. He reuses that same trick on all the houseguests at the end of this issue, raising questions about what they will know about their circumstances when the series resumes.
More important to the story’s endgame is Walter’s revelation that the houseguests are not being protected for solely altruistic reasons. They’re guinea pigs for Walter, who needs to justify humanity’s value in order to reverse (or at least discontinue) the apocalypse his people unleashed on Earth. Walter was only permitted to pass as human to assemble a “stable sample of the human population” that could serve as an argument to preserve Earth from extinction.
This setup is not exactly novel, but it works perfectly as a way into Walter’s psyche, which is ultimately where this series seems headed. (It also explains why he kept transcripts of their conversations.) He is the one with the power to reverse what his people have done — or at least move to ameliorate it. What will spur him to act? Tynion and co. have six more issues to let us know.
Odds and Ends
- I like how Ryan, issue #1‘s spotlight character, shared the final scene of this issue with Reg. It is sometimes easy to lose track of certain characters within this series’ rotating structure (which tends to only spotlight one character at a time). As the book goes along, Tynion has done well to return to previous leads and reward readers with more development for them.
- This issue’s coolest design element: the interior of the monolith-like building next to the lakehouse, which houses Reg’s studio. Bueno can often lean toward maximalism with his design choices, but he keeps this space spare with only a few easels and a couch amid all the empty space.
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