Review: The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)


I try to space out my comics reading. Issue or two of a trade a night, let the ideas percolate, you understand. Dear reader, I read two chapters of James Tynion’s The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1 the first night and then stopped myself; the next night, I was going to read two again, but just couldn’t keep from devouring the remaining four in one gulp.

If Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express hold a special place, this is a book for you. But also Lost, to be sure — and Clue, and Friends, and Rent, and A Little Life, and Mind MGMT. Paranoid, creepy, weird, timely — Nice House is the weird trip I didn’t know I needed, and it’s going to be a long wait until the next one.

[Review contains spoilers for Nice House, Mind MGMT]

To be sure, Nice House asks a bit from you. I cannot say that I have all the housemates and their relationships to one another straight, better so at the end of the book but certainly not at the beginning. The book invites you to diagram, even shows one character doing it, though I politely declined. But at about the moment Tynion kills off Anderson Cooper in a fiery conflagration, it was very clear Nice House was something else, that Tynion can do horror (which I hadn’t seen him do before) and it’s happening right here.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I was surprised we got the big reveals right away — that Walter is an alien (seemingly), that the housemates are trapped there as the world outside burns. Perhaps that makes these among the least important details; if we follow a Lost-esque paradigm, what we think we know is only a feint for what we don’t actually know. The fact that Walter says he’s from a species of world-conquerors doesn’t actually mean that the housemates aren’t hallucinating brains in vats. And in the spirit of Mind MGMT, that Walter can seemingly make everyone forget everything has gigantic implications; whether this is the housemates' first go-round in the house or the hundredth, we’ve no way to know right now.

Not to mention that it seems like there’s loopholes in Walter’s control of the environment. He assigned all the housemates symbols and told them what they were, and yet it’s the knowledge of those symbols that allowed the housemates to free their friend Reg and begin to defy the order of the situation. Either this means Walter doesn’t have control on a level to keep his own tools from being used against him, or again that there’s trickery within trickery involved and the only progress the housemates are making is the progress that Walter wants them to. (Our questions sound, again, increasingly Lost-esque, like if this is a paradise then what’s the deal with all the weapons in the basement?!)

I maintain that Nice House is wonderful but I won’t claim it’s without its imperfections. The apparent difficulty is that the housemates are supposed to become a “stable group” for the fruition of whatever Walter and his family’s plan is, but that they haven’t been. But Tynion tells more than he shows here (some of you have said this to me before); there are some minor tiffs among the housemates, but nothing on the level of the average episode of Survivor or the way things have devolved among marooned groups from Lord of the Flies on out. For an “unstable” group, the instability is markedly tame.

Nor are there the Clue-type secrets and lies, no one killed anyone else’s estranged family, no unrequited crushes or secret affairs, not even any hooking up among the singles in the group. There is more to be revealed, certainly — an early email from Walter refers to personalized “treats” for everyone that never manifest, unless that refers to the care packages they request themselves — but we get no indication there’s necessarily more to the housemates themselves.

What one wants here is drama both external (there’s a murderer on the loose!) and internal (the Consultant secretly hates the Artist), whereas mostly what Tynion delivers is the external with the internal as an afterthought. Take the panic over scarcity of food, supposedly a highly dramatic moment, which is narrated away until we’re returned to the housemates none the worse for wear.

Of course, I recognize this goes to some of the themes of Tynion’s book. Nice House is about knowing the world is on fire but going about your life nonetheless, the cognitive dissonance most everyone must employ between knowing there is poverty and not giving away all your worldy possessions to strangers. Nice House employs a lot of this, though whether by design or by deficiency I’m unsure — we hardly see the panic, the fallout of a bloody injury is dictated to us by printout, we only know Molly is suicidal when it’s almost a moot point. Nice House has a tendency to shield us from the darkness, but whether that’s a plan we’re inside of or outside of remains unclear.

Each chapter begins with a character on a post-apocalytic journey, suggesting they may at some point be able to leave the house (and also that the world may actually be destroyed outside the “dome”). My hope is that Tynion does not get to that point very soon (if not that said visions are simply metaphorical). I was midly disappointed (though got over it swiftly) to find that Nice House involved space aliens and not “simply” a horror murder mystery in a lake house; what I’m looking for is more “trapped in a luxurious house” antics and not something in the well-traveled Mad Max/“the sky is on fire” genre. If Tynion wants to introduce a society of Others, I’ll accept that as a compromise.



Artist Alvaro Martinez Bueno does lovely work on The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1, with slightly softer lines befitting a more subtle work than Detective Comics; Jordie Bellaire delivers a watercolor palette similar to her recent good work on Batman: The Imposter. If James Tynion’s Nice House is not a classic whodunit, it sure gets your blood pumping like one, and again, it’ll be a long wait until volume two.

[Includes original and variant covers, development sketches, character guide]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. An amazing review! I just got this and gave it a read. Absolutely agree that at first it takes time to get a grasp on all the characters (a second read through helped get put everything together and allowed me to see the added nuances/foretelling in Tynion's script). I had kept away from spoilers, so I didn't know what to expect. The alien aspect caught me completely off guard, but we truly don't know what is really going on....and what if the alien aspect is in itself a layer of deception......Walter is a character that is at once pitiable and despicable. I liked that each issue starts off with a "current" character piece that then flashes back to the house on the lake and other past moments. The artwork by Bueno is excellent - really reminding of Stuart Immonen's style - right down to the way facial expressions are drawn. The colors pop when they need to and are subdued at other times....Jordie Bellaire is one of the best in the business. I absolutely thought that if Walter can make them forget, perhaps they have been in this house for a lot longer then they think. Also, none of them even remembers how they specifically got there....I just hope Tynion can stick to the landing to give us a complete and satisfying conclusion. The sad part, I have no idea when the next part will come out.......that's frustrating but a sign of a really good book that leaves the reader wanting more right away.


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