Review: The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)


Friends, those who know us best, can be a comforting link to our pasts, but at worst, a tether to identities that no longer represent us. In James Tynion’s The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 2, with the stakes of this puzzlebox now fully revealed (for the most part), the horror becomes more psychological than physical; it is the terror of madness, of obsession, of a force trying to capture a moment in time by any means necessary, no matter who it hurts.

Again, equal parts Lost and Friends, Nice House on the Lake is a cogent mystery where not everyone is telling the truth (and some don’t remember they’re lying), bolstered by Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s moody art. For all its imperfections — the greatest of which might be Tynion’s ambition, both greater and less than his page count — with both volumes I’ve had long talks with myself whether to stay up all night and finish it in one sitting (the first time I did, the second time I tried to savor the few remaining chapters). That’s high praise, and for your next guilty pleasure, the Eisner-winning Nice House on the Lake comes highly recommended.

[Review contains spoilers]

There’s a stark break between Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, in which most of the cast forgets the events of Vol. 1; missing friend Reg is subbed in while Norah is held aside by Walter, vacation-arranger and secret alien. This is altogether not my favorite, making some of the first volume feel like wasted reading and exposing the six-issues-to-a-trade structure in a way that seems artificial (Saga manages this handily, but Saga isn’t just 12 issues). But it does make clearer, with some of the first volume’s who, what, and where out of the way, the two main influences on Walter, Norah and Reg, from which ultimately everything else springs.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Indeed we learn that what seems some obvious flaws in the construct in which Walter has trapped select high school and college friends are because many elements were created by Reg and Norah at Walter’s behest, though they were each in their own way plotting against him. This isn’t wholly convincing on Tynion’s part1, but certainly makes for compelling reading, particularly when, for instance, Norah only remembers her choices in waves and has time to be horrified at her own hard decisions.

Norah is really the star of Vol. 2, after being somewhat in the background for Vol. 1 (we really hardly get the high school basis of this story until the sixth chapter). This volume is at its best or its most confusing, depending, in revealing the various depths of Norah’s awareness of the situation, from the question of whether Norah purposefully set up Naya to die to save the rest of her friends, to Norah wanting to kill Walter, to wanting to pretend to kill Walter so as to help her friends move on with their lives.

Norah’s loyalty to Walter or lack thereof remains one of the book’s most intriguing question marks. In this volume’s first chapter, Norah convincingly rails against Walter’s “saving” her from the end of the world as meddling in her life after her gender transition and growing independence, and portrays Walter’s controlling ways with artist Ryan as like an abusive partner. But Tynion presents this to us all out of order (wonderfully and frustratingly), so it’s not entirely clear whether Norah’s truest feelings are when she’s with Walter or against him.

Nice House’s external existential concern is just how Tynion might bring us, in the span of 12 issues, from a cast who’s basically starting fresh in the seventh chapter all the way to the post-apocalyptic scenes he’s been teasing at each chapter’s start. An aspect of Nice House’s brilliance is that the plot seems simultaneously tightly wound and also frustratingly (again) loose; though every conversation about going for a walk is rife with meaning, I still gritted my teeth as Tynion threw pages to the wind with no real gains in the story.

The resolution is that, first, despite the flash-forwards, this isn’t and possibly won’t ever be that story; this is the story only, Twilight Zone-esque, of the friends vanquishing Walter (they think) and coming to a full understanding of their circumstances (but not really). Second, that Tynion concludes with the all-important “End of Cycle One,” suggesting the potential for more to come in the future, though I admit I’m not optimistic; there’s no advance word, like when Saga took a break, and Tynion seems very much on to success with other things at other companies. He’s doing Sandman Universe books, yeah, but I’m not hopeful that more Nice House is in the cards.

Again, Bueno’s masterful art helps drive the story, and his knack for expressions is on display in the aftermath of tragedy in the penultimate issue — also the distinctive swirling-skull appearance of Walter’s true form. It’s mildly difficult in the first issues of this volume to tell male characters Rick, David, and Sam apart, which makes it tough to spot if anyone else is missing, but this resolves quickly. DC’s ubiquitous colorist Jordie Bellaire deserves a mention, too, as color gains even more meaning in the conclusion, between Ryan’s yellow coat, Molly’s red hair, and more (even if I haven’t quite cracked Tynion’s code with this).



Walter loves his friends, and there can’t very well be harm in that, can there? But he loves them, not to death, but beyond death, to their detriment. Not to mention that he’s tried to save more of his friends than he’s supposed to. Best friends, worst enemies, enabler, jailer. In James Tynion’s The Nice House on the Lake, trying to go back to simpler times proves not to be all that simple. I liked this a lot, and I expect it won’t be the last of Tynion’s “indie” horror books that I seek out.

[Includes original and variant covers, series pitch, character guide]

  1. Nice House is very much in this volume like Rogue One is to Star Wars, explaining away what might otherwise be plot holes as intentional sabotage. But really, if Walter didn’t want his friends to discover their healing factor, he might not have allowed an acupuncturist into the compound.  ↩︎

Comments ( 2 )

  1. AnonymousMay 08, 2023

    How does this read in two trades? I'm debating whether to get the two paperbacks or wait until October for the deluxe hardcover.

    1. It was weird in two trades. Without spoiling, there's a distinct difference between the two trades — it reads essentially like two seasons of a TV show, or a TV show with a distinct "mid-season break" between the first and second trades.

      Looked at it that way, two trades isn't so bad; as I describe above, some of my mindset going into it and what I was expecting versus what happens, and some of the ways the story loops on itself, made me dislike just how distinctly separate the two halves of the series are, though I didn't think about it like "seasons" because the book isn't presented that way.

      All of that said, wait for the deluxe. You can always pause a week between reading the first six issues and the second six. Maybe you'll want to read both volumes together the second time around and then you'll have the deluxe for that.


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