It’s a mystery that kicks off in a familiar way, if you’re a fan of mysteries. But then something happens—not the thing you’d expect, but something far worse. The Nice House on the Lake is an apocalyptic sci-fi/horror tale that barely revs its engine in issue #1, but is sure to take off. It comes from author James Tynion IV (Batman, The Joker, Something is Killing the Children), artist Álvaro Martínez Bueno and colorist Jordie Bellaire.
As you may have guessed, the bulk of the story takes place in a lake house, but “nice” lake house is an understatement. It’s enormous, gorgeous, pristine, and remote—there’s not a single other lake house in sight. It’s located in upstate Wisconsin, and for a week in June, it’s being rented out to a bespectacled guy named Walter. Walter has decided to host a retreat to get away from it all for a group of his long-time friends. You know guys like Walter. He’s one of those people who have always been a little odd, but not without his charms.
Our cast of characters arrives at the house the way they might in an Agatha Christie novel or a game of Clue. Though every guest knows Walter, no one knew for sure who else was coming. He preassigned each of them a nickname that corresponds to their profession. The Accountant. The Writer. The Comedian. He also assigned them each a symbol. Again, he’s always been a little out there.
Most of the guests turn out to be 30-somethings Walter met in high school or college. The odd-invitee-out is The Artist. Her name is Ryan Cane, a 26-year-old Brooklynite Walter met at a bar through one of The Comedian’s ex-girlfriends.
When Ryan first arrives to the lake house, she’s wearing a mask. Norah (The Writer) is sitting outside, smoking a cigarette while she uses a hand-held thermometer to take Ryan’s temperature before leading her inside.
It’s a brief moment, but it quickly tells us that this story takes place in our world, featuring a pandemic that many other fictional TV shows and movies have elected to ignore. When Ryan takes off her mask and goes inside to find a group of carefree adults drinking and socializing sans masks or distancing, it’s a relief we can all likely relate to. Who among us doesn’t need a week-long vacation among friends where we can do something other than worry about the nightmare of the last year and a half?
The art is modern, too. The characters are drawn in a way that feels well-cast. Clothing choices convey exactly who each person is, from the carefree Comedian’s unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, ballcap and festival wristbands to the cynical Norah’s dark-colored pantsuit with Chucks.
These early moments are interspersed with screenshots of Walter’s invitation emails and social media feeds, the lettering a neat sans serif that makes it look like you’re seeing what they’re seeing.
At first, the vacation seems fine, easily slipping into the kind of activities one would expect at a scenic lakeside retreat. Fire up the grill, hop in the pool, crack open a beer. But then something happens.
In your classic trope, it’d be a body. One of the guests would be found floating facedown in the lake or stabbed in a bedroom and the rest of them would take turns pointing fingers at potential killers.
But in The Nice House on the Lake, it’s not what happens inside the house, but outside of it. It’s a twist that leaves numerous possible avenues to explore and a new host of questions, not the least of which is why Walter chose the guests he did.
If you’ve read Tynion’s other ongoing horror work—Something is Killing the Children—you’ll find The Nice House on the Lake is a different kind of terror. That might seem obvious as a comic series called Something is Killing the Children is about, well, monsters that kill children and those who try to stop them. The horror there is nothing short of visceral, never shying away from mangled bodies and devastated families. The stakes are always extremely high and very right now, the lives of the most vulnerable hanging in the balance.
It’s hard to imagine a terror worse than a child-killing monster, and yet somehow, The Nice House on the Lake offers something worse, while also being much less in-your-face. And though the first issue hints at what might eventually befall the guests, it definitely leaves the reader wanting for more. I powered through ten issues of Something in a day, and I would have done the exact same with Nice House were they available. This one seems like it’s gonna be a pretty weird ride.
The Nice House on the Lake #1 by James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno and Jordie Bellaire is now available in shops and as a digital comic book.
Juliet Bennett Rylah writes about horror comics and the dark side of superheroes for DCComics.com. For more from Juliet, check out her recent look at The Conjuring: The Lover and follow her on Twitter at @JBRylah.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Juliet Bennett Rylah and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.