From the first issue of James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake, it was clear we were in for something twisty. Now that the series’ first graphic novel collection, containing the initial six issues, is out, it’s confirmed. Almost nothing about this entire situation is what or who it seems to be, and the questions keep piling up.
At its onset, Nice House presented a familiar trope: a group of adults, ranging from their mid-20s to mid-30s, trapped on a mysterious, sinister vacation. Their connection is their host, Walter, a man they all know in various ways.
Some met him in high school, others college, still others through mutuals in New York City. Some guests are alone, while others have a significant other in tow. Some have kept in touch over the years; others have rarely interacted at all.
In this kind of story, the friends and strangers usually find themselves in danger when they venture to a remote getaway. But in Nice House, it’s the opposite.
The lake house is the only place on Earth, as far as anyone can tell, that’s safe. The rest has been destroyed. The last signals from friends and family indicate a maelstrom of fire and destruction swept away everything they knew and loved that isn’t at the house.
And Walter? Awkward, compassionate, introspective, good-listener Walter? He’s an alien, or something else that’s very non-human. When he shifts into his true form, he looks like what one of the guests calls a “flesh tornado.” Bueno’s art style is almost impressionistic here—there’s an idea of a man, but his features swirl around the glare of his glasses and the human clothes he’s crammed himself into. It’s unclear how his physical form even works, except it can hurt you if you touch it.
Walter’s fellow aliens, who presumably also look like flesh tornadoes, are behind the apocalypse beyond the lake house’s invisible barriers. In this way, Walter is both their villain and their savior. He’s lied to them for as long as he’s known them, but through knowing them, became compelled to ensure their survival.
He’s also their jailkeeper. Though the house has everything they require for survival and comfort, they’re stuck there. Even if they could escape the property’s invisible border, there is nowhere to go.
It’s those modern comforts that, in part, make this story more than a take on Lord of the Flies or Yellowjackets. Walter’s friends have truly everything they could ever need or want, with the exception of those they left behind. This isn’t about how to survive; there will be no contemplating cannibalism here.
With needs met, the survivors must grapple with what it means to live in paradise if you can never leave. Is that living at all? Wouldn’t ennui eventually take over?
Luckily—for them and us—there’s more to do than laze about. For reasons we don’t yet understand, the house that Walter’s locked them in also seems to be a vast escape room that will take all of them to solve. The house and its ground are not just full of secrets and surprises, but these mysteries are tailored to each guest.
Walter initially addressed his friends’ invitations to their professions: The Artist, The Doctor, The Scientist. In fact, making an index of the characters like you probably did with Game of Thrones—or perhaps Clue is more appropriate—is definitely helpful to avoid getting lost.
Each of them soon discovers a role that only suits them, whether they recognize that or not. For example, it’s The Comedian who, naturally, figures out ways to bring levity to the house. The Reporter immediately sets out exploring and documenting the grounds and discovers that various objects have special properties. It’s not just about what they did for a living, but also who they are. One guest finds the key to a secret door tucked behind a stack of books only they would be enticed to pick up.
Yet, the more they explore, the more confusing it gets. Are they really alone out there? Is there still a way to save humanity? Is Walter good, evil, or both? And, most importantly, why did Walter’s people kill everyone but them?
Every answer springs even more questions, wrapping what could have been a simple horror survival story in layers of intrigue and an encroaching dread. It’s riveting stuff that asks a truly unsettling question. When an outside force almost eliminates the human race, can who’s left be depended on to save humanity…or simply finish the job for them?
The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno and Jordie Bellaire is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel. You can also get started on the series right now on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Juliet Bennett Rylah writes about horror comics and the dark side of superheroes for DCComics.com. For more from Juliet, read her feature on another of Tynion’s recent collections, The Joker, 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.