There is plenty to write about the debut issue of James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s new DC Comics Black Label series The Nice House on the Lake. I could write an essay on the way the trauma of the Covid pandemic is reflected in the issue’s discussion of the end of the world, how the pandemic has laid bear that our society is woefully unprepared for a climate crisis that would require the kind of global cooperation that was outright rejected. Or the way the isolation of the group in the Nice House on the Lake as the world goes up in flames speaks to the existential torment of a year locked inside as millions die.
But all of those things could be true of any story in any medium. And after one issue it is not fair to the story itself to discuss its literary qualities in isolation. This is only the first chapter, after all, as excellent a debut as it may be. While all of these themes and motifs are apparent, what makes The Nice House on the Lake so successful at being an unnerving and visceral experience is its mastery of the art of comic books, leveraging the unique pacing and visual storytelling of the form, its foregrounding of symbols and signs in the narrative, and the exploitation of new cultural norms and experiences.. It is an exceptionally well crafted issue that relies on the reader’s ability to parse the various sign systems and coded imagery employed to create a truly emotionally and psychologically impactful ending.
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