Around this time last year, I wrote about my love for The Department of Truth by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds, a sort of meta-level X-Files riff about conspiracy theories that literally bend reality. I deeply enjoyed Tynion's work on Detective Comics and tend to get a kick out his newsletter, but I hadn't read that much of his other work*, which until recently was largely DC Comics-based. I'm not a huge DC reader, but the other day I opened the app, and noticed The Nice House On The Lake, a newer book written by Tynion with art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno which was published through DC's Black Label imprint (sort of the predecessor to DC's legendary Vertigo Comics line, plus the prestige books where Batman gets to say "fuck"). And for whatever reason, around 9pm on Saturday day, I decided to check it out.
I burned through 9 issues before I fell asleep, finished the 10th one in the morning, and immediately bought the next 2 so I could finish out the story. If that's not a positive review, I don't know what it is.
The Nice House on the Lake is basically a cosmic horror riff on the classic format of "old friends gather in a remote location; terrible things ensue." In this case, it's a group of 10 folks who range from childhood besties to mere acquaintances, who are all united through respective friendships with a rando named Walter. When we meet Walter, he sees a little odd but sweet, and you quickly realize that that's part of the charm he has over his friends. He's not the coolest dude in the world, but he cares very deeply about the people he cares about. And that means something a lot to them in return. So when Walter invites them to the titular Nice House On The Lake, of course they take him up on the offer, even if they're not really that close with the other guests.
But damn, it really is a nice house! It's got literally everything! And everything it doesn't have is available through overnight delivery! And then the world ends and the entire human race is exterminated by incomprehensible cosmic horrors. Except for those 10 perfect strangers, who are now living safe and free at an idyllic lakeside paradise, thanks to the kindness and generosity of one of those aforementioned incomprehensible cosmic horrors.
That's my spoiler-lite version, because it's basically the layout of the first half of the first issue. From there the series cleverly explores who each of these people were before the Nice House on the Lake (through their respective relationships with Walter), as well as who they find themselves becoming as they stare down the Utopia at the End of the World. And there's more than enough genuine shock and intrigue to keep you turning the pages.
When I describe it as such, it sounds like it has a sort of LOST vibe — here's the mystery in the present, here's the ironic flashback. But I assure you, it's much more than that (if for no other reason than that it's a finite 12-issue series). There's a slight Modern Family-vibe, too, in that confessional narrative way but that's it. There's also Bueno's visceral artwork, which renders the lakeside and the cosmic horrors with a similarly emotional resonance. It's gritty and surrealist in the most simplistic and accessible way, whether depicting something beautiful or terrible.
If you're not already sold, I might also add that I found this book to have a delightfully diverse cast in a way that refreshingly realistic and understated. These are precisely the kind of organic relationships that a person like Walter would develop through the life we've seen of them. There's no drama to be mined from transphobia or racism or homophonia or misogyny, because it's the end of the world, and also, this is a totally normal group of people for this person to have hung around with.
Seriously though: if you're looking for a great cosmic thriller, check out The Nice House On The Lake.
*I also read Tynion's The Closet recently, but I wasn't crazy about it, though I may have been biased because it centered on a new-ish dad named Thom with an H who sorta sucks, and I'm a new-ish dad named Thom with an H who tries very hard not to suck, so.