The Nice House on the Lake

The Goggler Pull List #16: Spy Island and The Nice House On The Lake

Dept. of Comic Book Compulsions

On this week’s edition of The Goggler Pull List, we review and recommend two very different “indies,” Chelsea Cain’s Spy Island and The Nice House on the Lake by James Tynion IV.

Check it out…

Spy Island (Chelsea Cain and Rachelle Rosenberg)

With all the things that happen in comics – from a murderous immortal (Brzrkr), to fighting for the justice system (Daredevil), to fighting monsters (Something Is Killing The Children) and mythical creatures (Once & Future), to saving a city (Batman) and the universe (Green Lantern) – the one thing that sometimes is forgotten is that comics are supposed to be fun. The comics of the golden and silver age may seem goofy to contemporary sensibilities, with their weaknesses to yellow, and villains that use polka dots, but it is worth remembering that comics were made for the younger demographic.

Spy Island isn’t for that demographic at all, but it is the very definition of fun. With tongue firmly in cheek, Spy Island tells the story of Nora Freud, a spy assigned to an island in the Bermuda Triangle, which is both filled with other spies, and also mythical creatures.

The island Nora Freud is on is sort of like the UN of spies (and NGOs, and private entities, and governmental bodies) that allow everyone to keep an eye on everyone else; while avoiding the spying sand fleas and the murderous mermaids. There is a story here involving Nora’s sister, a vertically challenged KGB agent, MI-6, and a mime, but that isn’t where the true magic of this comic series lies.

Spy Island is a short four issue series that takes its sensibilities from the early James Bond movies. Mix that in with sardonic wit, and a bit of the fantastical, and you will have some idea of what this is. Each page is filled to the brim with imagery, one liners, and witty bits. This isn’t a serious spy comic series. This is capital “F” fun. The colours and panels are beautiful, rendered in pastel pinks, and blues, and yellows – which more than doubles down on the surreal nature of what you’re reading.

And then there are the comic’s ads. If there is one thing about comics that I hate, it’s the ads. Look, I’m no communist. I get how and why ads are useful. And most ads are like the breaks on a traditional TV show. You zone out and just flip past it. (Except that damn Snickers ad in DC’s books that make it look like the characters you’re reading about suddenly have a side mission to save some kid from being hangry. Those ads make me angry.)

Because Spy Island comes from a smaller publisher (Dark Horse), all of the ads in the book are “in universe.” A full page copy of the invitation to the Bermuda Triangle Preservation Society. A Bermuda Triangle tourism print ad. A “Call to the Kraken Mondays” bar flyer. All of them are delightful to look at. All of them do some tremendously fun world building.

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up the first issue of Spy Island. It had a pretty cover and I thought that it was worth a shot. And I’m glad I did. Sometimes the big heavy themes in the current world of comics can get, well, heavy. And it’s nice to pick up a random read and just have fun for awhile. Spy Island was precisely that. A helluva lot of fun.

The Nice House on the Lake (James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martinez Bueno, and Jordie Bellaire)

Let me start by saying this. James Tynion IV is, hands down, one of the smartest, most prolific, and creatively exciting writers in comics today. A worthy successor to Tom King on Batman, his take on the caped crusader has been both fresh and fun. His indie work – Something Is Killing the Children, and WYND, and The Department of Truth – are all incredibly well thought out and deeply compelling narratives in which reality and myth collide in new and interesting ways. So much so that I have a standing order at my local comic shop to pull anything and everything that Tynion puts out.

Now the only thing I’m going to tell you about The Nice House on the Lake is its premise. A somewhat strange and enigmatic individual called Walter invites a group of his “closest” friends to spend a week with him at an astonishingly beautiful house that overlooks an enormous sylvan lake. None of them know precisely why they’re there, but all of them seem like they need precisely the kind of escape that Walter was offering. The first issue introduces to our players and sets up the primary conflict. That is really all you need to know. Trust me when I tell you that you want to go into this sight unseen.

The Nice House on the Lake

I’m not quite sure what genre The Nice House on the Lake occupies. At first blush, it appears to dabble in science fiction and horror, with a little bit of Lost, and a little bit of The Cabin in the Woods. Tynion leans into those popular tropes by way of an introduction, before guiding us to a glorious, jaw-dropping reveal.

The tone and tempo of this first issue is simply magnificent. There is an underlying tension and sense of eeriness that pervades every panel. From the very first page, the comic manages to evoke within you a feeling of unease and anxiety. You are aware that all is not well. You are intrigued by the mystery before you. And you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative. This is exactly the kind of storytelling that made me fall in love with comics in the first place. With Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. With Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb.

The Nice House on the Lake

Álvaro Martinez Bueno’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colours remind me a lot of Sean Phillips’ work in Criminal. Despite the apparent bleakness of the story that is being told, the both of them still bring a sense of playfulness to the proceedings. Bueno’s moody noiresque illustrations, when combined with Bellaire’s watercolours, are beautiful to behold and yet completely unsettling at the same time. The close ups. The camera angles. All of it sets a particular mood and feel.

The Nice House on the Lake is a rare kind of read. One that uses familiar tropes to draw us into the story before cunningly pulling the carpet from under our feet. One that subverts our expectations in such clever ways that it prevents us from turning away from the apparent horrors that are about to befall these poor, unsuspecting characters.

This is a story that will linger long after you’ve turned that last page. It is so well conceived and executed, so precise in its storytelling, that it begs you to go back and read it again. And again. There are maybe a handful of comic books that I look forward to every month in giddy anticipation. The Nice House on the Lake just got added to that list.

We get our comics either from our local comic book store, The Last Comic Shop, or on Comixology. Are you interested in checking out Spy Island or The Nice House on the Lake? Have you already read these comics? Let us know by getting in touch with us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Check out our previous installments of The Goggler Pull List here.

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