Mr. Vertigo Reviews 99: Night Mary; The Nice House on the Lake Volume One

Night Mary
Rick Remender, story & script; Kieron Dwyer, story & art
Image Comics, 2022

This reprints an IDW five-issue miniseries from 2006, making it fairly early Remender (published around the time of Strange Girl and the first issues of Fear Agent). The title character is Mary Specter, a teenager trained in lucid dreaming by her father, a doctor who runs a sleep disorder clinic. Mary enters into the frequently disturbing dreams of his patients, so much of the story takes place in nightmares–making both the character name and title (nightmare-y?) a bit on the nose.

One possible problem with the treatment: the patients tend to become violent. When Mary stops by the home of first patient we see (a woman with horrifying Three Little Pigs dreams), she finds that the woman has murdered her family, and proceeds to kill herself in front of Mary. Eventually it is revealed that her father was involved in a research project much bigger than Mary. The group had trained a young man named David to enter the dreams of others: first in the physical vicinity, then anywhere. He became an assassin by warping the dreams of heads of state considered to be hostile, controlling their waking actions.

All of this comes out in a rapid narrative dump towards the end, making it dramatically ineffective, even though it provides a conclusion. In the end Mary’s father redeems himself and Mary is able to rouse her mother from a coma. Remender’s story contains themes of family dynamics and therapy that have since appeared frequently in his work. Kieron Dwyer’s art makes some bold moves. The real-world scenes are done in various forms of monochrome (with bits of color here and there). But the dreams feature various art styles, as well as varied (sometimes lurid) color pallets. A bit too sketchy to be entirely successful, but they do serve the story very well, emphasizing the dreamlike settings.

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The Nice House on the Lake Volume One
James Tynion IV, writer; Álvaro Martínez Bueno, artist; Jordie Bellaire, colorist
DC Black Label, 2022

James Tynion IV has really been on a horror comics roll recently, with Something Is Killing the Children and The Department of Truth. Two very different stories, and this is yet another kind of horror. But at first it doesn’t look like horror at all. A group of people are invited for a week’s vacation in a beautiful house on a secluded lake by Walter. They all know him, although not very well–and he has always seemed a little bit off.

Over the course of the story we see how all of them met Walter. The meetings all seem somewhat random, but the important thing is that a connection is made (the significance of that turns out to be central). When the guests arrive at the lake house they all have nicknames assigned by Walter (e.g. “The Artist” and “The Comedian”), along with strange stalker-like notes about when they were “chosen.”

The strangeness ramps way up when they start getting messages from outside about apocalyptic events happening all over the world. It looks like the lake house is the only safe place left on the planet, and Walter tells them that they can’t leave (we also see him doing some kind of visual dissolve, so he is clearly not human). The group does not take this well (some more than others), despite the magical delivery system that brings them whatever supplies they request. When the woman stranded there without her husband tries to commit suicide, they discover that they apparently cannot die.

Things are clearly nothing like normal. When the group finally really begins to explore the grounds beyond the house they meet up with another friend they did not realize was there. He thinks he knows a way to reverse what is happening and save the world.  Just when things look hopeful Walter appears and orders them to forget (as he was shown doing earlier in their relationship). Which reveals more about what is happening while being a kind of reset at the same time. Anything can happen in the next installment.

There is very distinctive story telling going on here. Bueno and Bellaire’s art is quite realistic when called for, but can be mysterious and horrific as well.

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