Image Comics: Hello Royal City, Farewell Buckaroo

Wednesday is new comic book day. It’s a week of beginnings and endings over at my favorite publisher, Image Comics. I want to briefly highlight two of today’s biggest releases. Jeff Lemire debuts a brand new ongoing series with Royal City #1, while Joshua Williamson wraps up a beloved horror series with Nailbiter #30.

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Royal City #1

Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire

Black Hammer, Descender, Moon Knight, Old Man Logan, and Extraordinary X-Men.

These are all of the monthly books I currently read that are written by Jeff Lemire. He’s one of the busiest people in comics. He’s also one of the best. So whenever a new series arrives with his name on the cover, it’s a must read.

Royal City is very much a passion project for Lemire. Most of his other series fall under the genres of science fiction and superheroes, yet he launched his career with Essex County, an indie comic centered around a fictional version of his own hometown. As he discusses in an essay at the end of Royal City’s first issue, Lemire has wanted to return to a more grounded style of storytelling for a long time. He’s been working on this series for more than two years, and it’s very much worth the wait.

The book’s namesake is a city that once thrived on its factories. Over the course of decades, it has began to decay. The Pike family has been entwined in the town’s rise and fall for generations. Patrick Pike returns to Royal City after his father is hospitalized following a stroke. Pike’s sister is a businesswoman set on saving the town. She has a plan in place to demolish the long standing factories and build a new resort in its place. Her husband is employed by the very company she is attempting to take down. Patrick’s brother is missing in action, spending his days and nights drinking and no longer showing up to work. Patrick’s mother is overbearing and argumentative, and is intent on criticizing the lifestyles of her husband and children.

As the Pike family dynamic is slowly revealed throughout the issue, each member is haunted by a tragic event of the past. Tommy is Patrick’s youngest brother. He drowned decades ago, yet is seen in various forms during present day. His death impacted each family member in different ways, and has never stopped haunting the Pike family. With Tommy, Lemire creates a potential supernatural element to the story, and one I cannot wait to see explored in the issues to come.

Lemire has produced a winner with Royal City #1. His art style — with a consistent, limited color palette — captures the ordinary town and characters perfectly. He’s established a group of characters that are both immediately intriguing and mysterious. The supernatural element is brilliant, and should greatly add to the intimacy of the story. I highly recommend checking out this book and experiencing one of the masters of the comic book medium at his best.


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Nailbiter #30

Written by Joshua Williamson, Drawn by Mike Henderson

For much of its run, Nailbiter was a slow burn mystery. It was always intriguing, and featured many dramatic moments, but it held its biggest cards close, never revealing too much of the big picture.

When the March solicitations arrived, I was surprised to hear that issue #30 would be its last. I remember thinking the series would have a lot of ground to cover in its final issues. And it did. It began to move at a frantic pace over the last few months, culminating in a major cliffhanger that saw the main characters face off against the source of terror in Buckaroo. So did it satisfy?

Yes.

First of all, Mike Henderson goes out with a bang. He is given multiple stunning splash pages featuring some of the most intense, climactic moments of the series. The issue opens with a flashback to Warren’s first kill. It’s framed like an old-school horror movie, with a girl returning home to find her door cracked open. Inside the house is Warren, in the process of chomping down on the girl’s boyfriend. This is a powerful sequence, considering it is the first time we’ve seen the origins of our main character’s dark past.

Following the book’s opening flashback, we are thrown into the chaotic present day situation. Warren, Finch, Crane and Alice are deep in the Buckaroo caves. They find themselves at the mercy of Morty and his serial killer gauntlet, receiving answers to some of the series’ largest mysteries in the process. Williamson leaves us with a resolution to the Buckaroo Butcher mystery that doesn’t wrap everything up in a tight bow. Instead, it provides a thought-provoking reveal that brings into question our understanding of key characters. It plays on a core theme of the series, which is that of nature vs. nurture. It makes me want to re-read the series and search for more clues, which is the sign of a great mystery.

If you’ve never read Nailbiter, now is the perfect time. It’s one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, with a hook that will grab you right from the start and a mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

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