Comic Review: Jeff Lemire’s Royal City

Published on May 5th, 2017 in: Comic Reviews, Comics, Current Faves, Reviews |

By E.A. Henson

Reading comics is just like consuming any other kind of media for me. You consume what you’re presented with on a weekly basis and there’s a certain baseline enjoyment you derive from it. Spider-Man duking it out with Doc Ock again? Cool. Batman solving a crime while being dark and brooding about it? Right on.

For comic book fans that’s pretty much it. I’m not saying that it’s boring or it’s really even that bad. I’m sure I’ve written before that comics are (for me and I’m sure others) escapism. That’s great, but it can also get stale pretty quickly.

When something truly good comes along it’s easy to notice but you also have to be paying attention. I know how easy it is to get your weekly pull from your LCS (Local Comic Shop), plow through your books, and finish them in time for Arrow to start on Wednesday night. I do it all the time and it’s super easy (is that a super hero pun? I can’t tell anymore).

But every now and then you’ll be paging through that month’s Previews catalog and you’ll see a book worth taking a chance on. That creator you like that does work for either Marvel or DC? Well, they’re also doing something that’s creator-owned and completely original. And they need your help.

That almost brings us to Jeff Lemire’s Royal City, a book being published by Image Comics.

For those not familiar, Jeff Lemire published a collection of comics called Essex County back in 2008. If you haven’t read it, that’s OK… but you should probably fix that. The book ended up being incredibly important to me, since I grew up not too far away from the actual Essex County (just a bridge and/or tunnel away). Lemire instantly became a creator I was going to keep my eye on.

After Essex County I thought it would be awhile before I saw Lemire’s work again. Nope! He followed up with some work for DC’s Vertigo imprint (Sweet Tooth) before crossing over to the main DCU and then over to Marvel, as well as Valiant Comics. As a fan it was great to see him get mainstream success and I can safely recommend any of his superhero books.

Now we can FINALLY get to Royal City.

As mentioned above, there’s a tendency for superhero comics to get a bit stale after a bit. I’d have to imagine there is a finite amount of times a person can write Wolverine saying “bub” before the writer’s eyes start to fill with tears as the last ‘b’ key is depressed on the keyboard. As long as I’m imagining stuff I would also bet there’s a longing to just create stories about people living their lives and not having to deal with adamantium skeletons or ninjas from The Hand.

That’s what Royal City is. It’s a book about a family and a city, and someone who has been dead for years.

It’s most certainly not a “slice of life” book as I’ve found from the first two issues I’ve read. Lemire published a long essay at the end of the first issue which covers his hopes and fears over creating a book that’s not tied to a specific genre. It’s refreshing to see a creator address the audience in such plain terms. The essay is just as essential to book as the preceding pages.

Lemire’s art for Royal City is a tight as it has ever been, maybe even more so. I don’t know how long I stared at the splash page of the first issue, which somehow manages to be both a drawing of a suburban house and so much more.

The first issue introduces the reader to members of the Pike family. The way Lemire paces these introductions is done with such a deft hand it feels almost effortless. The introduction of Patrick Pike—who is returning to his hometown while he struggles with writing his next book after his first book’s success—does feel a little trope-y but is still relatable. I mean, what writer among us hasn’t struggled with inspiration before waking up in a cold sweat screaming “Riverdale! My next review will be about Riverdale!” and then feverishly writing a thousand words about sexy Archie.

I would encourage anyone who wants to read this book to go in cold. That is to say, don’t read any of the little paragraph blurbs telling you what the book is about. Going in with next to nothing in the way of preconceived notions can only make the experience of reading Royal City better.

It has been a long, long time since I read a serialized comic book where I immediately want the next issue to be available right away. Having to wait a month between issues is tortuous in the best possible way. This is a book that I would recommend reading monthly and then picking up the collected edition later on.

Finally, Lemire includes a Spotify playlist link at the end of each issue. It’s a 21st century mixtape of music he was listening to while drawing the issue. It’s not essential to listen to it but it helps add another layer to the tremendous piece of art that is Royal City.

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