Thursday, 12 October 2017

Royal City, Volume 1: Next of Kin by Jeff Lemire Review

The fractured Pike family are brought back together to the dying industrial town of Royal City when the elderly patriarch, Peter, suffers a stroke. But they also have another shared commonality: dead Tommy Pike, drowned at age 14, who haunts each of the family in his own way. In this time of crisis, the family must finally confront their dark past. But is Tommy somehow still alive…? 

Jeff Lemire’s new Image ongoing, Royal City, is being sold as a sequel of sorts to his critically acclaimed modern masterpiece, Essex County. Ehhh… no! It’s not nearly as good but it’s not bad either. 

Lemire does a fine job of introducing the familial cast: Pat the frustrated novelist, struggling to follow up his bestselling first book; his little brother, Richie, the drunk fuckup; Tara, his sister and local businesswoman attempting to rejuvenate Royal City’s faded glory; and Patti, the matriarch, bitter, sad, and with secrets of her own. We get a strong sense of each character and they all get a decent storyline. 

I also liked the supernatural Tommy element. You don’t exactly know whether Tommy’s real or not - is he a metaphor for the family’s guilt/trauma or is he a ghost? - or what happened to him way back when, so it’s a consistently intriguing aspect of the story. 

Rather than Essex County, Royal City reads more like Lemire’s more recent Dark Horse series Black Hammer, in that the story is heavily soap opera-cheesy. There wasn’t enough going on for me story-wise to say I loved reading it and what was going on had me rolling my eyes: the affairs, troubled marriages galore, the forced drama between siblings, particularly the resentment between Pat and Richie. And that pseudo-cliffhanger final page - I could practically hear the opening drums to the Eastenders theme tune! 

I don’t know why Lemire’s currently fixated on this hokey family saga crap or whether he’s just not that good at executing the sort of drama he’s aiming for, but I wasn’t taken with what he did here (or in Black Hammer either). 

Art-wise, Lemire’s settled into a comfortable groove where he’s not doing anything different from his usual style. It looks like it’s always looked but his colours this time around are a bit more vibrant and interesting. 

Don’t get me wrong: the first volume of Royal City is perfectly readable and held my attention, it’s just that the overall effect isn’t that impressive, memorable or unique, and the Essex County comparison really doesn’t help either. Underwhelming, slightly unsatisfying, but mostly ok, don’t expect too much from Royal City.

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