What makes, or breaks, a family? That’s been a question on Jeff Lemire’s mind, in many ways, for a long, long time, whether he’s telling it through the lens of a galaxy-spanning fight by robots for freedom in Descender or in the post-apocalypse of Sweet Tooth. Royal City (Image Comics), however, finds him returning to his roots with comics about real people, with a touch of the supernatural.
At its center is a messed-up family, and they seem at first to be from the stock tropes of “messed up family” stories: Addict brother, sniping mom, sad father, successful brother who left, sister who stayed to save the dying town. As Lemire’s story progresses, though, we discover that even though they’re dysfunctional, there is a thread that binds them all, one the book reveals in a clever final twist.
Lemire’s cartooning is particularly stark, here; he’s always had a rough-hewn, vivid style but here in particular we see him play with color and styles in a way that pushes his boundaries. Surreal nightmarish landscapes collide with the gritty, ugly small city of the title, and often Lemire’s best moments are the small ones: Lemire has a particular skill capturing the petty arguments people use to veil their bigger problems. Just how this book will be an ongoing is an interesting question, but it’s also one we can’t wait to see Lemire answer.