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Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Jeff Lemire Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: March 1, 2017 Cover Price: $4.99 Review by: Repairman Jack
Royal City is the latest of Jeff Lemire’s run of what I would call slice of life comic books. He doesn’t really like that name because as far as western comic books are concerned those are mostly seen as boring. As a longtime fan of Manga long before really investing into western comic books, I’m quite OK with calling it a slice of life book and not looking at that as a downside. Slice of life can hold a lot of things within it, it can broach a wide range of genre, so with that in mind I look forward to Royal City because the books he has done in the past, which I would consider in this style, have all been quite amazing. So is Royal City another home run in this department? Let’s find out.
Whether it’s the art style or the exposition being laid out, this book will immediately remind you of Lemire’s older work in things like Essex County, Roughneck, or Sweet Tooth. It’s a visual that just oozes sadness and melancholy and Royal City is no different. We meet the Pike family as they all come back together with their father suffering a stroke. Throughout the book as we meet each member of the family we will learn that the family members have issues of their own, but also issues that the family is suffering as a whole.
Over the course of the issue most interactions that we get with the family members it usually ends with some kind of interaction with a Tommy. Only each time we see Tommy it’s through a different member of the families eyes and each Tommy is quite a bit different. Through each characters interaction we both learn a lot about what is ailing each character but it also seems we learn how each character views this Tommy for their selves.
Through the father we first get a glimpse of Tommy as he is yelling through static from an old time radio. With Pat, what I assume to be the oldest son, we meet a young teenage boy in the middle of the road as Pat makes his way back to Royal City for his Fathers stroke. With the other son Richard we get a young twenties bad habit enabling Tommy that Richard uses to flake off work. The daughter Tara sees Tommy as a young boy who only wants to play and eat Mac n’ Cheese. Then finally we get the mother who sees Tommy as late teen altar boy. Through all these interactions we get a sense of the problems these characters are facing in their own lives and we get a pretty good idea that they’re all dealing with the loss of a family member and varied ways.
Throughout the issue we get a lot of exposition about the family and about the town of Royal city. When Pat the oldest son goes to check on Richard the younger son, as he hasn’t yet been notified of his father’s status since the son has been deemed a lost cause, he comes in contact with his Tommy once again. Tommy originally walked off the road and under a bridge to walk away into disappearance, this time Pat follows and Tommy doesn’t just disappear. Tommy slowly leads Pat to a cemetery and ultimately Tommy’s gravestone where he is then met by all of the versions of Tommy. We then also learn that the exposition through the issue was a page taken from Tommy’s journal from the year that he passed and it is alluded to that he may have taken his own life.
We get a lot in this first issue. I feel as if it’s pretty rare that you get to know such a range of characters so quickly and very distinctly. You also get a really good sense of the town of Royal City through both the exposition and the characters interaction. You have the small town that relies heavily on the local warehouse that this family is pretty closely tied to. You have Tara married to a shift manager currently working there but Tara herself is also trying to coordinate a deal to sell the land for a getaway for the big city close by. The loser brother Richard happens to also work at the warehouse and it seems Tara’s husband has been covering for him not showing to work for quite a while. The point I’m trying to make is that we get a lot laid out in just one issue. It is really easy to get the workings or miss-workings of this family and then we have it all wrapped even tighter together with their visions of Tommy.
I really like what we get here. It reminds me a little bit of a less mysterious and less tragic Black Hammer. Where Royal City trades in the capes and super humans for a much more relatable and reflective Midwest story of a family dealing with loss. Lemire said he didn’t like to pin it down to a slice of life story because he thinks it’s more than that, but I think realistic and relatable story told with a slightly surrealist slant can be a really great thing.
Bits and Pieces:
Royal City gives a lot for a first issue. Some amazing characterization and emotional story telling told in such a small time makes it easy to become quickly attached. The only problem is I could see it not being for everyone and could possibly be seen as divisive. In a medium that is usually filled with genre work something a little more realistic can easily be seen boring. Though, I contest it is so much more.