By Ben Snyder
Royal City #11 picks up exactly where it left off prior to its flashback arc; with Patrick and his recently discovered niece awaiting his estranged wife Greta as she joins him in the titular Royal City. It’s hard to give this entry a positive review when it leaves the reader in a state of perpetual malaise. But one hallucinatory character says it best near the end of the chapter, “That’s what this place does to you… leaves you in between.” That is why this chapter is successful; Jeff Lemire is totally in control of the story and flexing his artistic muscles by forcing the reader to join the characters in this semi-purgatorial rotting steel town.
Royal City definitely has been a required taste throughout it’s run. Many times it has been extremely dry with almost little to no forward propulsion in its script. The main characters (the Pike children) are stuck in the past and incapable of escaping it, despite almost every character progressing around them. Patrick is still attempting to figure out his next story idea, Tara is still stuck in Royal City despite her lofty dreams of escaping, and Richie is still grappling with addiction. Even the matriarch, Patti, is continuing her affair despite her husband being in a coma, although he does awake in this chapter.
It’s painful to read because Lemire imbues each and every one of these characters with such personality and genuine emotion that it is hard not to root for them. Some characters make out better than others, especially Patrick. It seems out of all the children, he has the potential to grow the most, with the introduction of Tommy’s daughter Olive and the reintroduction of his wife, Greta. It seems as though this could be a kind-of-nuclear family situation. And there definitely will be closure coming soon, as Lemire already announced he’s ending this story with chapter #14. But, knowing the story matter and author, any semblance of positive closure feels unlikely.
The last major story arch definitely had it’s faults, as I felt the flashback restraints weren’t that effective because we couldn’t see the direct repercussions of each action or decision rendering a lot of moments to seem pointless in the moment. But I think the formula of mixing the flashbacks with the present works extremely well in this chapter. It doesn’t eliminate any of the mystery or subtlety of the script, if anything it highlights it, and adds some ambiguity. The chief example of this is when Richie is debating on leaving town with Tara’s money, and the panel flips to the scene in which he is beating up younger Tommy. It’s simply adding more layers to an already deeply troubled character.
I personally always thought Lemire’s work looked better in black and white (the example being his Essex County), but after spending more and more time in Royal City, I’ve grown a greater appreciation for the art as a whole. There are very subtle things he does that I haven’t even noticed until now, such as using sepia tones in all of the flashbacks and then gradually fading them into the colors of the present. Probably the prettiest shot of the entire series is the last page which shows Richie leaving town, with the town in the background. The sepia tones blend with grays and blacks of the present, and it’s simply astonishing. Besides that, Lemire’s art is generally the same it’s always been, and few things will change that. You either love it or hate it.
I’ve personally grappled with Royal City in the past. Some issues felt pointless and boring, while others struck a deeply personal note as I, too, have felt similarly to the characters. And I think in Royal City #11, these emotions finally come together. I’m supposed to feel stuck while reading some of Royal City because that’s exactly what the characters are: Stuck, never able to move one way or the other. It’s troubling and its haunting, but it’s similarly beautiful and almost hopeful.
Royal City #11