"Nailbiter: Volume 1 – There Will Be Blood" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Originally published as Nailbiter #1 - #5
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Mike Henderson
2014, 132 Pages
Trade Paperback released on October 1st, 2014
Where do serial killers come from? If you ask Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson, you'd find out that a big chunk of them originate from the town of Buckaroo, Oregon. Officer Nicholas Finch of Army Intelligence is called to Buckaroo by his friend FBI Agent Eliot Carroll, who claims to have figured out what caused so many people to turn into murderers from this area. Unfortunately, when Finch rolls into town, Carroll goes missing. To make matters worse, a new "Buckaroo Butcher" has sprung up. Finch has to find Carroll, get to the bottom of this mystery, and stop this new killer. No pressure.
It's a good thing Finch has some help. Sure, he's working with the local sheriff, but he needs answers fast. For that he turns to Edward Charles Warren, the Buckaroo Butcher for which this comic gets its name. He would target people that bit their fingernails, kidnap them and wait for them to grow back before gnawing their fingers to the bone and eventually killing them. Warren is one of the most interesting characters in comics today. He's brilliant, but you can practically feel the slime on him. You love him but you also hate him at the same time. There's just something about him that feels off right from the get go. As the book continues, his mystery only grows, and I can't turn away.
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It's easy to make a comparison to Silence of the Lambs with Nailbiter. Williamson even references it halfway through this volume in a brilliant scene. Warren is the smartest guy in the room and he knows it. He plays with Finch and Crane because he knows way more than they do, and he's enjoying watching them run around grasping at straws. He thrives on it.
Although this would be an interesting character study on its own, Williamson fills Nailbiter with an ever-evolving mystery. I've read through this book twice now and I honestly have no idea who the new Buckaroo Butcher could be. While I have more questions than answers, I am so wrapped up in the story that I am mulling over every new puzzle piece as it appears.
There's a near perfect pace to Nailbiter as well. Each chapter ends in a startling cliffhanger that manages to redefine everything. It makes it so it's almost impossible to put the book down, forcing you to read it all in one sitting. You'll find yourself dying to find out what happens next.
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Comics don't have the same tricks of the horror trade available that movies and television do. They can't build up tension with a soundtrack and have something jump out at the character from nowhere. That didn't stop Williamson and Henderson from scaring the crap out of me repeatedly throughout Nailbiter. There are two scenes that come to mind immediately. One is the ending of the fourth issue, which I will not spoil here because it's so damn good. The other takes place in a morgue as Finch and Crane are discussing some recent autopsies with the local mortician. The building has some shoddy electric, so the lights are constantly flickering. This is handled by having occasional panels that are completely dark. The scene comes back and there's a cloaked figure standing in the doorway. Then it goes black again and when it returns, he's gone. Then it happens once more and he's on the move. Just thinking about it gives me chills.
Speaking of Henderson, he delivers some dynamite art on Nailbiter. There's a normalcy about Buckaroo. It could be any small town in America. How could all those people commit such horrible acts if they grew up here? This run-of-the-mill look is juxtaposed against a whole lot of blood. There are some flashbacks to previous Buckaroo Butchers, such as the WTF Killer or The Blonde, showing in gruesome detail what these folks were capable of.
Henderson also provided some amazing covers for the series, which are showcased in a gallery at the back of the book. It's tough to pick a favorite, but you can't go wrong with the first issue. It really gives you an idea of what to expect from the series and it immediately catches the eye with all that blood as Warren bites into (presumably) his own fingers.
Nailbiter pulls you in and never lets go. It easily stands on par with the likes of Silence of the Lambs. It's an intelligent horror story with a top-notch mystery that will leave you begging for more. The plus side is that you can plow through this trade paperback and immediately pick up the next issue, which is already available.