REVIEW Nailbiter Volume 1: Small Town Slasher Serial Killers

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Buckaroo Oregon breeds serial killers like restoration London bred rats. It’s a small town where everybody knows everybody … and everybody seems to know a serial killer. The town has made its stained mark with sixteen, popularly referred to as the Buckaroo Butchers, and the most famous of the blood-soaked bunch is Edward Charles Warren aka Nailbiter.

The story opens with a SWAT team beating down the door of a rundown house. Inside sits the titular killer amid a macabre display of broken bodies. A twisted, satisfied smile marks his blood stained lips as he gnaws on the finger of his latest victim. But as quickly as he is nabbed, Warren beats a murder conviction and returns to small-town life.

Why does Buckaroo produce so many serial killers? And what role does the Nailbiter play in it all?  Elliott Carroll thinks he’s figured it out. But when the FBI agent goes missing, it’s up to Nicholas Finch to pick up the trail. As an Army investigator his specialty is torture and interrogation. And as the killing starts again, Finch seems like the perfect guy to choke out the truth.

That’s the setup in Joshua Williamson’s Nailbiter volume 1: There Will Be Blood. Williamson does a killer job plotting a grim story full of interesting twists and turns. He scatters numerous red herrings along the blood stained path of the latest butcher. The story moves at a neck breaking pace and just when you think the killer has been discovered, Williamson rips off the mask and the twisted tale goes even deeper into the grave.

Throughout, the grisly story is balanced by a sense of fun and inventiveness. The reader is introduced to some of the past butchers like the Book Burner, a bullied child who burned down libraries with the people still inside. Williamson also plays with the genre, with a few funny references to other serial killer franchises, like Silence of the Lambs. And like Hannibal Lector, William’s Nailbiter killer is the perfect mix of creepy and charismatic, if not a Chianti drinker.

Writer Joshua Williamson introduces the Book Burner, one of Buckaroos butchers.
Writer Joshua Williamson introduces the Book Burner, one of Buckaroo’s butchers, as Adam Guzowski cranks up the heat with atmospheric coloring.

The Nailbiter creative team comes together with the swagger of a jazz group, musically creating tension and tone. Dialogue, art, color, and sound all play off each other without missing a note in between. The art by Mike Henderson, flows nicely, especially in the big action set pieces. His framing is evocative and spooky, with masked killers appearing and disappearing from panels like ghosts. Meanwhile Adam Guzowski’s colors capture the heat of burning buildings, the eery mists of the Oregon forests, and the spine-tingling darkness of a graveyard at night.

One of the more effective set pieces takes place in a basement morgue with a dim light on the fritz. The panels alternate between dark and light, providing tension as Finch and local sheriff Sharon Crane, his partner in the investigation, are oblivious to a masked assailant popping in and out of the looming darkness.

Investigators Finch and Crane deal with a corpse in a basement with a flickering light.
Investigators Finch and Crane deal with a corpse in a basement with a flickering light.

And what would a horror story be without those sounds that send a shiver down the spine? John J. Hill’s lettering is one of the best surprises. In many comic books the sound effects come across as an afterthought once the art is turned in. Hill, who also designed the book, keeps the creaks, snaps, and pops woven seamlessly throughout. One of the best examples is on the first page as the SWAT team pounds down the door of Warren’s slaughter shack. It was a rare occasion where reading is enough to leave the boot stomps echoing in the reader’s ears.

Designer John J. Hills kicks down the door with the brilliant use of comic sound effects.
Designer John J. Hills kicks down the door with the brilliant use of comic sound effects.

The first volume comes to a satisfying conclusion, pulling back the curtain just enough to tease who might be behind the latest string of serial killings in Buckaroo. But of course it could be another one of Williamson’s skillful sleight of hands. You get a sense that he’s building toward something, but if the comic writer knows, his mouth is stitched shut. The reader will just have to continue the series, but with a ride this sweet and scary, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Like many Image trade paperbacks, the first volume of Nailbiter: There Will Be Blood can be picked up for a bargain price of under ten bucks. There is also a collected second volume as well as ongoing monthly single issues for readers that can’t wait for the latest serving of a good gore splattered mystery.

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