This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 2, 2014.
Nailbiter #1 was released to almost universally positive reviews, praised for its high concept and grasp of the horror genre. Nailbiter #2 continues the strengths of the first issue, but plays up something not seen before: a sense of play. Despite the darkness inherent in a story about a small town that seemingly mass produces serial killers (each with their own unique, horrific habit), Nailbiter is showing that it has an excellent sense of humor and can be a lot of fun.
The humor and fun in this issue reveals the confidence that Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson have in both their story and their ability to tell it. The major elements of Nailbiter, from character design to the pacing of a large-scale mystery are all well done. Henderson has designed a cast that is quickly recognizable with a few basic visual cues. They are not cartoonish, but eschew an overly realistic style as well. It is well matched to the tone Henderson is creating as he blends horror, mystery, and humorous elements together. This level of execution provides the creators with leeway to have fun with their story. It’s easy to imagine how a serial killer cracking wise could become grotesque, but in the context of this issue, it’s bound to bring out a smile.
There are plenty of moments worthy of smiling or laughing at throughout Nailbiter #2. The banter between Finch and Sheriff Crane is naturally written and enjoyable to “hear”. They bounce off one another in an intuitive fashion, allowing for jokes to arise without being forced. Their conversation in a diner toward the end of the issue feels like a real conversation filled with genuine humor. It’s a relationship filled with promise, providing light-hearted moments amongst the darkness.
The lettering by John J. Hill helps to emphasize a few darkly funny moments, including the eponymous Nailbiter imitating a baby calf. The letters rest too small in their speech bubbles, conveying a smallness of sound that easily translates to a reader’s internal ear. They are not rendered illegible by their small size though, ensuring that momentum is maintained.
It’s not surprising that this sense of play is being established early in a series that appears to be planned for a long run. Comparisons to television series like Twin Peaks and The X-Files are an inevitability. These shows may be similar in some regards, but that undersells the unique aspects of Nailbiter. A comparison to the medium of television in general is apt though. Williamson and Henderson are clearly comfortable using an episodic style of pacing. The second issue establishes a trend in that it ends on another cliffhanger, includes the introduction of several smaller mysteries, and shifts the focus slightly between characters. All of this is standard fare in good episodic storytelling.
Although Nailbiter #2 is a lot of fun to read, it remains a horror comic at its heart and is fully capable of reminding readers of this. Henderson depicts a point-of-view chase scene (providing the perspective of the killer) that creates a palpable sense of dread. The equally-scaled panels build a slow, steady rhythm of time. The character whose vision is represented is never rushed, moving purposefully like Michael Myers inHalloween. Readers are trapped with him and forced to watch his progress as he seeks his victim. It’s a truly horrific sequence that re-establishes the series horror roots.
Adam Guzowski’s colors play up the most horrific moments. He is capable of shading blacks so that dark scenes do not obscure detail and his reflections of fire and neon lights play up the danger present in the series. The lighting provided by a hotel fire is particularly worth noting. Reds and oranges are used to conjure visuals of human flesh and blood, rather than the warmth with which these hues are typically associated.
If Nailbiter #1 was the presentation of the series premise, then #2 is the presentation of its tone. The fusion of play and horror creates an interesting balance that Williamson and Henderson navigate well. The inherent craziness of a town filled with serial killers is obvious and played to great effect. It does not prevent the series from being enjoyable to read, though. Characters are capable of banter and jokes. Williamson is even able to poke fun at himself referencing an obvious inspiration in Hannibal Lecter. If this sort of balance is maintained, then readers will have a variety of reasons to return each month. Nailbiter is the most fun you’re likely to have watching people get murdered.