This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on September 30, 2014.
The first arc of Nailbiter is composed of five increasingly tense issues. The series started with some of the most frightening sequences and creepiest concepts of 2014. Nailbiter #6 backs away from the death and destruction of the main story in order to focus more on the characters who live in Buckaroo, Oregon and what it is like to live in a place that breeds serial killers.
The story introduces Mallory, a pregnant stranger from out of town who has come to Buckaroo in order to have her child, hoping he or she will become a serial killer. That happens within the first few pages of the issue and things go predictably awry from there. It’s a fun idea and one that seems to make sense given the obsession with fame shared by many Americans. Mallory’s journey, in and of itself, is not significantly compelling, but the ideas it raises are. The notoriety and celebrity that evolves from infamous acts can be difficult to describe, and Joshua Williamson recognizes the connection of his story to that concept.
The highlight of the issue comes in the forms of Sheriff Crane and Alice, two of the characters introduced in the series’s opening arc. Williamson utilizes the slower pace and reduced tension of this issue to focus on characterizing these women. Without having to worry about confronting a killer, they are able to talk about their lives and perspectives. Williamson has clearly invested time in both characters and is interested in investing his readership as well. Alice has been an enigma so far and Nailbiter #6 helps change that. Given the crisis involving a crazed pregnant woman, Alice reveals a lot about herself in how she responds. The dissonance between her nihilistic teen persona and compassion for others makes her a much more compelling figure. She still harbors mysteries, but her motivations and personality are much clearer now.
The premise of a crazed pregnant woman could have been troublesome, but Williamson handles it with grace. He builds empathy for the woman and addresses the issue of mental illness. Obvious jokes and cliches are avoided in favor of treating this character, who will likely never appear again, as a human being.
Mike Henderson still finds room to include some excellent scares. One moment in the hospital made me cringe and still has me patting my cheek every once in a while. He also illustrates his ability to subtly shift the tone of the story at the end. His depiction of rain soaked Oregon is adjusted to match the conclusion and provide an upbeat note to this harrowing series. Colorist Adam Guzowski provides some excellent work with the sky in these panels. What could have been an obvious moment is tactfully added so that readers may not even actively notice the story’s change in direction.
Nailbiter #6 shows that there are a lot of interesting stories to be told in Buckaroo beyond the central mystery of why so many serial killers come from this one place. Williamson and Henderson have a clear grasp of what makes their premise interesting and have left themselves room to explore it. This issue and future character-focused one shots of Nailbiterwill make for a welcome sigh of relief.