Review: Nailbiter #21

I’ve always been an avid, bordering on voracious reader for as long as I can remember. When you view your life as a collection of read stories, being retrospective can be quite amusing: when I was nine I used to binge-read R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series as if no other author existed. Shortly thereafter, I began my tenure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. In high-school I became utterly enthralled with the white-knuckle (though historically inaccurate) adventures of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels and most recently as a young(ish) adult, I made my way through the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. So what’s the point I’m trying to make here, aside from the fact that I read a lot of guilty-pleasure fiction? Sometimes without warning or expectation a book can crawl out from the fringes of obscurity and become totally embedded at the forefront of your mind and psyche. You become so instantaneously attached to the characters that it begins to feel as if you are a part of the plot unfolding – like it’s happening all around you. That’s what reading Nailbiter these past few months has been like for me: total immersion. It just keeps getting better and better with no signs of stopping or slowing down. So this month, from me to the entire Nailbiter team, I simply want to say “thank you.” For those of you not familiar with the exploits of Edward Charles Warren, better known as The Nailbiter, he is the most infamous killer in a long line of serial-killers from the small town of Buckeroo, Oregon. Warren killed 46 people but never saw the inside of a prison cell and has been living freely among the townspeople of Buckeroo ever since his acquittal. Three years pass and again bodies once more are beginning to pile-up; it seems like The Nailbiter is back at his old tricks again. The F.B.I. along with local law enforcement will have to work quickly to not only solve the murders but also answer the nagging question on everyone’s mind: “what about Buckeroo turns people into serial-killers?”

Nailbiter_21-1Ok, that’s enough backstory. Let’s dive into the meat of what was truly an exceptional issue of Nailbiter. Now if you’ve read anything that I've ever posted in the past, you’ll know I'm a sucker for things “coming full-circle”; there’s something about “Luke, I am your father” type-scenarios that just get me giddy. So, obviously when I saw the cover for this month’s issue, my pants got tight. We get to see Alice posed just as her father was back on the cover of issue #1, chewing voraciously on the finger-tips of an unknown victim, completely covered and dripping with blood. This has been a haunting image that has purveyed over the entire series, almost like a logo – one that to this day makes me clench my fists. By reinterpreting the cover with Alice instead of Warren it does all but confirm two of the biggest lingering questions from the previous arc: the first is that Warren is in fact Alice’s father, the second is that Alice could be the next Buckeroo Butcher. Also, the title of this new arc ‘Bound by Blood’ has a delightful double entendre that could be lending itself to a more literal interpretation, but more likely this is a figurative reproach suggesting that Alice is condemned by the very DNA/blood that flows through her veins.

This seems to be the direction that Williamson and Henderson are taking us, as this issue made sure to highlight several examples of Alice struggling to retain her sanity i.e. the ‘murder visions’. Remember F.B.I. Agent Abigail Barker? The one who carved up Eliot Carroll? She was experiencing the exact same murder visions as Alice and we all remember how that ended up. Alice, even before finding out that her father was The Nailbiter, had her flirtations with the malevolent; she’s always had a dark curiosity and a deep concern that something about her isn’t quite right. Do these visions mean that she is on the same doomed path as Barker? Is the daughter destined to become the father and complete the circle of death? Or will Alice come out of her metamorphosis intact, proving once and for all that there is no such thing as ‘the Curse of the Buckeroo Butchers’?

So, while we're wondering if Buckeroo will have one more soon-to-be psycho on its hands, another confirmed killer makes her return home – The Blonde. One of the more well-known of the Butchers, The Blonde would lure cat-calling men into her basement, cut out their tongues and stitch up their mouths. In 1989 she killed 22 people but like Warren, she was acquitted of her crimes. Now she’s back and set to re-open The Murder Store no less! This poses an interesting foil for Sheriff Crane for a few reasons: 1) The immediate problem of the negative press attention that comes with The Murder Store 2) The fact that it is being run by one of the actual Butchers this time 3) The Blonde was Crane’s all-time favourite Butcher! She was self admittedly obsessed with her as a teen! How will The Blonde adjust to a life back in Buckeroo? It seems naïve to think that there isn’t some ulterior motive for her showing up all of a sudden, but what is it? Furthermore, how will Crane react coming face-to-face with her childhood anti-hero and what will Warren’s reaction be when he learns he’s not the only Butcher in town? My mind is spinning with anticipation as there has never been a more exciting time in the entire series of Nailbiter.

This issue was nothing short of brilliance; a great start to a new arc and one of the best issues in the entire series. Everyone was on their game, especially colourist Adam Guzowski, who absolutely stole the show; disgusting and beautiful all at the same time. There are titles/creators who strive for consistency and then there are those who seek to be better, to raise the bar with each successive effort. That is why I keep coming back to Nailbiter because it keeps getting better, each issue superior to the one that preceded it. Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson have created a truly inspired mystery, one that scratches an all-too-Freudian-itch from the darkest recesses of our mind. I am always so hesitant to give anything a perfect score, as I don’t like the precedent that it sets, but I’m at a loss to find anything at all wrong with this issue. So, I suppose at the end of the day: fuck precedent. Congrats Nailbiter for receiving my first 'Perfect Review': now go and read it for yourselves!

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Nailbiter #21 Writer: Joshua Williamson Artist: Mike Henderson Colourist: Adam Guzowski Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 5/4/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital