Despite encompassing the penultimate trade paperback, the fifth arc of “Nailbiter,” ‘Bound by Blood,’ tells a very effective story that is enough of a standalone tale to be good for newcomers if taken alone.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Mike Henderson
Colored by Adam Guzowski
Lettered by John J. Hill
Buckaroo, Oregon, has given birth to many infamous serial killers, but the worst was the Nailbiter. And now…is it possible he has a daughter? Could Alice’s search for the truth about her parentage lead her to the origin of the serial killers? A new tale of bloody horror by creators JOSHUA WILLIAMSON and MIKE HENDERSON! Also collected for the first time, the NAILBITER story from the NAILBITER/HACK/SLASH crossover special! Fans of WYTCHES, OUTCAST, and THE WALKING DEAD will enjoy this thriller drama! Collects NAILBITER #21-25 and the NAILBITER/HACK/SLASH short story.
The six arcs of “Nailbiter” encompass five issues each, with ‘Bound by Blood’ being the sole exception, including half of a crossover with Tim Seeley’s “Hack/Slash.” Other previous arcs, especially the fourth one, ‘Blood Lust,’ did have a central concentration on one piece of the overarching “Nailbiter” plot. However, ‘Bound by Blood’ is unique in how, if one distills it down into its core conflict, it can essentially be seen as a standalone storyline, and a rather compelling one at that, fit for many a crime drama or even horror film as what could be seen as an “episode” as much as a comic book story arc.
Part of the relative ease of accessibility owes itself to Joshua Williamson’s use of the aforementioned crossover. Unlike many other one-off crossovers, including the other half of this one, Williamson utilizes the story with Edward Charles Warren and Cassandra “Cassie” Hack’s team-up against a Buckaroo Butcher (one of the various serial killers emerging from the town) in a way that weaves itself intricately, essentially, into the main plotline. The sheer depth of the connection comes as a shock to many readers of comics, who would expect a fun, yet overall nonessential single-issue story that just happens to be included in the fifth trade volume for sake of completion. On the other hand, the “Nailbiter / Hack/Slash” issue is, while an essential part, also not pushed into the story in a way that makes it completely necessary to understand the other series, and the references to its events are minimal enough that they act as more of a shock to continued readers than a confusing element for any new arrivals to the “Nailbiter” drama.
Another piece of the puzzle is the use of some non-linear storytelling. Williamson begins the main arc (if one considers the numbered issues to be the main arc) with an event happening at near the very end of the final issue of the volume, and then spends nearly the entirety of the five issues going from earlier in the day to how exactly that bloody, horrific event took place, albeit with far more clarity, resulting in a rather gory set of book ends. How exactly Alice would end up in that bloody, horrifying situation takes the entire arc to explain, but in the end, it ends up completely understandable while bringing a new stage in the overarching plot through increased focus on both her and the masked, armored Butcher of Buckaroo.
Despite the overall concentration on Alice’s ever-increasing traumas since finding out the true identity of her parents, there are still elements that come to the fore regarding Sheriff Sharon (or is it Shannon?) Crane, Edward Charles “Nailbiter” Warren, and Nicholas Finch. Williamson even provides some hooks into the next arc with Abigail Barker. Still, while what they do is important to the story of the entire comic, the mystery and gruesome deaths involved are still able to be ignored by those who are jumping in on just this volume alone and wish to only use it as a general look in on the world of “Nailbiter,” while still providing additional lore and answers (along with some questions) for those following along from the beginning.
In some ways, the storytelling choices Williamson makes allow for some of his world building to emerge in a way that doesn’t leave newcomers in the dust. Repetition from earlier volumes helps to make the concept of the Buckaroo Butchers and some of former Agent Barker’s actions understandable enough that, while reinforcing the concepts through justified exposition, many people can just jump in and enjoy the story as is through a very different, borderline slasher film way.Continued below
Mike Henderson’s artwork is at times a bit cartoonish, but the overall effect lends itself to a highly gritty atmosphere, fitting well into the serial killer crime dramas as much as some of the over the top action that works its way into ‘Bound by Blood.’ The disturbing imagery, such as someone’s entire body seeming to burst apart from an injection, is played completely straight without coming across as too wacky, and Williamson’s mastery of his characters’ personalities helps to sell the sheer horror of the situations at hand.
Silhouettes and usage of various angles manipulates the tone of any given scene with a degree of mastery that would be lost on some other artists. Dismemberments and decapitations are shown with the limbs and heads just in black to enhance the terror of the reader who knows exactly what is going on. A tearful revelation of utter madness is shown with a close-up on both the person revealing said instability and the person to whom he is revealing it. The Butcher of Buckaroo explains an element of his origin story that would shock readers, but the angle leaves him in the background with concentration on Alice, making it easy to overlook the implications of his words until she herself has more focus on them. A room is suddenly shown with words scrawled all over it in blood as people find it in a splash page, accentuating the sheer horror on the part of the reader. Hallucinated assaults on others are shown in a very similar way to the actual attacks, making the points at which murder actually occurs all the more surprising after the fact.
Even Henderson’s magnificent pencils would be lost without Adam Guzowski’s coloring. The layered hues and shades on the various characters and pieces of scenery help with both the depth of the artwork and the tone, showing the light sources as well as adding dimension to Henderson’s artwork. Splashes of single colors are all the more surprising when played against gradients and more subtle changes in color, and the deeper tans on certain characters act as a definite, uncanny difference against the nearly undead pallor of Edward Charles Warren himself, enabling him to stick out in spite of not being truly supernatural in any way.
John J. Hill’s lettering is very notable, as differences help to show varied focus of perspective on any one scene, at times creating a perverse duality. This effect is especially prominent in a scene in which Alice is blindfolded, with her normal, small text being lain out in white within the black silhouettes of dismembered or decapitated body parts as a way of showing that she has no idea what is actually going on, while outside of said silhouettes, aware of the brutality, the kidnappers who blindfolded her have far larger text, thicker and at times filled in with white over the maroon outline, or in the case of the onomatopoeia of the attacks, both outlined in maroon, having the white inside, and being effectively “scratched” into the panel as if roughly drawn in.