Serial killers are nothing new to the genre game. Turn on your TV and there’s about a dozen shows depicting the rampages of law enforcement tracking down deranged maniacs. Hell, there’s bound to be even more killer shows now that True Detective took over the world. Many of these stories try and answer the question of where these killers come from, treating them as monsters that come from some darkened pit of humanity we dare not peer too deeply in. With “Nailbiter” #1, Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson dive head first into that void.
Welcome to Buckaroo, Oregon. Come explore it with us in our spoiler-free review.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Mike Henderson
JOSHUA WILLIAMSON & MIKE HENDERSON deliver a mystery that mixes Twin Peaks with the horror of Se7en!
Buckaroo, Oregon has given birth to sixteen of the vilest serial killers in the world. An obsessed FBI profiler investigating the town has suddenly gone missing, and now an NSA Agent must work with the notorious serial killer Edward “Nailbiter” Warren to find his friend and solve the mystery of “Where do serial killers come from?”
“If Josh died I wish he’d leave NAILBITER to me in his will so I could say it was my idea.” — Scott Snyder (SEVERED, Batman, American Vampire)
One thing that’s always been of note when it comes to serial killers, or any mass murderer really, is how they’re so immediately regarded as “the other”. Some abnormal soul that slipped through the cracks and found its way into proper society for the sole purpose of running amok, like in True Detective when (mild spoiler for show you should’ve already seen) the killer ended up being a weird-looking guy who lived in a swamp. Like Shrek! The topic even extends to real life where actual murderers will, after-the-fact, become regarded as irredeemable monsters who were destined to commit these atrocities. Often, little to no observation will be made on where or how the killer was raised. With “Nailbiter” #1, Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson correct this oft-neglected cause by pinning the mystery-at-hand on its setting, not its characters.
“Nailbiter” stars Agent Finch as he searches for a colleague in the town of Buckaroo, Oregon. The town has raised sixteen of the country’s most prolific serial killers and Carroll, the agent who disappeared without a trace, may have been on to the reason why Buckaroo is home to so many murderers. Well, looking at Henderson’s depiction of the town, it’s not hard to see why. Buckaroo doesn’t even try to hide its dark side in its atmosphere, miraculously looking like a more twisted version of Twin Peaks. That darkness extends to the characters, all of whom Henderson depicts as just a little off-balance. Not in an obvious “that person is literally covered in blood” way; the atmosphere of the town extends to the characters and it wouldn’t be completely out of nowhere if someone were to come out as the next Buckaroo Butcher.
The uncertainty and doubt found with the cast of “Nailbiter” is also present in its art. Henderson’s transitions are incredibly unique, especially between the flashback that kicks off the issue and the present that involves the heartbeat from one murder scene carrying on to the present where we first meet Agent Finch. While the first issue itself doesn’t offer many chances for action, there are plenty of scenes where Henderson shows off his penchant for dynamic motion. Call me crazy, but one sequence where Finch swats away a bee is the most beautiful image in the entire issue, with Henderson depicting its less than graceful descent onto the rain-covered pavement. Hopefully, as the series grows and it experiences more conflicts, Henderson will draw an even larger-scale death scene that’s just as weirdly poignant.
Before any brutal showdowns occur (and considering the nature of the series it’s bound to happen any moment), Williamson and Henderson did an excellent job of setting up the world of “Nailbiter” with its first issue. In addition to Henderson’s art, Williamson’s incredibly skilled in crafting memorable killers. His description of “The Book Burner” only requires a paragraph or so and, with Williamson’s depiction of a school on fire, it cements the image of an intriguing killer in your mind — even though he’s just a flashback character!Continued below
Williamson and Henderson have crafted a disturbing world with depth through “Nailbiter” #1. Half-horror story, half-crime story, and all-cultural satire, it might just inform the direction of where true crime stories go in comics, if not in all media. It’s often been said that mysterious characters become less interesting when you begin to explain them, but by placing the spotlight on the killers’ hometown of Buckaroo rather than the actual Buckaroo Butchers themselves, Williamson and Henderson have founded a rich playing space for what has the potential to be one of the most visceral and cerebral serial killer stories comics has seen.
Final Verdict: 8.9 – Buy!