Any discussion on serial killers has to, at some point, ask the question of nature versus nurture; were these people born evil or did circumstances influence their murderous ways? It’s an interesting conversation point but one of those things that has far too much conflicting real world evidence to give us a decent conclusion. Image Comics, however, are taking their own, ahem, stab at the debate in the form of Nailbiter, where a small town has given birth to too many serial killers for it to be a coincidence. What, or who, is turning the people of this quiet town into brutal killers?
Nailbiter is an ongoing series, so chances are pretty good that you’re not going to be given the answer anytime soon. In fact, while there are many answers given in this five issue collection, there are always more questions. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is a horror comic but it’s one that was born of older movies; more Silence of the Lambs, than Saw. In fact Silence of the lambs is referenced quite heavily as the titular serial killer, a man who likes to gnaw on his victim’s fingers to gruesome effect, seems to believe himself the Hanibal Lecter character in this story. And even though the story does open on him and his capture, the character we spend most of the time following is that of Nicholas Finch, an Army Intelligence officer with a dark past and explosive anger. We first see him holding his gun against his head, though this seems to be a thread the writers aren’t planning on picking back up in at least the first few issues. It’s an introduction to a troubled character that borders on the narrow line between cliche and trite, but it’s handled well enough to keep the reader engaged.
That actually sums up the writing for the first couple of issues quite well. The tight pacing and over-efficient use of dialogue leaves characters speaking little more than pointed exposition a lot of the time. There doesn’t seem to be an action or spoken line that doesn’t come with a big neon arrow pointing to a fact the reader needs to learn. It’s not subtle but is is good enough to keep the reader engaged. There are even some interesting moments where the big bad’s identity is hidden by showing things from their perspective as characters spill exposition (and then blood). It’s a nice touch that has worked well in the movies, and does the same here.
Another thing that Nailbiter takes from older Horror movies is a sense of humour that a lot of modern films have forgotten. It can be dark, sarcastic or occasionally silly, but it’s satisfying to read a horror comic that’s not just relentless gore and drama for pages on end. This is also helped by the artwork which, while suitable gritty for the genre, is drawn and coloured in an almost cartoony style that softens the blow of the more intense scenes.
Volume one collects the first five issues of Nailbiter but little else. You get collected covers, which is always nice, but the only value here is in the reduced cover price over buying the issues separately. As that stands, though, it does make this the perfect starting point for someone who has not picked up the series yet. It also serves as the perfect catch-up for the series, issue six of which is also released on October 1st. It gets four chewed on finger stumps as a solid enjoyable read, and hopefully it can maintain this energy for the rest of its run… and that we find out about the bees.
Caught up with volume one and want to continue this series? Issue six is released on the same day and serves as an interesting one-shot breather amongst all the fast paced killing before it. The main perspective changes to a secondary character for the duration and we see what happens when someone actually wants their child to be born in the place that creates serial killers. This issue also serves to demonstrate that this isn’t going to be a single note song and that there is actually a lot of potential for the future. So far so good.