When we fist meet Army Intelligence officer Edward Finch in the opening pages of writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson’s new monthly ongoing series from Image Comics, Nailbiter, he’s about to blow his brains out. By the time events in this book play themselves out, who knows? Maybe he’ll look back and wish he’d done it.
I say that not because this is a bad comic or anything, but because it promises to be one dark and disturbing ride. Finch’s suicide attempt — undertaken for reasons as yet unknown — is interrupted by a phone call from an old friend, FBI criminal profiler Eliot Carroll, who tells our hanging-by-a-thread protagonist that his services are required in a sleepy n’ creepy little town called Buckaroo, Oregon, where Carroll is on the brink of some sort of major breakthrough in his quest to discover just what it is that makes serial killers tick.
Evidently, he’s picked the right spot to go sleuthing around, because Buckaroo, despite having a relatively small population, has served as the birthplace for no less than 16 of America’s most notorious multiple murderers, the most infamous among them being Charles Edward Warren, better known in the tabloid press as the “Nailbiter,” due to his penchant for selecting victims who bite their nails and then proceeding to do the the same thing — before continuing upwards along their hands, arms, etc. You get the picture, I’m sure.
Right off the bat, it’s obvious that Williamson is onto a crackerjack premise here, despite certain key elements of his first issue requiring some seriously heavy suspension of disbelief. For instance, the fact that Finch, a guy who’s employed in a field that’s at least nominally related to law enforcement, has never heard of Buckaroo is patently absurd. Fact is, thanks to our 24-hours-a-day media cycle, if one tiny community were home to 16 serial killers, everybody would know about the place. It would probably, in fact, be something of a tourist “hot spot” for the morbidly inclined, with locals seeking to cash in on their hometown’s less-than-illustrious reputation. In the world of Nailbiter, though, human decency is apparently not as scarce a commodity as it is in the real world, and only one local yokel is shown trying to milk large-scale human suffering for a quick buck. So let’s call that unlikely scenario number two. The third, and most improbable, bitter pill we’re asked to swallow, though, is a real doozy — the idea that Warren, who was caught by the cops devouring one of his victims and is suspected, according to this issue’s text, “of 46 murders in California alone” would actually be acquitted by a jury and allowed to return home a free man is just flat-out nuts. People are convicted on flimsier grounds all the time, just ask any black guy from the South. Likewise, the fact that Finch was previously unaware of this acquittal until informed of it by the local cops in Buckaroo seems highly unlikely, as well.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Actually, pretty damn good. Once Finch shows up in Buckaroo and finds his contact/friend has disappeared, a palpable sense of dread hangs over all the proceedings, helped along in no small measure by Mike Henderson’s unassuming-but-solid pencils and inks and Adam Guzowski’s moody, atmospheric color palette. The script might be a little rocky in places, but the art here is rock-solid, and Williamson, who’s made something of a name for himself with his popular Ghosted series, definitely redeems himself by making what could — and by all rights probably should — feel like a contrived set-up at issue’s end that sees Finch going to the home of Warren in order to enlist his assistance in tracking down Carroll’s whereabouts seem, instead, to be at least a reasonably natural progression of events. And the cliffhanger he concocts to end things on, while admittedly a simple enough one, is delivered with genuine aplomb and packs a real wallop.
It’s fair to say, then, that Nailbiter #1, warts and all, is still a grimly intriguing book that should have no problem appealing to fans of Hannibal and the like. I’m not exactly “hooked” yet, per se, but I’m ready enough to bite, and subsequently be reeled in, despite the fact that I can see the bait clear as day dangling in the water.