Written by Joshua Williamson, with art by Mike Henderson and colors by Adam Guzowski, Nailbiter #1 follows the investigation of a serial killer whose modus operandi is to “chew (his victims’) fingernails down to the bone before ultimately killing them.” So you know that it’s about as family-friendly as they come. But is it good?
Nailbiter #1 (Image Comics)
Horror comics can be a tricky thing. Horror novels have the unique advantage of allowing the horror to take place entirely in a reader’s head, whereas the audiovisual experience of film allows audiences a more direct look at the terrifying events as they happen. It may be an apples-to-orange-to… let’s say grapefruit comparison to compare novels-to-film-to-comics, but it’s difficult to describe the experience of reading a horror comic any other way. The differences become especially apparent when discussing a horror comic that is released in individual issues, because it brings up an extremely important subject when it comes to horror: pacing.
How long does it take for someone that is literate in the language of comics to read a single issue of comics (or at least a single issue that was released within the past ten years, given the trend towards decompression)? Ten, fifteen minutes to read 20-24 pages of story? That’s very little time or physical space to allow the writer and artist to establish plots, introduce characters, make us care about the characters, create tension, and ultimately scare the bejeezus out of us.
With that in mind, consider the fact that there is only one real scare in Nailbiter #1, and it comes at the very beginning. The rest of the comic is a slow burn, creating a tension that breaks at the last page, in a somewhat predictable yet nonetheless unsettling manner. This is a creepy comic, but not a particularly scary one.
That’s not to say it’s bad, though, because it isn’t. There are some great ideas sprinkled throughout, like a suicidal cop and a serial killer souvenir shop. Williamson’s dialogue is tight and compelling, clever without feeling contrived. Adam Guzowski’s colors are subdued and dark without being overly murky. And Mike Henderson’s art may seem a bit cartoony at times in the way that he draws certain characters, but overall, it’s effectively creepy with some deceptively simple layouts. Pacing is crucial in a horror comic, and Henderson nails it.
The only real problem with Nailbiter at this point is that besides the unique methods of its antagonist, there isn’t anything to the story yet that feels particularly unique. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it generic, but I wouldn’t call it original yet, either. Hopefully it’ll establish a more distinctive voice in the next issue. I know I’ll be reading it.
Is It Good?
Though it’s a long way from greatness, Nailbiter #1 proves that, at the very least, its creators know how to do horror. I’d call that an accomplishment.