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Nailbiter and Twin Peaks: Small Town Murder Mystery Done Right (Vol.1 Review)

Updated: Jan 25, 2020


Writer: Joshua Williamson

Artist: Mike Henderson

Colorist: Adam Guzowski

Letterer: John J. Hill

Publisher: Image Comics


When I think of small town murder mysteries, I think of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks". Lynch revolutionized television and had audiences entangled in an intricate web of characters, secrets, mythos, and the supernatural as Special Agent Dale Cooper tried to uncover who really killed Laura Palmer. Being my absolute favorite show, when I saw that Joshua Williamson's NAILBITER was described as "Twin Peaks" meets "Se7en", my intrigue got the best of me. (While, I do love David Fincher's "Se7en"... I will refrain from discussing it in relation to NAILBITER. The sole purpose of that being that I'm not as fully familar and fanatical about it as I am for "Twin Peaks".) 

NAILBITER starts us off with serial killer Edward Charles Warren. His thing was kidnapping people, waiting for their finger nails to grow to full length, eating them, and finally killing them. It's shown by Agent Carroll busting him. Flashfoward three years, we see Carroll's reaching out to his old partner Finch (our main protagonist). He says that he needs Finch to come to Oregon because he's figured out the secret to the town (this reminds me a lot of the scene where Special Agent Cooper calls his partner Sheriff Harry S. Truman saying he knows who killed Laura Palmer and that, "Yes, it CAN wait 'till morning.") 

Carroll resides in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon. It's been coined as the birthplace of serial killers because the town has had 16 of the worlds worst killers come from that town. As Finch enters this town, he encounters a slew of characters that already have incredibly complicated ties to other characters and the town inself. Sheriff Crane, the other protagonist and main police officer of Buckaroo, used to date serial killer, Warren. There's Raleigh Woods; he runs the towns murder memorbilia shop seeing as his grandfather was a serial killer called the Book Burner. We have Hank who is in kahoots with Warren, and by the end of the first volume, we don't know why. The town's historian and mortican, Morty, is the nephew of serial killer The Grave Digger who buried people alive. Getting complicated? I know. The funny part of that is the fact that it was all established in the first three issues of the series. Just like in "Twin Peaks", NAILBITER establishes that this isn't a simple murder case to solve, but rather a complicated look into a town where everyone has ties or connections to serial killers... where anyone could be under suspision. Not to mention, the inclusion of several nosey teenagers also trying to discover the mysteries of this sleepy town. It reminds a lot of Laura Palmer's friends, James Hurley and Donna Hayward, attempting to solve and discover who killed Laura themselves. 

Moving on to art, Mike Henderson does a cool job setting up atmoshere. There are tons of beautiful panels that showcase trees, fauna, and skies. The violence and gore, while a bit nervewrecking, isn't the forefront of this story. I love that we still see gruesome horror without it being oversaturated. It's so reminicent of the tone and atmosphere Twin Peaks had; David used long shots of the town, color saturation during violent scenes, paneling away from horror shots for more of an abstract look, as well as a good balance between dark and light shots. Another moment that seems to pay homage to Lynch is the first page of issue three. It shows a panel of a blue sky with a rose. Then, the rose being snipped by Warren and him finally tossing it aside much like the opening sequence for his film Blue Velvet. 

Throughout these first six issues, Williamson asks these burning questions of why are there so many killers from Buckaroo? Are serial killers just born in this place or are they bred as such? It also establishes how broken this town is. Police brutality seems to be accepted and glossed over.  There was a trial held to arrest Nailbiter Warren and the jury came to the verdict that he was innocent. A lot of similar questions are asked for "Twin Peaks". Some examples being, "Why is there looming evil in this town? Why is the town filled with crime such as gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking? Why is this town broken?" I love how both stories tackle the underbelly and reality of their respective towns. 

I went into NAILBITER as a fan of "Twin Peaks" and left being a fan of both works. All of the elements that David Lynch defined for sleepy town murder mysteries are uniquely packaged in NAILBITER's intriging premise. If you're itching for something fresh and modern that features the complex character relationships, intricate town mythos, detailed scenery, and thought provoking questions "Twin Peaks" had to offer in 1990, check out this horror/mystery book from Image Comics.

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