The Devil Killer Revealed: “Nailbiter” Issue #20 (Review)
Story by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Mike Henderson
Colors by: Adam Guzowski
Letters and Book Design by: John J. Hill
Edited by: Rob Levin
If I could use expletives to describe how amazing this issue is, I would. And there’s no way to discuss it without spoilers because they’re the best part. This issue—and the whole story arc—is fan-fricken-tastic. As I keep reading Nailbiter, I’m more and more impressed and eager for it to continue. I hope Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson never quit telling the Nailbiter’s tale.
Warning: Spoilers will follow!
In issue 19, Officer Vaughn wrongly arrested Daniel Castle for the Devil Killer’s murders. This issue picks right up with Vaughn receiving the key to the city for his heroism. However, Barker and Finch don’t buy his good-guy persona and decide to do a little background research and raid his apartment, where they discover the murder weapon. Vaughn is the Devil Killer! This is an aspect of Williamson’s writing that I absolutely love. He understands exactly how to create shock for readers and never leads readers on—he always delivers on what was promised. He develops just the right amount of anticipation to keep readers hungry for more and doesn’t reveal too many plot points that inevitably get buried and forgotten in some comics. His storytelling and pacing are flawless. Vaughn reveals that the Butcher and the Master asked him
to commit the murders—but the demon gimmick was all his idea. It’s unclear who the Master is, but he (or she) might just be the key to the Buckaroo Butchers. After a kerfuffle with Barker and Finch, Vaughn jumps out of his apartment window and kills himself to avoid being arrested. Although the panel of him crashing into the pavement is one of the most gruesome of the issue (but not the most gruesome as we get to toward the end), the colors are lovely. The red blood splattering up with remnants of glass contrasts nicely with the blue and purple lights bouncing off the ground. The use of the word smash—displayed in thick white bubble letters under Vaughn’s face—is especially a nice touch.
With the Devil Killer revealed, Finch goes to see Warren, who is still in custody after being discovered in blood at a crime scene. After Warren’s dramatic rendition of his journey through hell in issue 19, Finch realizes that it’s impossible to tell when he’s lying. So he asks whether Warren was really responsible for the forty-five murders he was convicted of. Warren says, “It’s complicated.” Williamson continues to peel back the many layers of Warren’s character, which makes him all the more intriguing. Is he lying? Is he not fully responsible for the murders? Did he just have a nail-biting fetish, while someone else murdered his victims? What part did the Master play in the murders? I was hoping Finch would ask Warren about the Master but maybe that’s for another issue.
We also get a quick update about Crane as well. Williamson only stays on this story for a couple pages, which is smart because it’s just filler for character and plot building right now. It seems Crane decided to work with Reverend Louis Fairgold, after he encourages her to do it for her daughter, Alice. She sits in her daughter’s hospital room thinking back on her conversation with him, as Alice wakes up from her coma. Upon waking up, Crane says, “There’s something I need to tell you.” Although the conversation occurs off issue (or maybe it’ll appear in the next), it’s clear Crane is finally revealing that she’s Alice’s mother—and also that Warren is her father. As we’ve seen, Alice has quite the interest in the Buckaroo Butchers, but is it something more?
After discovering the Devil Killer, Barker is back on the Buckaroo investigation. And her first witness to question? Detective Carroll. As Williamson and Henderson have shown, her visions of brutally killing those around her are intense and spontaneous. They’re often without reason—shooting someone in the head or stabbing someone for merely speaking. While meeting with Carroll, she asks him details about his findings—eager to know why she keeps having such troubling hallucinations. When he refuses, wanting to only speak to Finch about the case, she launches into another vision, where she forcefully stabs him repeatedly with a pair of scissors. She stabs him over and over, as she repeats “Tell me! Tell me! Tell me! I have to know what they did to me!” However, this time. It’s not a hallucination. It’s real. Usually when she’s hallucinating, the background goes red until she returns to the real world. After the third panel, the background is light blue—the actual color of the walls in Carroll’s room. This is an excellent way for Adam Guzowski to convey through color that the scene is real. As hospital staff rush in, Finch stands in the
doorway asking, “What have you done?” Throughout this arc, Williamson, Henderson, and Guzowski did an excellent job building these scenes for readers. We knew it was only a matter of time until the hallucinations became reality. Although the full-page panels are extremely gory, Henderson’s attention to detail is incredible—the blood spraying everywhere, the tears streaming from Barker’s eyes, Carroll’s utter shock. Even the panel with Barker rubbing Carroll’s blood down her face is drawn beautifully—with different hues of red blood spatter caking the foreground and background. The issue ends with the only three words it could end with: “To be continued.” What a perfect way to end the arc. It’s unfortunate Carroll is dead, as he knew so much about the Buckaroo Butchers, but it’s really superb storytelling.
Henderson’s cover art depicts Warren in what looks like a doorway to hell, as several demons look on, waiting for his arrival. Displaying many different demons showcases his creativity. Perhaps this is a follow-up to Warren’s anecdote of traveling to hell in issue 19. However, this cover seems to more so portray Warren as a victim, rather than the hero he made himself out to be. With Warren hinting that he perhaps wasn’t fully guilty of the Buckaroo murders, perhaps he is a victim. Did the Master make him commit the crimes? I’m sure Williamson will tell us soon enough.
What an exciting end to this arc! We won’t get another issue until May, and that’s really too far away. Yes, Nailbiter is dark, and it’s gruesome. But it’s also intriguing and compelling. Each issue is better than the last. The storytelling and artwork are impeccable, and it’s definitely one of the best comics out there right now. Go ahead. Pick up Nailbiter. It’s all right to be a little bloodthirsty.