Between 2014 and 2017, Image Comics’s Nailbiter took the thriller genre to harrowing new heights of terror. The plot centers around what makes someone a serial killer and explores the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon, where sixteen of the world’s most infamous “Butchers” were born. Now, three years after its stunning conclusion, writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson have returned, and they’ve brought with them enough familiar friends and fiends to fill a maniacal clown car.
A mere two issues in, Nailbiter Returns picks up right where the original series left us. Sheriff Sharon Crane and her daughter Alice have relocated to Portland to put what happened in Buckaroo behind them. In Nailbiter Returns #1, Alice discovers that her mom has gone missing. Fearing that her dad, the notorious Edward “Nailbiter” Warren, is the one who abducted her, Alice solicits the aid of NSA agent and family friend Nicolas Finch, who has coincidentally been called in to investigate what appears to be a murder done in the style of the Buckaroo Butchers.
The double-sized premiere issue comes bookended by scenes set in bad ol’ Buckaroo, which hint at the presence of something ominous looming on the horizon. A terror from Buckaroo’s distant past, it seems, may have been resurrected. It’s left open-ended and gives us something to look forward to as the narrative unfolds.
Nailbiter Returns #2 reveals to us the whereabouts of the Nailbiter, and this only makes Crane’s disappearance all the more mysterious. While on the case to find Alice’s mom, Finch gets a call to investigate two more bodies that have turned up, which also appear to be copycat murders. Meanwhile, Alice’s impatience gets the better of her, and she launches out on her own,determined to find her mom with or without his help. She quickly discovers, however, that she’s in way over her head.
These two issues of Nailbiter Returns are already proving to be a testament to the original series while promising a dark tale even more over-the-top than what we’ve previously survived. The storytelling burns a bit slowly, presumably to ease us back into the lore, as well as to acclimate new readers to the characters and premise. Henderson’s art, complemented once again by Adam Guzowski’s colors, shades our imagination with the feeling that there are dark entities shuffling past each page. Even simple conversations are cause for anxiety and suspense in Henderson and Guzowkski’s Portland.
There are also carefully plotted moments in both issues that lull us into thinking we know what’s going to happen next. A turn of the page, then a quiet sigh of relief, short-lived before something far worse than we had imagined smears the page with fresh blood. This is what makes reading Nailbiter Returns feel like an experience unlike many others in horror comics today.
So turn the lights down low, pour yourself a little something to keep those nerves calm, and let Nailbiter Returns live up to its title. It’ll have you chomping at fingernails and nervously awaiting what vile terrors might be lurking at the turn of every page. Again.
Joshua Williamson (W), Mike Henderson (A), Adam Guzowski (C), John J. Hill (L/D) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by John Trigonis