Wednesday Whittling: Nailbiter Volume 1

Welcome to Wednesday Whittling! This week I check out Nailbiter Volume 1 and use textual
evidence to show how it explores the ego over five issues. The book is brought
to us through Image Comics by writer Joshua
Williamson
and artist Mike
Henderson
.

Check out the original comic at the end as a thank you for
your time. Get into it after the jump!

In particular, I’m looking at these issues because they’re
what compose the first trade collection. Image always sells a book’s first five issues in a trade for $10, which is awesome because it shows they’re most concerned with getting you to read. 

The combination of the cover art and title sold me on Nailbiter. A hand is coming down from
the top of the cover toward a mouth at the bottom. A “nailbiter” is something
inherently overwhelming – your team is about to win or lose in the final
seconds, the cop who just pulled out behind you isn’t pulling you over. Your
heart is trying to squeeze through your ribs. This is the kind of thing that
makes a good story, and the creators are telling you up front they’re
going to do it.

image

The story delivers. Just being a spectator to a nailbiter is
enough to make your insides lurch. But being a participant summons the ego,
requires it in order for you to come out on the other end. Nailbiter takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon, where nearly everyone is
related to one of the 16 (16!) serial killers who have been born there over the
last few generations. That means nearly everyone is a participant in their own
personal nailbiter, fighting or trying to reconcile a legacy none of them
understand or want.

Take Raleigh, for example. Raleigh is the grandson of
Buckaroo’s first serial killer, the Book Burner. Raleigh shows his ego by
partnering with it, as if they had a conversation and he agreed to let his ego
be the conductor. We see this in issue 4 as it opens in a group therapy
session. That’s a place where people decide
to be most vulnerable. Instead of sitting in the circle, he’s standing against the
wall with his arms crossed and hat pulled over his eyes.

image

His body language is confrontational by contrast. We could
see that if we were just a fly on the wall, but when he says “isn’t it time we
took the power back? To dig ourselves out of the hole [our ancestors] put us
in?” we get to see his ego driving the train. This is a dude who runs a serial
killer hobby store and wants to host “Killer Con,” a convention for serial
killer enthusiasts. For whatever power he’s trying to take back, his ego is
exercising one that effectively renders the emotions of others as a blanket
over mud. It gets what it wants by impeding healing.

We see a different sense of ego with Morty the Mortician in
issue 3. Rather than use it for aggression, he’s dismissive of it. When showing
a body in his lab to two cops, the lights keep going out after they arrive. One of
them asks what’s up, and Morty plainly says, “The lights flicker down here… anyway…welcome.”
He accepts the reality around him, that he’s in a state-run facility which
doesn’t get appropriate funding and that means he won’t always have what he
needs.

image

It’s almost charming and shows that he’s actually capable of
parking his ego. He does it of his own free will, even if he holds some disdain for why. Morty sees a
difference between what he wants and imposing his will, unlike Raleigh. But
reliable lighting is essential. For as cool as Morty plays it he isn’t helping.
Buckaroo is a town that warrants caution and the lights being kept on and the
doors being locked. It only pushes someone’s heart harder as it kneads their
rib cage. Stop being so dumb, Morty!

It’s our title character who shows us what it’s like to be
smart about ego. Edward Charles Warren is the Nailbiter, the 16th
serial killer of Buckaroo and the one who put them in the national limelight.
He was somehow acquitted and has been home, drawing ire and suspicion while
living a weird-but-not-criminal life.

image

In issue 5, he goes to meet Raleigh at his hobby store, as
he’s a silent partner. Coincidentally, the same cops who were in Morty’s lab
are also going to talk to Raleigh. The cops end up getting attacked by this
demon-like creature that looks like it came straight from Carcosa. Warren actually saves
them by fighting and pushing the killer to another room. While the cops are
stuck under a book case, he confronts the Carcosa being, asking, “What’s your
angle, eh?” Ever smooth, he doesn’t start yelling or punching blind. Everything
he’s done in the scene has been deliberate. He and his ego are always in stride
together – at peace with and respectful of each other – even if it means he’s
living what others would call a despicable life.

Now, the issue ends soon after that scene. We’re left with
Warren, an apparent killer, not being able to understand another killer’s
possible motives. That means one of two things: either this silent demon is
a level of perverse beyond serial killers, or Warren is actually innocent of murder
and the demon is just a normal monster. Either way, we’re left with our senses
overwhelmed and know that there’s more to ego than just what we’ve been shown.

Nailbiter 23
actually comes out today – there are four trade volumes making up the first 20
issues. Digital versions are only $4.99 each if you want to catch up. Today’s
issue is also only the third in a new arc, so you could jump in and not be so confused you can’t enjoy it. Image
books are often a total package of visual and verbal storytelling, and Nailbiter is no exception. As
uncomfortable as it makes me, I’m going to keep reading. 

And here’s your original comic!

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