Written by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Mike Henderson
Published by: Image Comics
“Nailbiter #4” is a wickedly-paced issue that, as a good mystery should, adds more questions than answers to the equation. The action and deepened mystery focus the story down to a rollicking good time, which makes up for the relatively small advancement of the overall plot, likely the one and only significant weakness to this issue. Writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson are at the helm of one of the best mysteries of the year, and this issue adds weight to a particularly terrifying and captivating idea.
With a plot as raucous as “Nailbiter #4” it’s easy to overlook the comparatively quiet opening scene. It isn’t about bloodshed, gunfights, or finding a killer, but it does hint at the conspiracy at work and deepens suspicions that nothing is as it seems. Maybe the monsters aren’t the only monsters that are haunting the town after all. Expect that compelling idea to be explored further to excellent effect. This issue ends with one of the best cliff-hangers of the week and not the kind that are going to be turned around right away next month, but a devastating revelation that truly does change and impact the story.
This series is like an onion, there are so many layers and we’ve barely peeled away the top few, so it’s easy to be impatient with Williamson and Henderson for not tipping their hands just yet. We’ve still so much to learn about the rotten core of the town, about what makes these characters tick, about what role Nailbiter plays in all this, about the mystery that has been revealed, and the fascinating history. The series has a lot going for it but needs more time to tell the tale properly; this is in direct conflict with the demand of readers that every issue should be exciting and drive the overall story relentlessly forward like a proposition from Ben Roethlisberger.
Mike Henderson has been able to add a flair of the dramatic to each installment of the series so far, and “Nailbiter #4” is no exception. The shoot-out that takes place is tense and sudden but can be difficult to follow at times. Henderson recovers with what is far-and-away his best work on the series with a gripping final page that is as horrifying as it is compelling. No spoilers: but when you turn that page, all the drama, suspense, and mystery that has lead up to that point is captured by Henderson. Characters are recognizable and facial expressions are well-executed. The colour palette is rife with cold and dark hues which draws particular attention to the appearance of blood or gunshots. However, the palette also makes the book look a little too bland at times.
This isn’t a feel-good story, and for a moment I honestly wasn’t sure how dark this series was going to be. It has consistently balanced on the relative good-humour of its characters and the harsh evil of the plot. The scale tips towards the darkness this issue which begs the question whether the pendulum will swing back again. On one hand, it’s nice to see the series has some range when it comes to storytelling. But it also makes it tough to equate certain parts of the story with the rest. “Nailbiter #4” results in a well-told tale regardless of its occasionally imbalanced tone.
Without a doubt Williamson and Henderson have a great mystery here. They’ve shown us enough to let us in on the chase but not so much that answers are obvious. This steady flow of answers and questions is precarious, but so far this team has done an amazing job of keeping readers absorbed. It would have been nice to see a bit more of Nailbiter this issue, as he still seems to be an under-used character given that he’s the series’s namesake.
“Nailbiter #4” earns 7.9 / 10