Zeb Larson reviews Nailbiter #20…
The new serial killer strikes again! Plus, a major death that will rock NAILBITER for years to come!
Ugh. I had hoped that taking a break from Nailbiter for a few issues would make reading it a little easier, maybe put a fresh perspective on the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Paradoxically though, this issue does remove a few of the roadblocks that had been bothering me. It does so in a fairly hamhanded way, and it doesn’t take the away the feeling that I’ve read this book for a solid year now and that virtually nothing of note has happened in that time…but maybe the next few issues will be an improvement.
One of the most frustrating parts of this issue is the resolution of the Atlanta Killer storyline. The “hero” cop is celebrated for a page and then quickly unmasked as the real killer by Barker and Finch, whose investigation basically happened off-panel. There’s a brief and mostly pointless fist fight, the cop takes his shirt off for some reason, and then he kills himself when more cops show up. He does let slip an important nugget: he was contacted by “The Master” in Buckaroo and tasked with killing off the Buckaroo residents to prevent more serial killers. Alright, that part is interesting, but it’s pretty clunkily written, and it’s a hell of a lot of narration considering that punches are being thrown.
Now that he’s been taken care of, Finch finally gets his wish and has a chance to meet with Carroll. He takes a quick detour to talk to Warren about what that cop said. As evasive as ever, Warren obfuscates, but hints that he may have killed the previous Butcher while not killing as many people as originally thought. Barker meanwhile meets with Carroll, who won’t talk to her or anybody else. All those crazy violent visions she’s been having suddenly make sense: she lapses into one, but this time, when Finch discovers her, she’s covered in Carroll’s blood.
Well, at least I can stop saying ‘Carroll still hasn’t woken up.’ And it does sort of neatly tie together Barker’s visions in a way that sort of makes sense. None of that changes the fact that the Carroll storyline has been one long red herring, stretching back all the way to issue 6. I’m glad it’s over, and at least it was resolved in a way that sort of made sense, but it doesn’t change the fact that the book has been stalling for a long time now. The fact that we’ve learned more from that cop than we have from both Caroll and Warren mostly seems like an issue of pacing. Now that we’ve gotten so far, Williamson needed to give us something.
Part of the problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel like there are consequences for any of the character’s decisions. Finch and Crane are wearing plot armor, so they’ll be fine. Warren killed all of those people, but gets off on a technicality of not being really responsible because of some mumbo-jumbo compelling him to kill. He says it himself: he’ll get to walk free. This is an example of what horror can degenerate into: when a few of the characters won’t die and the rest are just grist for the mill, there’s no stake in what happens.
More broadly, at the level of the narrative the deaths just don’t mean very much. Why should we care if Carroll is dead? That one-note cop gave us more information about the plot than he ever has, and Carroll’s gotten about as much characterization as a potato in the whole series. Image might describe this as a major death, but saying it doesn’t make it so. It’s only significant because the book managed to waste our time waiting on a character who never really arrived.
I don’t really care what comes next for this book, nor do I care much to continue reading it. The things that made it funny ended a long time ago, and we never had enough invested in the characters to treat it like a drama. Williamson has made it pretty obvious that the FBI is either guilty or involved in a cover-up. Who cares what comes next?