Zeb Larson reviews Nailbiter #21…
“BOUND BY BLOOD,” Part One Alice now knows that the Nailbiter is her father. Does that mean she will grow up to be a serial killer?
What’s the problem with building a book built out of cliffhangers? Eventually, you realize that you’re not dangling from a cliff, and that you’re only a few inches off the ground. Comic books especially have this problem, because you need to sustain a reader’s interest in monthly installments in only twenty-four pages. To be fair, a certain amount of cliff-hanging is not a bad narrative device, but you have to temper it with something else. Unfortunately, Nailbiter is a book built on cliffhangers, and its new arc is picking up the bad habits of its predecessors. Warning: I will be discussing spoilers ahead.
This issue is mostly about Alice and her struggles in Buckaroo. She’s being bullied at the high school, her adoptive parents have kicked her out of the house, and things aren’t easy with her actual mother. Some of the kids have started praying to the “Saint of Serial Killers,” which unfortunately draws them to Alice. Elsewhere, Crane is trying to investigate the town, while Warren and Finch are making their way back. The town’s also got a new threat: the Blonde, one of the Sixteen, has come back to run the souvenir shop.
Unfortunately, none of this is very interesting. Alice hasn’t really been fleshed out as a character since the first arc, so her troubles here aren’t particularly compelling. If the central drama of the issue is “Is Alice a killer?”, it makes for dull drama. Alice is wearing plot-armor; the only character to abruptly snap was Barker, and that was telegraphed for a long, long time. Alice is just a normal teenager, right down to the fact that she’s usually complaining. It doesn’t feel like she has an actual personality, and if we’re supposed to be invested in her, that’s a problem.
Crane does literally nothing in this issue. She asks Alice to talk, and Alice refuses (she’s a little salty, and maybe understandably so). She then recapitulates everything we already know about the town in some basically needless exposition. Don’t worry, we all remember that there’s a temple in Buckaroo. We’ve been dancing around it for close to nine issues now.
Moreover, the fact that Finch and Warren are on their way back to Buckaroo is just another reminder that the last arc was basically a waste of time. All of those hints about Finch being in trouble were for naught. The big climax of the second arc with him leaving was basically meaningless Isn’t he supposed to be in court for a crime he committed? Or are we supposed to have forgotten about that? Warren observed that no matter what he does, the FBI still lets him go, which is certainly true. But what about Finch? Why does he keep getting involved?
This perpetual second-act drama and tension is one of the most frustrating things about comic books. Everything is always escalating, but there are no real consequences. Finch does whatever he wants. Warren does whatever he wants. Alice is spared for some reason by a killer while everybody around her isn’t.
Honestly, the best thing about this issue was not having to hear about Carroll waking up. It was no shock that Alice isn’t the killer, and the fact that she was spared (while blindfolded) is silly as well. Finch will be back in Buckaroo imminently. Maybe this thing with the Blonde will make for better reading. We need something.
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