Written by Josh Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Newsarama Note: Nailbiter #1 is scheduled for a May 7, 2014 release.
Think biting your nails is a disgusting habit? Try explaining that to a cannibal serial killer - or the town that has made its name off his notoriety. Leaning into the proliferation of serial killer horror, Nailbiter #1 is a thrilling, genre-savvy first chapter that thrills as much as it shocks.
Writer Josh Williamson and artist Mike Henderson work in sync from the very first page, as we watch a SWAT team force their way into a grisly murder scene - namely, the blood-splattered horror show known as Nailbiter. The image is terrifying enough to shock you, but it's not so over-the-top as to alienate. It walks that fine line between "thriller" and "horror," which helps get you invested. But if you thought this book was just about unrepentant murderers, you'd be mistaken - Williamson's lead character, a broken police officer struggling with his own dark side, earns your attention immediately. With the panels of the page being broken by a sharp TH-THUMP of a heartbeat, Nailbiter already causes your heartbeat to speed up.
Yet Williamson isn't content just to write an "ordinary" horror read. The high concept of Nailbiter is a smart one, going beyond the already inventive conceit behind its title character. This is a story about a town that breeds serial killers, a place that's become a morbid tourist trap for sickos and ambitious cops alike. What is it about Buckaroo, Oregon that twists men's minds? And will that be the final fate of our already unstable protagonist? It's that inexorable feeling, like anyone can jump out of the shadows and hurt you, that adds to the tension of this comic, even more so than another isolated rural murder town like in Revival.
But Nailbiter also has a strong visual component to it, as well. Artist Mike Henderson reminds me a bit of Giuseppe Camuncoli mixed with a touch of Phil Hester or Jim Calafiore - there's a cleanness to his characters, but his lines are as sharp as the Nailbiter's teeth, causing this series to have a bleakness to it. Henderson's page layouts are smooth to follow, particularly a scene where we follow a serial killer from his childhood as a troubled youth to his demonic triumph as a budding arsonist to a close-up shot of him in a burlap mask. Colorist Adam Guzowski also does a great job lending some realism and weight with his palette, whether its the flare of a headlight or the eerie reds and maroons of a crime scene.
With books like Hack/Slash or Revival or Echoes, it's forgiveable to think that all serial killers look alike. But it's the killers that distort and defile a normal action - whether it's biting your nails or jumping onto the nearest trend - that really stand apart. There's a lot of places that this trip to Buckaroo could take us, and while some purists may say it doesn't cut deep enough, I'd say that Nailbiter has just enough for readers to chew on. Prepare your cuticles for this masterful bit of horror.
Solar: Man of the Atom #1
Written and Lettered by by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Joe Bennett and Lauren Affe
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
There's something to be said about great chemistry - but sadly, despite his matter transmutation powers, chemistry is the last thing that Solar: Man of the Atom has. Picking up where other publishers have failed before, Dynamite is taking a crack at the Gold Key cult classic character, but it doesn't appeal to anyone other than the previously converted.
Frank J. Barbiere writes this comic as something not too dissimilar from DC's Firestorm - we see a standard superhero bank robbery in progress, and we get to watch the Man of the Atom swoop in and save the day. There are some cool beats, including the transformation of a hostage into water, so a bullet passes harmlessly through her, but the sense of wonder quickly subsides when Barbiere leans in on that old trope of a superhero losing control of his powers. Advanced science geeks may enjoy following the byzantine equations that anchor Solar's powers, but what's really lacking here is the human spark. Why do we care about a character like this? Why does he do what he does? Right now, despite all his powers, he just seems completely standard - he's Firestorm, but without even the instant drama of having two squabbling personalities.
The artwork by Joe Bennett doesn't hurt this book... but it also doesn't leave a lasting impression. Part of it is due to the light inking and part of it is due to the green-heavy colorwork by Lauren Affe, but Solar's adventures read as flat - the fact that even the splash introduction of the character feels small is kind of telling, as Bennett leans a little too heavily into the horizontal panel storytelling, similiar to Ivan Reis over at DC. Bennett's work reminds me a lot of the '90s Superman books, where the characters are clean but also bland, lacking any real design choices to make them pop.
Aside from a few flashy moments, there's still a long way to go before Solar: Man of the Atom winds up becomign a successful property. Given the cachet the character has had over the course of several publishers, you would think it wouldn't be hard to take that back story and find a new, character-driven angle for readers to latch onto. This comic, however, is very little sizzle, and even less steak.