Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Nailbiter

Image Comics might be the most red-hot imprint out there.  They're certainly proving to be one of the most fearless.  It's not so much about the naughty stuff such as cursing, gore and nudity (of which there are plenty in many of their titles) that makes Image fearless.  The projects they back vary in theme, tone and genre you're almost obligated to check out what they're pushing.  The Mercenary Sea, Fatale, Black Science, Ghosted, Sin Boldly, Sex, Sex Criminals and Apocalypse Al couldn't be more diverse from one another, but their common bond is their left-of-center (sometimes outrageous) natures and wide-swung deviation from traditional cape and superpower themes. 

Joshua Williamson (also the author of Ghosted) and Mike Henderson unravel what appears to be another winner in transit for Image with Nailbiter.  Granted, I'm sick to freaking death of cop and forensics stories and shows, but that's where the money in serialized media is these days, along with medical melodrama. 

Serial killer yarns, dare I say at the risk of sounding desensitized, is growing passé as a commercial form of storytelling.  Sick as it may sound, there's little left aside from being confronted with murder firsthand that's genuinely compelling.  Horror films at-large are more consumed lately with barbarism and brutal torture depictions in a desperate attempt to out-schlock Cannibal Holocaust.  This versus focusing on good storytelling, and it's having a gross effect, pun intended.

As Williamson's lead character Nicholas Finch jibes to accused and acquitted serial killer Edward Charles Warren with the mere insinuation of working together in Nailbiter, this isn't Silence of the Lambs.  Warren is no fan of chianti, but he does have a penchant for fingernail gnawing and not his own. 

Thus sets the premise of Nailbiter, the new series that promises to be a bloody affair, but with actual writing depth.  The notorious films Cyrus:  The Mind of a Serial Killer and Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer have more in common with Nailbiter than Silence of the Lambs, but this being the comics realm, there's plenty more to, er, chew on in this story.  

With Warren inexplicably getting off of multiple murder counts, he lives on the outskirts of a roughneck town called Buckaroo, Oregon.  In Joshua Williamson's hayseed microcosm, Warren is but one of numerous reported murderers the town has allegedly bred, collectively known as "The Buckaroo Butchers."

The story is set in motion with a detective named Eliot Carroll who busted Warren and is currently in Buckaroo trying to put the pieces together in answer to why so many killers have come from the town.  Carroll, who has been having weekly lunch meetings with Edward Charles Warren, summons his old friend, Finch, a former "information extraction specialist," which translates as an army prisoner interrogator and torturer.  Having seen enough terrors in his lifetime, Finch reluctantly trails after Carroll, who believes he has solved the "Buckaroo Butcher" mystery.

Upon his arrival to Buckaroo, Finch is in search of Carroll, who has turned up lost.  Finch instead finds a specialty shop dedicated strictly to serial killer souvenirs, "The Murder Store."  The owner of the store is the grandson of one of the legendary Buckaroo Butchers, Norman Woods, aka The Book Burner.  With this revelation, it'll be no surprise when someone wearing a Book Burner mask surfaces and torches the hotel Carroll is staying in.

While visiting Edward Charles Warren in search of Carroll, Finch and the town sheriff, Shannon Crane find Warren covered in blood.  As Warren slaughters his own herd for meat, this is the explanation given and their uneasy tryst serves as an alibi when things erupt in Buckaroo and Warren is accused by the townsfolk.  Big-time sidebar, Warren and the sheriff were each others' prom date in the past.  By the end of Issue # 2, however, the Book Burner impersonator has carved up one of his teenage recruits and left the corpse hanging atop "The Murder Store" sign.  Worse, the fingernails have been chewed off of the dead teen, an m.o. that naturally points back to Warren. 

And here's where the story leaves us hanging at this point.  Thus far, a clever bit of trickery on Williamson's part using a unique kill gimmick that hasn't been seen in this medium, much less any other.  His obvious obsession with the topic carries straight into naming certain characters after those from the original Psycho movie.  Nailbiter is thus set to get messy in a hurry.  So bring us the third issue, already!

             Listenin' to:  Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun

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