“Nailbiter” is the nickname given to the latest serial killer from the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon–the sixteenth in a long line. Naturally this gives rise to the question: what is it about this town? Does something about it give birth to serial killers, or just attract them? NSA Agent Nicholas Finch comes to town at the request of a friend who claims to have unlocked the secret. When he arrives his friend is nowhere to be found, so much of this first arc revolves around the mystery of his disappearance. It’s a bit of a switch in focus: what first looked like a horror story becomes a mystery instead. Either way, it’s an intriguing, unique premise for a series.
Finch is a daring choice for protagonist. While in some ways he is very heroic–he’s a tenacious investigator, faithful to his friend, and physically brave–he also has negative traits. The most obvious is his short temper. He often seems on the edge of exploding into anger, and is brusque and impatient at the best of times. Plus, he seems to have a dark past, which is confirmed by a bombshell dropped near the end of the fifth (and final) issue.
The colorful cast of locals includes the Nailbiter himself (who has somehow been acquitted, despite seemingly incontrovertible evidence), the sheriff (who was romantically involved with the Nailbiter in the past), the owner of the local Murder Store (who is attempting to turn the town’s problems into a commercial success), and a Goth teenager who reveals herself as an amateur serial killer investigator at the end.
This first arc features lots of violence, fire, and several deaths. It’s still unclear whether or not the Nailbiter is responsible for any of it. The central mystery does get some resolution. So it’s a satisfying series launch, which manages to give a bit of closure while also opening up many questions. Henderson’s art is fairly simple, but long on atmosphere. This keeps even the bloodiest scenes from getting too gruesome. The digital edition includes several pages of covers, including many alternates. The resolution was good enough that I was able to zoom them out to screen size, something you can’t do with thumbnail images in a print collection.
The Fuse is an orbiting energy platform, a five mile long jury-rigged steel city stuffed with a half million people. It’s not considered a desirable posting, but for some reason Ralph Dietrich has volunteered to join the police force as a Homicide detective. He’s barely off the shuttle when a homeless “cabler” dies in front of him. So he gets to work, accidentally insulting his new boss–the Fuse’s oldest Homicide detective, Sergeant Klem Ristovych (mainly because she’s a woman, not the man he was expecting from her nickname)–in the process.
It’s a science-fiction setting, but much of the rest of the story is a standard police procedural. We see the new partners learn to work together, while they work the case. Things quickly become complicated when a second cabler turns up dead, right in front of City Hall. Suspicion settles on everyone from the Mayor to his wife and staff, and the investigation shifts focus as new facts emerge.
All the while Ralph functions as the reader’s proxy. As a newcomer, he’s learning about the Fuse as he goes, and so do we. Like any good murder mystery, much of the fun is in the twists and turns. I think the storytellers play fair, but I was surprised by the resolution of the case. And then we finally find out what the subtitle of the collection means.
An altogether enjoyable combination of science fiction and mystery. Greenwood came up with distinctive character designs, and his interior designs are effective as well. The concept results in interiors that tend towards an industrial design similar to what would be found on Earth–so it can be easy to forget the extraterrestrial setting–but he makes good use of opportunities to show a unique view. We finally get to see the Fuse’s perspective on the Earth at the very end.
The incomparable creative team of Brubaker and Phillips has always been at its best doing crime stories, and this new series starts out firing on all cylinders. The Fade Out supplies a double dose of noir: it’s a noir crime story about the making of a Hollywood film noir. The story begins in Los Angeles in Fall, 1948. Screenwriter Charlie Parish awakens in a bathtub–fully clothed, unsure where he is, and with little memory of the hard-drinking previous night. He’s just starting to piece things together when he walks into the living room and finds Valeria Sommers lying dead on the floor. She’s one of the stars of the movie he’s working on, and he’s alarmed to find himself thinking “What will this mean for the picture?”
Charlie realizes he was almost certainly nearby when she was strangled to death, and decides to wipe the site clean and slip out. This decision sets up much of the action that follows. When her body is discovered later that day he is shocked to see that it had been staged as a suicide. It seems a little late to go to the police now; he’d look even more involved than before. But the question of who staged the cover-up and why won’t let Charlie go.
This only scratches the surface of the secrets being kept here; practically every one of the main players appears to have at least one. Charlie has been unable to write since the war, and is actually being ghost-written by Gil Mason, an ex-screenwriter blacklisted as a Communist. Maya Silver (“The Replacement Blonde” hired to take over Veleria’s role in the movie) has a Hispanic ex-husband that the studio wants to keep secret. Phil Brodsky, the head of Studio Security, seems to know where most of the bodies are buried, and may have had his own hand in dirty deeds more than once.
Mysterious as events have been, the final cover-up in the First Act tells Charlie that he’s in far deeper than he imagined. I can’t wait to see where this goes. Anyone who was a fan of their previous series Criminal will definitely want to check this out.