If I’m being honest, I should probably preface this review by saying that I’ve never been a huge fan of Grant Morrison. I’ve liked some of his work, especially Arkham Asylum and his run on JLA for DC, and while I appreciate his attempts to make comics intelligent and literary, for the most part, his work has always left me feeling a little cold. Nameless – a new graphic novel from Image Comics – contains all of the elements I most dislike about Morrison’s back catalogue. It’s wilfully obtuse and almost impossible to follow, but this surreal approach to storytelling really works within the horror genre.
At its crudest, Nameless is the story of an unnamed hustler who, thanks to his expertise in all things esoteric, is invited to join a mission to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. But this is only the surface level of the narrative. Underneath that there are reptilian bounty hunters, severed heads, apocalyptic visions, and constant references to the Qabalah and the Qliphoth from Jewish Hermeticism. Readers looking for a straightforward narrative certainly won’t find it here. The book plays out in a sort of dream logic, constantly shifting backwards and forwards in time, and much of the story is left vague and unexplained, inviting multiple interpretations. But these are the things that make Nameless so effective. Though Morrison’s comics often have inconclusive endings, this is the first time it really pays off, as the nonsensical logic of the story creates something genuinely nightmarish and disturbing – think Alice in Wonderland meets Aleister Crowley.
The artwork, equally beautiful and horrifying, is consistently strong throughout, and the expressive faces and body language of characters allow the emotion of the book to really shine through. The gory moments – which are frequent – are both visceral and grotesque, and the book features many instances of sexual violence, including a rape scene between a demoness and a flayed man – though the message of the comic is fundamentally a feminist one. Nathan Fairbairn’s colours also deserve a mention, shifting between the hyper real greys and blacks of North London, to vibrating reds and blues in the dreamier sequences.
Nameless is undoubtedly a divisive book, and many readers will be put off by its apparent lack of narrative logic. Although a basic knowledge of Jewish mysticism and the Tarot would make the story slightly easier to follow, Nameless is an impressive, highly ambitious comic, quite unlike anything I’ve read in the last few years. When I had finished, I immediately started reading it again from the beginning, and from someone who doesn’t normally rate Morrison’s comics, I can think of no greater compliment.
Words: Max Deacon @_Max_Deacon