Nameless is one of the most anticipated books from Image in 2015. Now it’s here, and to kick off the series we’re doing a group review. Everyone on the team who felt so inclined chimed in and answered the question: is it good?
Nameless #1 (Image Comics)
Plot Summary: An astronomer kills his family, then himself, leaving a cryptic warning. A Veiled Lady hunts her victims through human nightmares. An occult hustler known only as ‘Nameless’ is recruited by a consortium of billionaire futurists for a desperate mission. And the malevolent asteroid Xibalba spins closer on a collision course with Earth. But nothing is what it seems—a terrifying inhuman experiment is about to begin. Abandon all hope and experience ultimate horror in NAMELESS.
Dave: The story is a bit of a conundrum that leaves a lot to the imagination. The official summary on the Image webpage (see above) sums up the issue perfectly and unfortunately reading the comic cover to cover doesn’t expand on those six sentences in the slightest. Basically put, you’ll be as confused and curious after reading the book as you were after reading that summary.
Greg: I’m a big fan of Grant Morrison, but even I must admit that this comic was a bit hard to follow. It does, however, begin to make more sense as the issue goes on, following a John Constantine-like practitioner of the occult traveling through nightmarish dreamscapes to retrieve a key from a creepy veiled woman and her cult of gun-toting angler-fish-headed henchmen… only to find out that a much bigger problem is on the horizon.
John: I have no idea what I just read. The first half of the story is chaotic. It jumps from cult killings to the protagonist being chased by fish people to being thrown into a freezing lake. The only constant is the protagonist. Everything else is confusing. The second half of the book does bring some order, with the mentioning of a cataclysmic event and a plan to avert it. However, the final page leaves everything up to the reader as to whether or not what you just read even mattered for the series going forward.
Jordan: You know… I’m not even sure where to begin with this comic. It’s one of most nonsensical and oddly written things I’ve seen in my lifetime, on par with Drumhellar and Intersect. You are immediately dropped into a dream sequence and given no context for what is happening in the story for at least half the book. So half the time you are lost about anything and then when the story gets out of the dream, it then becomes an exposition drop with Morrison trying to explain most of what you just saw and what the plot may be about. I say may, because it really doesn’t explain much. We got very little setup, worldbuilding, or characterization going on here. It’s possibly one of the most baffling first issues I’ve seen and not remotely in a good way.
Dog: It seems to be one of those first issues that drops a lot of terms and ideas that don’t mean a lot right now, but will make more sense later on. With the end of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga approaching over at Marvel, I’m not sure I’m ready for another head-scratching epic yet. Obfuscation isn’t always entertaining.
Sam: I thought the beginning was fantastic. Horrific, terrifying, a tad confusing but overall rather exhilarating. I could understand from all the killings that this world was being thrown into chaos. It was fun, accessible, concrete. Then Morrison lost me. Once we started following Nameless through all the dreams and what not I had very little idea of what was happening and felt entirely uncomfortable. Periodically throughout the book I would think to myself “Hey, that seems like an interesting piece of randomness! Gosh I wonder what it meant.” Having nothing to hold onto throughout the issue made it unpleasant and irritating to read.
Sean: “Fish fuck bullshit.”
This one’s got Morrison’s pretentious metaphysical, ritual-magic-loving arousal sweat coming off of it in waves.
Yes, Nameless is nothing new. Fish people: check. Dreamworld: check. Terror from space: check. Silly made up vaguely latin-sounding words: check. Just wait for the tentacles, they’ll show up soon.
Honestly, I didn’t even mind it that much. Yes, despite everything I just wrote, as a cosmic horror fan, I have read far worse, far less entertaining fare, both in print, and in comics. At least we haven’t had any drawn out fish-person rape scenes yet. Yeah, I’m fucking looking at you, Alan Moore! Neonomicon, ugh. Fhtagn indeed.
Tyler: In classic Morrison style, the imaginative author has produced a work that leaves you mentally exhausted and lost and in your confusion you shrug it off and label it as genius. However, I would be very surprised if even the most loyal Morrison fan was on board for this first issue. Most authors write a debut issue that gingerly walks the line of not giving away a lot information, but making it comprehensible to hook the reader. The first issue is a fragile composition for an author, it’s like hoisting a dove with a newly mended wing into the air and hoping it will take flight. So if we were to go along with that analogy, Nameless #1 is Morrison taking a twelve-gauge to the dove at point blank and we’re left as the readers studying the mangled debris and trying to make sense of it. I just don’t get it. Nothing makes sense anymore.
Dave: Nameless is interesting, albeit a bit of a pushy douche, but it’s a character type we’ve seen so much it’s not hard to get in the groove with him. Beyond that there isn’t much of anything to go on in this issue really which hurts those of you looking for good character work. It appears Morrison is going more for a visceral experience than a typical story with well written characters at this point.
Greg: As I mentioned before, it’s hard to avoid comparisons between Nameless and John Constantine. He’s a borderline-unlikeable bastard in way over his head, replete with a foul mouth as only the British could have (“That was a pure cunt of a month.”) I’d go so far as to say that he’s an analogue for Constantine, but with even fewer friends and perhaps even more nihilistic.
John: The main protagonist is interesting; he obviously is some type of thief with an expertise in the occult. He has a riddled past and is on the run from multiple organizations. He reminds me of John Constantine. The only other character who is really mentioned is a billionaut, who goes by the name of Paul Darius. The man obviously has money and power, but other than that if you don’t read this you will have as much knowledge as I do about him. There are some other minor characters that may potentially get more page time later, but they are not given any depth in this issue.
Jordan: Well, there is a guy named Nameless, who seems like a Constantine expy. We don’t really know much about him until the very end, but most of the information is delivered in a rushed exposition drop and he never comes across as particularly unique or interesting character. The same goes for everyone else. Sophia, the Veiled Woman, the Tony Stark with a white goatee looking guy, etc. Honestly, the book doesn’t really do a good job of building up or even introducing anyone.
Dog: Yeah, I’m not one of those guys who goes around pointing out “tropes” in an attempt to discredit art, but I sure do feel like I’ve seen the “scoundrel pulled into duty” several hundred times before. Maybe that’s more of a meta-commentary on how there aren’t any original ideas. Maybe Morrison even recognized that by calling such a cookie-cutter character “Nameless.”
Sam: Having never read anything with John Constantine I can’t really draw any comparison tos Nameless, but for the most part he seems pretty likable. I agree with Dog that the whole “scoundrel pulled into duty” has been pretty much used up already, but I don’t really think that we got much to go off with just this first issue.
Sean: There are characters? My mind there are two, if any. Nameless, and that rich scientist, Paul Darius. These are the only one’s fleshed out enough to even be two dimensional. The rest are merely dust in the wind inside a meaningless menagerie of dudes with fish faces, and ladies covered in parasites.
Tyler: Nameless reminds me of a blend of Constantine and Nathan Drake from Uncharted. He’s a decently likeable character in the “potty-mouthed bad boy” kind of way, but he’s really the only one you get a sense of thus far. Other than a snippet of conversation with Paul Darius whose facial hair to head of hair color contrast is glaringly off-putting.
Dave: One wonders if this story sprouted from Grant Morrison’s drug habits after one long LSD trip, but that’s fitting considering the first portion of the story takes place in a dream. He’s certainly intrigued by unconventional storytelling and this issue is more of the same. It’s one part poetry, one part bafflement and a hell of a task to get through. I’m sure many readers will be looking for clues and hints similar to what Morrison and Burnham instilled in their Batman run over the last few years though and I can’t say there aren’t clues at this point. (We just don’t yet know what they mean.)
Greg: Even by Morrison standards, this is an abstract read. I guarantee that if you haven’t liked Morrison for these reasons in the past, Nameless will do nothing to change your mind. However, patient readers that are willing to work a little harder than they do for most modern comics will be rewarded. With most comics, especially nowadays, you can get pretty much all you need from a comic by just reading the words and glancing at the pictures. Morrison requires that words and pictures be experienced in tandem. Should a reader be forced to work so hard? That’s debatable, but I don’t think anything in here is actively nonsensical. I trust that Morrison will answer our questions in due time.
Dog: I feel like the author shouldn’t have to tell me when the dream sequence ends and the “reality” portion begins, as Nameless does by proxy. I hope that would be evident. And it is, more or less, but even then it’s almost like this book is speaking a language I’m not fluent in, and lines like “She’s my husband!” are punchlines to jokes I missed the setup for.
John: I think Morrison traveled back in time to Woodstock and decided to trip on acid when he was writing this. He goes from an interrogation with the Veiled Lady over the Dream-Key of Nan Samwohl to telling a bus driver to drive. Morrison describes his own writing as “stinking of infra-shite.” Whatever infra-shite is it has to be bad. The acid must have eventually subsided a little bit because the negotiation between the main character and Paul Darius makes some sense, although the protagonist’s train of thought is still extremely erratic and tough to follow.
Jordan: This was bad. Really really bad. The entire dream sequence can be sort of forgiven for having a poor story structure and being nonsensical (dreams tend to be like that speaking from experience), but it’s not a particularly strong or good way to introduce the audience since you’ll just baffle and throw them off right away. However, there are other problems as well. The pacing is erratic, the dialogue and narration is hard to follow (sometimes it sounds completely inhuman) and too heavy on the exposition at points, there’s little characterization, it’s emotionless and hollow, there’s little context to anything we see or learn, the story doesn’t flow very good at points, and the book just kind of ends. No real build up to it or even shock; the comic just ends. This feels like microcosm of all of Grant Morrison’s flaws or problems he has had with other stories he’s written in the past.
Sam: Morrison’s writing has always been comprised of tiny little details that mesh together to create a semi-coherent story, and sometimes that’s awesome. This time, not so much. I had to read this comic three times to understand even some of it, and even then it wasn’t intriguing enough to justify the re-reads. I was finally able to understand the “she’s my husband!” joke that Dog brought up earlier, but even then it didn’t really seem to add to the comic that much.
Sean: “Fish fuck bullshit.”
Tyler: While the storyline itself is complex, the writing doesn’t make anything easier. There are declarations made that simply don’t make sense within the current context of the storyline and it makes it feel like you’ve actually picked up Nameless #2 and these characters have already been established. The language was also a little alarming to me, I mean, vulgar language doesn’t affect constitution, but I just didn’t expect there to be c-bombs dropped multiple times. It just caught me off guard.
Nameless #1 variant cover by Tony Moore.
Greg: I like Chris Burnham. His work reminds me of Frank Quitely, with its loose, kinetic, and just-detailed-enough style. He’s previously proven in his Batman work to have an eye for gore and macabre, so it’s exciting to see his take on full-fledged horror (albeit with a sci-fi twist).
Dave: I’m a big fan of Burnham and second Greg’s comparison to Quitely. They both have a sense of weight and detail that makes the characters and world lived in and more realistic. Yet at the same time cartoonish. It’s also neat how Burnham plays with layouts in this issue to show an augmentation of reality. Good stuff there.
Dog: I actually wish Burnham had played with the layouts more, to match the chaotic dream world that the writing tries to portray. The page with the asteroid reveal was the only one I really got sucked into, thanks to the Marco-Rudy-on-mood-stabilizers structure. Off-beat yet intelligible at the same time.
John: Chris Burnham’s art is just as psychedelic as the writing. One standout page is when the main character is meeting with the Veiled Lady. Burnham is able to focus the reader’s eye on the Veiled Lady’s head with a good use of contrasting black and white with the veil. Upon further inspection Burnham has created a reflection of the room at the top of the panel. It adds to the idea of crazy emanating throughout the book. I also really enjoyed his ability to make the rain look life-like, dripping off of Darius’ quadcopter drone. Jason Fairbairn uses quite a pallet of earth tone colors. There is an interesting use of light that he uses to emphasize the pain of the Veiled Lady. He also is able to change the color to create a sense of hopelessness taking the background from a setting sun to the dark of night.
Jordan: Chris Burnham has never been a personal favorite of mine; I’m just not into bumpy, cartoonish, and overly detailed characters (those three things don’t work well together in my opinion). However, he’s not bad here for the most part. The detail in the surroundings are nice, some of the layouts flow well together (the ones that don’t can be blamed on the script), and the coloring with Nathan Fairbanks isn’t too bad. Honestly, it’s just not my cup of tea.
Sam: The whole time I was reading Nameless I was just thinking “this sucks for Burnham.” I can’t imagine that he even knows what’s going on in Nameless which must make it infuriating to draw. Also, Morrison’s writing requires an uncanny amount of detail and kind of limits Burnham’s expression.
Sean: It was nifty, though I would have liked him to flesh out the DICKS IN THE CORAL REEF! YES, THAT HAPPENED!
Nick: GAH! MY HEAD! It…wait…okay, I can handle this part. I agree with everyone else saying that Burnham’s work looks very reminiscent of Frank Quietly, which is obviously a good thing. Unfortunately, I think Sam hits the nail on the head the most. How they heck did he even know what to draw. I mean…the plot…the characters…head hurting again….
Tyler: Burnham sees Morrison’s challenge of an eccentric storyline and raises him with some pretty mesmerizing panels and page layouts. Burnham’s art is extremely detailed and the scenes just seem to blend into one another which lends itself to the nature of the comic. While the art definitely doesn’t help clarify what exactly is going on, it definitely helps you enjoy the trip a bit more.
Dave: It’s not the most horrific or horror centric reads as much of it is science fiction in nature in this issue. There is some horrific gore done to a family and the monsters chasing Nameless are a bit creepy. Also the Veiled Woman has a creepiness to her similar to something out of Twin Peaks.
Dog: Right, this first issue reads more like mystic sci-fi than horror, the grisly murders notwithstanding. The rune-bedazzled astronauts on the cover speak to that, but the staring lizards/toads from the beginning do feel ominous, even if nothing else does. I can imagine this turning into horror the way Alien did, but it’s not there yet.
Greg: There’s plenty of blood to be found here, which Burnham draws quite well, but he also has the ability to make scary silly-sounding things like evil frogs and the aforementioned angler fish men. The lack of straightforwardness in the writing also contributes to a general sense of uneasiness. I may not be absolutely terrified yet, but it would seem that Morrison and Burnham have the necessary skills to get me to that point in future issues.
John: There was not really any horror. As I am sure you have probably gathered by now, it was more strange and weird than frightful. Some of the monsters could be conjured up from nightmares especially these black and green frogs with glowing eyes on the first page.
Jordan: Now when this comic was first announced and interviews came out, Morrison said this would be a horror title. “Existential horror”, something incredibly bleak and dark, a book that focuses on people’s fears and terrors, and stuff like that from the interviews I’ve read. So, reading this comic now, I have to say that unfortunately, it’s not really all that scary on any level. It looks creepy at points, but it’s not really all that scary due to the bright artwork (frankly, those angler fish people looked rather adorable) and due to how completely odd and bizarre it gets. There’s nothing particular haunting, it doesn’t freak you out, there’s nothing disturbing since it is all a dream for the most part, and more.
Sam: There are some truly scary elements to Nameless, but nothing that really freaked me out too much. I think that this team and this story has the potential to really scare my pants off, but as of yet there’s not much in the way of awkward.
Sean: There are some strong elements in play to allow for horror to occur, namely dream worlds, weird angler fish faces, parasites, and the cold vacuum of space. However, yes, right now the only real horror is thinking that this comic might continue at the present trajectory it’s flying at, and explode into thousands of liquidy-lumpy piles, like the amount of splooge Morrison fans have been forced to expel at his deranged behest.
Tyler: This issue doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the horror factor, but that might be because I was too focused on analyzing it. The first few pages are definitely the most upsetting and may churn your stomach a bit, but after that it’s a pretty smooth road. The angler-fish heads didn’t really strike me as horrific, more so adorably awkward than anything.
Is It Good?
Not really. Everyone on our team found it perplexing and difficult to get through which screams, “not reader friendly.” Given, Morrison has written his fair share of complicated, easter egg filled stories, but overall this wasn’t the best way to start.