Published on February 4th, 2015 | by Noel Thorne0
Nameless #1 – Review
Grant Morrison reunites with his Batman Incorporated artist Chris Burnham and The Multiversity colourist Nathan Fairbairn for Nameless #1. Nameless is a magician for hire, the kind that casts real spells, who is recruited by billionaut Paul Darius for an out-of-this-world adventure – literally! A large asteroid is on a collision course to Earth and, if nobody stops it, an extinction level event will occur in 35 days. Nameless and a crew must go on a top secret mission into space to destroy the asteroid before it hits Earth. It’s Michael Bay’s Armageddon – with magic!
Like a lot of Morrison’s recent comics, I find myself wishing I liked it a lot more than I did because he is an extraordinary writer but it’s almost like that reputation works against him; if a comic is anything less than stupendous, it’s disappointing. That’s not to say Nameless #1 is a bad comic – it isn’t – but I was reminded more of other stories/books/movies rather than seeing this as its own thing.
The issue opens with a rash of sickening events: men murdering their families, smearing sigils upon doors while lizard men wielding knives lurk in the shadows. Nameless is in a dream attempting to steal a magical key, a la Inception, and there’s a strong Indiana Jones vibe when Nameless takes the item from the temple like in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There’s a constant questioning – literal and implied – of what’s real and what isn’t. Are we in a dream or the real world – and which is which? This is a theme Morrison has returned to many times throughout his career but most recently in his current limited series Annihilator. Like that series and his other title, The Multiversity, the overall tone is bleak and dark with the very real threat of the end of the world – and, in the case of Multiversity, the end of several worlds. Also, once the issue is over, there’s a strong sense of the aforementioned Armageddon-esque story to the series.
I should say though that it’s not entirely like Armageddon – Nameless is going up with the other astronauts to the asteroid but he’s there to protect them from malign forces rather than go drilling. There’s a giant glyph on the side of the asteroid – named Xibalba after the Mayan underworld – so Darius’ crew may face magical entities when they land on the asteroid. That’s an interesting angle.
But I get the sense that there’s a lot of overlap and repetition in Nameless with Morrison’s other comics, as well as the deployment of more famous movie stories, that makes this issue feel a little derivative. I do wonder why Morrison’s recent comics have become so dark – perhaps his star charts have indicated that these are what will sell at the moment?
I don’t say that facetiously by the way, Morrison has mentioned divining pop culture trends in his book, Supergods, and he is a practicing chaos magician. As a layperson to magic, I couldn’t tell you the significance of the many sigils and glyphs that appear in the issue, nor why some panels appear to be in the shape of a sigil or glyph (or the difference between the two!). But it does sell the image of Nameless (so-called because if you lose your name, no-one can have power over you) as a magician, and they do look cool!
The art team of Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn do a brilliant job of selling the surreal mood of the comic. In the dream world, Nameless steals the dream key when it’s daylight. As he runs off, the sun is setting, we get a dusky light, then it’s night, all in the space of two pages. You don’t need to be told that Nameless is in a dream because the visuals do that for you.
But even in “the real world” (and I do think Morrison wants the reader to keep guessing what’s what throughout), the madness seems to bleed over. Shop signs look like they’re backwards but if you spell the letters forwards from backwards, they’re still gibberish. Throw in the lizard-headed men – are those real or are they masks? – and you’ve got a comic that talks about dreams and reality but seems only to present the former. Or does it? Like a lot of Morrison’s comics, he’s leaving the interpretation up to the audience.
Nameless #1 is a fine start to what could be an interesting series. It introduces a somewhat compelling protagonist in what seems to be a self-contained story while expertly setting up the series plotline at the same time. But while there’s a lot to admire in this issue on a technical level, I feel the story itself is a bit lacking to call this a great beginning. Like Multiversity and Annihilator, Nameless is a distinctly Morrison comic, which in itself tells us that he has written this kind of story one too many times to seem like he’s offering up something fresh.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Colourist: Nathan Fairbairn
Publisher: Image Comics