On Books: Grant Morrison’s Nameless– incoherent space techno-occult horror fun

I’m always on the lookout for new Morrison books, and when it comes to clever, brain-warping horror I can’t think of a series that does it better than The Invisibles. So I was really excited by the cover of Nameless— astronauts with impenetrable occult symbols scrawled on their visors, a sense of existential dread suffusing the light the surrounds them. And while I think Nameless is a good read, it’s not the perfect read I was hoping it was.

I’ll start by talking about the artwork, which is nearly perfect. Chris Burnham’s inks and Nathan Fairbairn’s colors create a kind of dreadful beauty throughout the book. The visual storytelling is solid, and the images are weird and entertaining– I especially enjoy the hunters wearing angler fish masks, one of those inexplicable details I’ve come to expect and appreciate from a Grant Morrison script.

Ick.

However, the fact that the art is both unconfusing and engaging means that the problems with this book come from the writing.

Morrison describes the book’s thesis statement as an attempt to undermine the idea that some male “chosen one” can save the world; this is an idea I can totally get behind. He also describes the book as being replete with “dream logic,” an attempt to create the feeling of being trapped in someone else’s nightmare. I think that’s where the book get in trouble. While the details of someone else’s nightmare might be individually interesting, they generally only make sense to the dreamer, and then only while the dreamer is asleep. Dragging an incohesive narrative into the daylight isn’t always a great idea.

Supporting this thesis is the fact that Morrison fills up the final pages of the Nameless collection with an expansive list of footnotes. Some of them are interesting and helpful, but it’s a trick I’ve only ever seen Carla Speed McNeil pull off in her Finder series. Most comics with piles of footnotes end up feeling ponderous and incomplete– Alan Moore’s From Hell leaps to mind– and Nameless ends up being more the rule than the exception.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book– 3 stars, it’s a good book. The story’s impenetrable chaos felt lazy to me, though. If Morrison had worked harder at making his story accessible, or even just at making sure the plot didn’t contradict itself regularly, then this would have been a better, scarier book.

Still, if you want to see a post-modern horror version of 2001, this is as close as you’re going to get. Just don’t expect multiple readings to yield a lot of treasures– sometimes chaos is as shallow as a puddle, and doesn’t give us much to decipher. Sometimes chaos is merely chaotic– that’s probably what Morrison and his collaborators were trying to create and I guess they succeeded. Complaining that it’s not what I would have created is probably juvenile… but it’s also true, and probably the main reason that I liked-but-not-loved this book.

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