Review: NAMELESS #1

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NAMELESS #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: February 4, 2015

Sigh.

I’m what you might generously call a Grant Morrison super-fan. I have at least two long boxes full of single issues written by the gent. I own the complete Invisibles in three different formats — floppy, trade, and genital-crushing omnibus. If Morrison’s name is on a project, it’s an auto-pull for me at the local comic shop.

And I’ve got to stop it.

Nameless is a brilliant concept. Take the terrible things that happen in the world and instead of trying to make sense of them — experience them in their sheer horror — through a combination of dream, surrealist fantasy, and the type of graphic narrative only a comic book can provide.

But it doesn’t quite work for the same reason a lot of Morrison’s recent independent work doesn’t: too many steps are being skipped. It almost feels to me like trying to get to the solution of a mathematical equation without showing your work. It may be the right answer, but the writer here isn’t showing me how he got to it so that I can understand WHY it’s correct. And that’s troubling — for math and for literature.

We encounter a freelance agent who is moving in and out of dream to acquire an object for… someone… while being pursued by four… someones… and by the end of the issue, we know nothing about him, his pursuers, his new compatriots, or the mission he’s going on (except that it involves stopping an enormous asteroid from hitting the earth. Maybe.). If it was just a question of slow first issue set-up, that’s one thing. But with so many recent Morrison pieces taking this same underwhelming pace throughout their entire series (Happy!, Annihilator, and Joe the Barbarian are recent examples), I don’t have the confidence that the next three issues will be any more illuminating.

And that’s really different than the books from Morrison that really, really work. The Multiversity and The Invisibles. Books that are truly complex and blossom more every time you read them, but still have, at their heart, a story you get on first, second, or even third read. Nameless isn’t that.

What it is, however, is an incredible vehicle for artwork that could make your eyes bleed with holy tears, because Burnham and Fairbairn are producing pages you won’t believe until you see them. If you loved Chris Burnham’s art on Batman Incorporated (and who the hell couldn’t have?), consider that the mild salsa compared to what we are getting with Nameless.

The first thing you’ll notice, besides Burnham’s trademark exaggerated realism in faces and body language, is how perfectly he’s matching the page layouts to that sense of Nameless’ consciousness. As it’s being expanded by knowledge of the asteroid and its sheer scale, the panels literally expand outward like balloons. In his dream state, Nameless is moving between shifting parallelograms where you almost feel like gravity could fail at any moment. Scenes blend into scenes, or change sharply, and it all feels right and so wrong all at the same time — like every dream you have that you can’t quite remember later.

And the color work by Nathan Fairbairn is just sublime, giving every scene a certain amount of electricity and excitement, even while blending into a perfectly serene picture. In one scene, Nameless runs through a dream swamp as the unseen sun sets, and you can feel the temperature of the page drop as the palette slips from bright orange to deep purple right before your eyes. It’s magic and it makes the experience of the book sublime despite a fair amount of narrative incoherence.

If you’re looking for a visceral experience of dream and fantasy on the printed page, look no further than Nameless #1. Burnham and Fairbairn are delivering like you’ve never seen them do before. But just don’t come in expecting questions to the answers Morrison is laying out here. I think, for me anyway, too much of the genius (and there is genuine genius behind this title) never reaches the page itself.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

 

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5 Comments

  1. MariosMoustache said:

    Matt, your central (and seemingly only) criticism lies in the fact that Grant didn’t give you all of the answers in the first issue. Is that a valid criticism? What if the “narrative incoherence” that you noted is deliberate? Should a writer be expected to tie up all narrative threads in the first issue? Provide each and every step of his “mathematical equation” right off the bat?

    Here’s a synopsis of the first issue:

    “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.”

    “But nothing is what it seems.” Sounds to me that the if you stick around for the rest of the story, everything will become abundantly clear. Or not. This is Grant’s first stab at pessimism and nihilism, so maybe we will end up with a meaningless exploration of meaninglessness. The horror… The horror…

    I’ll tell you one thing. I’m not going to write off this series as “narratively incoherent” until I finish the goddamn narrative.

  2. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    So, there are a few things here.

    First off, I think it is a very valid criticism to say that a single issue of a comic, particularly a #1, should be narratively coherant and offer enough information to stand alone. It’s a monthly medium. If it’s meant to be read with all the other issues in tow to have substance, it should have just been a graphic novel.

    But I admit, I may not have underscored this enough: I don’t have any faith this will make sense later on either. This is not the first Grant Morrison piece I feel this way about in the last 5 years. I think as an author of late, Morrison skips steps in narrative structure, expecting his readers to make up the difference with research or just “knowing” what he’s after.

    That’s not OK with me, especially as a loooong time fan of his. I want it to be genius. I’ve seen it many times. But I feel like the writer has to meet the reader at least halfway.

    How I came upon the score was 5/10 for writing, 10/10 for art. Averages to 7.5/10. Am I writing Morrison off or cursing his name? Of course not. I’m just not seeing the level of work in this that Multiversity or Invisibles or the Doom Patrol or We3 has.

  3. jpooch said:

    Oh yes, this week is going to be fun. This book is going to be divisive for sure.

    I personally loved it & felt the flow of the story felt like a dream and it fit with what was happening on the page.I think the second issue will be very telling with this book.

    One thing we can all agree on is Burnham & Fairbairn are awesome together

  4. jpooch said:

    I know this varies a lot from person to person but I enjoy the difficult Morrison reads. I enjoy doing some of that extra work to see where he’s coming from. Even with something like Multiversity becomes a lot clearer if you’ve read his Supergods prose book.Then from there you realize how that connects to the themes in Annihilator.

    With that said, I realize that having to go about it that way isn’t for everyone, and probably not for the majority of readers. That’s one of the reasons the debate about this book will be a lot of fun this week & in the coming months

  5. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    The problem isn’t figuring out the WHAT of Morrison’s symbology or references. I’m not a dolt. I can use Google if I’m not already versed. And in this case, he’s using a lot of Kabbalistic imagery and terminology that I am well versed in. But there’s no clarity as to WHY he’s using specific things. That’s the issue.

    It’s sort of like having a mystic throw runes down on the table and walk away. I’m not paying to see the symbols. I want to know what they mean to him. I want his interpretation. And I don’t think Morrison does a good job of explaining that in his non-super hero work anymore. If you compare this, or Happy!, or even Joe the Barbarian, to The Invisibles, it’s night and day. The narrative there was far more complete and fulfilling.

    I think if you want to position Nameless as a surrealist or dadaist piece that will afford no explanation, that’s fine. But that’s likely not a comic I’m going to think very highly of. As someone who had narrative clarity beaten into him throughout 6 years of art school (linear, non-linear, nonwithstanding), it feels like a stunted piece to me.

    But then again, I’m just one guy! 🙂

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