When a story, in any medium, is told using the “language of dreams,” that’s usually a signal for the author to take his or her hands off the narrative wheel and let the story spin completely out of control, with no reference to logic. Those stories can be extremely frustrating and almost unreadable if done without an extremely high degree of talent and a light touch. Fortunately, Grant Morrison seems like the man for the job here in issue #1 of his new series Nameless. Yes, there are references to the language of dreams and lucid dreaming, colour plays an important symbolic role and the line between reality and fantasy sometimes seems thin. But it doesn’t spin out of control as one might expect. Rather, the world created has enough richness and enough familiarity to be fascinating rather than infuriating.
[Potential Spoilers ahead - as much as there can be after one issue.]
The story (from what I’m able to discern from the first issue) seems to be set in the near future, after some sort of alien invasion involving brain parasites. And fish. Lots of fish. (I’d like to think it’s because Grant was listening to his Marillion albums while writing it.) Earth appears to be in bad trouble, with most of the survivors now in parasitic thrall to the alien forces, organized by a “Veiled Lady,” a woman with a rather grotesque brain parasite hidden by a veil.
Nameless meets the Veiled Lady in his dreams
The main character, “Nameless”, appears to be able to fight or at least challenge the authority systems but only in his dreams. He uses the information gathered in his dreams to help the human resistance. (This is all to the best of my understanding – I’ll repeat that this is a complex and multi-layered plot with a lot going on that is obscure and confusing. For example, Nameless goes on about the “Sphere of Malkuth”, a sphere of the four elements, the archangels, earth, air, fire and water. And we are shown big splashes of those four colours in the dream sequence. But no explanation. At least not yet.)
More poetic resonance is found in the rumination on the symbolic nature of the fish. Obviously associated in our culture with early Christian cults, Morrison delves into another aspect of the word, explaining that the Hebrew letter “nun” means “fish”… and “death”. So, here we have the fish motif, our hero Nameless (“nun”), “Nun” can also refer to the Veiled Lady, and it’s all something to do with death.
What exactly it has to do with death is revealed near the end, in a long “real world” sequence. Nameless has been active in his dreams, stealing a symbolic magical key from the Veiled Lady. When he comes back to the real world, he remembers how it looks in every detail, draws it, and hands it over to the authorities to be sent for 3D printing. (That’s a nice nod to modern tech.) The authorities then go into exposition mode (I, for one, was grateful for any exposition at this point, as things needed to be explained). A man, one Paul Darius, speaking through a camera attached to a drone from the far side of the moon, explains that there is an asteroid heading for earth, marked with the sign of the fish. Nameless identifies it as “The door to the anti-universe”. Darius clarifies that this “fish” really means “death” for everything on the planet. They need Nameless, who reveals that even before the world went to fish/death/hell he was an expert on the occult. (Shades of Constantine and Doctor Spektor there…) They don’t explain precisely why he is so important (other than the fact that the comic is named after him), and implore him to join a group of billionaire survivors on the dark side of the moon. (Morrison’s wit is always enjoyable. For example, Nameless asks, “Do I get any space training?” to which the response is, “Ha! You’ll get a sick bag and a pat on the head!”)
Morrison’s combination of visual and written language is quite remarkable, and perhaps too easy to miss. He’s using the language of comics here with a truly deft touch, dropping visual hints like the fish symbol that have multiple meanings, related to grammar and language and culture. The other visual signposts through the book, courtesy of Chris Burnham’s excellent art, incorporate motifs of kelp, vines and nets, classic hermeneutic imagery operating on a quasi-subconscious level. These people know how to use our favourite medium well, and know its power. That alone makes this a book well worth studying.
Nameless stitches together apocalyptic sci-fi, dream journeys, magic, occult symbols and Scottish wit all in one comic book. (With superb art throughout by Chris Burnham, Colours by Nathan Fairbairn and Letters by Simon Bowland.) I’m not as familiar with Grant Morrison’s work as some of my colleagues here Sequart, but I get the sneaking suspicion that my one-sentence description could apply to any number of his works and sort of sum up his style. It’s certainly the style of this comic, and I like it. I’m curious and intrigued. I know just enough to keep me interested, and there’s more than enough obscurity and arcana operating on the edges of the story to keep most readers completely in the dark about where the whole thing is headed.