There are at least two ways to write Lovecraftian horror. One is to take the various elements of the Cthulhu mythos and tell your own story within that framework. Another way is to use various Lovecraftian tropes but drape them in your own imagery. Invocation and evocation if you will. Part of the effectiveness of Lovecraftian horror is suggestion over explication. That said, Lovecraftian horror has ironically grown from the abstract to the concrete as both creators and consumers expand upon the indescribable blasphemies and mind bending monstrosity found in the formative tales. Ultimately, however, using the less outright method is, for me, the more memorable way of honoring and writing Lovecraftian horror.
Through this lens Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, and Nathan Fairbairne’s Nameless is as Lovecraftian as, say, Alan Moore’s The Courtyard or its sequel Neonomicon. However the former favors allusions to—what Lovecraftian readers and scholars refer to as “the Dream cycle” over the latter two’s choice of nihilistic perversion and body horror. This transgressive technique, though not always found in the original texts, is incidentally something that characterizes most cinematic adaptations of Lovecraft from the eighties and nineties.
Enough about movies however, back to the comic in hand. Nowhere in the first issue does Nameless explicitly link itself to the Cthulhu Mythos, but the tropes are there. Albeit clothed by Morrison in a sometimes quite conventional occult language and imagery. Yet that does not limit the richness of reading, rather it accentuates it. Nameless is sufficiently original in its own right and an exceptionally promising first issue.
Reading this comic was like sipping a glass of red wine: wave after lapping wave of flavor, nuance, and intoxication. Whatever our protagonist’s true name is, he appears somewhat like a conglomeration of Byron, Randolph Carter, and Bruce Wayne. The multi-levelled and shifting reality occurs as seamlessly as one would imagine it in does during lucid dreaming and astral travel. This only increases the book’s opulent appeal. Out right Lovecraftian themes such as the fish motif evoke the aura of Dagon and the Deep Ones as found in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Meeting strangely swathed and hooded figures whilst traversing vibrant living jungles—jungles that in themselves are a reminder of Lord Fanny’s quest to Michtlan in The Invisibles—are particularly evocative of such tales as Through The Gates Of The Silver Key or The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.
Lovecraft himself would often use conventional occult imagery to lend validity to his tales of alien gods and subterranean sorcery, often paraphrasing or outright quoting occult scholars and adapting pre-existing elements of ritual into the rites used to serve and summon the Old Ones. So it is in similar fashion that Morrison intersperses potent and complex Bind runes and Kabbalistic terminology among the pages of this book. All of this adding to the sense of immersion, but remaining sufficiently surreal as to allow those not initiated into Morrison’s comics or magic itself to experience their own altered states of awareness.
However this isn’t Multiversity or any other DC/Vertigo title nor is this Grant using someone else’s intellectual property. This is Nameless and this is Image, apparent new home for hip, intelligent titles that both challenge and homage in equal measure. While Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch Planet uses the aesthetics of grindhouse and exploitation to re-educate us all on the virtues of Feminism, Grant appears to be indulging a wonderfully saturated dark tribute to any number of influences beyond Lovecraft. I myself saw nods to William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick. The idea of a reclusive billionaire as part of a benevolent conspiracy fighting otherworldly forces is right out of Shea and Wilson’s The Illuminatus Trilogy.
Chris Burnham, Grant’s collaborator on the second volume of Batman Incorporated, is the perfect artistic choice. His art communicates the narrative perfectly and evokes the same sense of operatic horror found in that volume of Batman Incorporated. Burnham’s style blends a certain gritty realism with a sort of marshmallow like composition. This dichotomy of real and unreal obviously blends well with Morrison’s work, but perfectly encapsulates the visceral surrealism suggested in Nameless.
In conclusion, Nameless in one issue alone looks to be a title that will contain as much pragmatic magical theory as say The Invisibles but seems to be communicated in a far tighter and more concentrated manner. This perhaps suggests Grant’s own personal growth and maturation as both a writer and a wielded of the dark arts. Combined with all of the above, this makes for what I hope continues to be a damn good read.