While the first issue of Nameless explored dream territory and the kind of dark modern-day occultism of Sandman or Constantine, the second issue literally takes right off into space, going to Event Horizon territory and beyond. It evokes an epic space adventure, and yet still retains all the occultism and Scottish wit. There’s also a welcome little bit of exposition here that explains enough of what’s happening to make the proximal story comprehensible, although I’m still fairly confused about a lot of the world-building.
The main issue I have with this comic is that, after two issues, I still don’t know who the antagonist is or what the state of the earth might be. The main villain here seems to be violent insanity, and that insanity is somehow contagious and linked to some mysterious alien/occult force. What that has to do with the people on earth wearing fish heads, or whether they’re in the “real” world or the “dream” world, I’m not sure. There are hints in this issue that things will become clearer, to which I say “Bravo”.
I’m also aware that there’s a language being spoken here by the creators, most notably Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, that’s not entirely clear to me. There are certainly references to Lovecraft, but more than that, these people have a firm grasp of how to tell a story using comics, rather than some other medium. While I might be confused, they aren’t. They “get” how to use genre texts and visual references to evoke other texts and create a coherent image system. For example, the use of a “drone” with a TV screen as a major character (Paul Darius, the leader of the human resistance on the moon) is quite topical and current. But the corridors and crowded meeting rooms of the moon base itself are straight out of Alien, or classic 1980s Heavy Metal comics, which makes sense given that, in the story, it was built in the 1980s by the Russians, in secret, on the far side of the moon. (Small historical note: I hope the Russians sent Morrison a big case of Vodka for that unfathomable compliment to their engineering abilities. They wish they – or anyone – were capable of such a feat.)
But again, it seems to be “madness”, to use the British term, that’s the real enemy here. Nameless started out, right at the top of issue #1, with a scene of a man going insane and killing his family. And we’re treated to that delightful type of image over and over again as the book progresses. As a reader, my brain is saying, “Okay, so why? And how?” The fact that the book seems utterly uninterested in giving me the answers to those questions is troubling. I feel like I’m missing something, even though I’ve read and re-read both issues. Everything the book takes the time to explain, I understand, and there’s lots of interesting plot with great things to say about where science ends and myth begins. I just need a page of solid, clear exposition to stop this lingering sense I have in the back of my mind that I’m supposed to know what’s happening, even though I haven’t been told.
[Spoilers from here]
Nameless, or hero, has been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan… oh, wait. Wrong text. Nameless has been recruited, though, to help save Earth from a giant asteroid, decorated with occult symbols, hurtling towards the planet. We get lots of jokes about the fact that Nameless himself isn’t too fond of space travel, from the “adult nappy” to nausea.
Arriving at the moon base, Paul Darius himself doesn’t directly speak to the new arrivals, citing a “cold” that’s going around with some of the occupants, and thus keeps communicating through the afore-mentioned helicopter drone. The immediate concern is that their previous occult expert has been infected/seduced/possessed/whatever by the “insanity” and is reduced to writing nonsense words on the walls in her own blood. (Again: the single most interesting thing here to me is how this occurs and why, but no explanation is given.) Nameless shows his value to the rest of the crew by translating those words, which he identifies as being “Enochian”, the language of Angels. The words are, appropriately enough, the sort of stern apocalyptic warning familiar to cultists of all stripes, essentially boiling down to “the world’s going to end and we deserve it.”
It turns out that the huge asteroid heading towards Earth (named Xibalba) has some similar writing and there’s evidence on it of an extraterrestrial intelligence. Nameless gets to the point before the rest of the crew, being versed as he is in occultism and myth: it’s from Planet 5, or “Marduk”. Of course, we all know that the fifth planet from the Sun is Jupiter, but this mythology asserts that there was once a planet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, where today there’s an extensive asteroid field. And this planet was destroyed in an apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil, or between angels and demons. The thinking goes that it was a chunk of that exploding planet that sealed the fate of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Xibalba, therefore, as Nameless correctly points out, is an unexploded bomb from millions of years ago, now headed for Earth.
There’s a bit of “just wait one damn minute” on the part of the scientists who hear that interpretation of the phenomena, as of course it isn’t based on any scientific understanding of the solar system. But Nameless just swats that away: he has his field and they have theirs. The reason he was brought to the fight in the first place was because Darius knew he had a special set of skills. Before long, Nameless is inscribing each space suit with a protective occult symbol, singing the correct enchanted songs and adding a spin to the mission that rubs some of the others the wrong way. (“It’s the goddamn Exorcist meets Apollo 13!”)
Their mission, as it were, is to use a special object to open a door on the asteroid, while still firing a missile at it to slow the it down as it approaches Earth. All this is fairly straightforward and exciting material. Witty space adventure? I’m in. But then the strangeness returns with the last-minute reveal that Darius himself has been taken by the “madness” and his helicopter drone image is being controlled by…. someone else? Something else? This is unclear. But the true nature of the mission Nameless finds himself involved in, with the Earth itself as stakes, has yet to be revealed.