After four issues, I can safely say that I’m still not really sure what’s going on in Nameless. Just as I get, or at least seem to get, a handle on the proceedings, reality shifts again and I’m back struggling to keep up with what’s really happening, what’s a dream and whether any of it is leading up to anything. That sense is growing as the series goes on.
In the first issue, I remarked on the “fish-death” dichotomy and the equation of fish imagery to madness, which was fantastic. Issues #2 and 3 were more “sci-fi”, set in space with some recognizable character types and situations that wouldn’t have been out of place in Heavy Metal. But here in issue #4, building on the increasingly disturbing flash-forwards (or back.. or sideways…) in issue #3, the plight of Nameless, Sofia Darius and the Earth itself gains momentum. I just can’t discern precisely how or what it’s all leading towards.
When we left them last time, the crew of the spacecraft sent to investigate Xibalba, an asteroid with a mystical symbol headed for a collision with earth, had come face to face with the infectious madness. That’s the term I’m using for it anyway: characters in this story go over the top into horrible grotesquery (that element only gets more intense here) when exposed to the forces surrounding this asteroid. The mystical symbols Nameless draws on their helmets are meant as protection, but as we saw last time, that’s not protection enough. When we start this issue, only Nameless and Sofia remain, exploring the interior of Xibalba.
The question, as this issue goes on, is how much of that is metaphorical for some other kind of experience. They’re crawling around inside a giant weapon, and rapidly discovering that it’s more of a giant malevolent brain than a spacecraft. Hallucinations (or maybe just clarity?) follow, and grow increasingly disturbing, up to a point, and then suddenly take a sharp left turn into “it was all a dream” territory, with Nameless waking up on earth. This was how issue #3 ended, so no spoilers here, but it’s safe to say that pattern repeats. And grows odder.
The line between fantasy and reality is all too thin in this comic, even for the characters living the action. As we’ve already seen in previous issues, there’s the reality of being in space with Xibalba, the potential reality of being on earth, in a clean room surrounded by doctors, and then a far more disturbing ostensible fantasy involving horrible torture straight out of Dante. The most disturbing thing of all is that the third scenario might actually be reality.
The way the story shifts visually between those worlds is one of its strongest points (and Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn continue to produce spectacular comics art), emphasizing organic connection with images of water, or tissue, or even a mention here of the taste of bile in Nameless’s mouth. The grotesque, organic metaphor operates on several levels, and the pattern of shifting between space and Nameless’s quick wit and other settings in which he is far less sure of himself follow the pace of a dream.
Nameless, to be fair, is a bit like Orson Welles’ The Trial, which many people (including Peter Bogdanovich) found incomprehensible and dark in 1962. But Orson gives the audience fair warning right at the top: “This film uses the logic of a dream – a nightmare.” And that’s exactly what it feels like reading Nameless. This whole issue revolves around a dream – the “Astronaut Dream”, a dream Nameless had before about falling into a deep pit. This dream it recapitulated in enough different ways to convince me that it’s highly metaphorical. I just can’t discern what kind of metaphor, and what it’s in aid of.
To put it succinctly: I don’t understand it, but it makes sense anyway. And the more I read (this is definitely a comic to read over and over again), the more I can’t shake the feeling that this book is telling us something profound about the intersection of technology, spirituality and destiny. As to what it means, I suspect that will only become clear once we have the whole story.