Nameless, reuniting the Batman Incorporated team of Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn, is a beautiful-looking series that will confuse the hell out of you.
The unnamed title character is an occult expert who takes a gig with a mysterious organization to help protect a space mission to deflect a massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth. But the asteroid holds sinister secrets, the organization is not quite what it appears and the Nameless just might be hallucinating the entire apocalyptic mess.
To call Morrison’s plot “non-linear” is to vastly undersell the point. The iconoclastic author drops readers in medias res without much background and the action takes some major shifts between installments. That’s a deliberate choice, intended to keep the reader unsettled, and it succeeds at that mission. Even with close attention paid to the details, it’s not difficult to get hopelessly lost. And yet Morrison’s wide-ranging cultural riffs are always worth experiencing, he retains a keen sense for crafting amusingly off-color dialogue and despite the constantly shifting plot landscape, he builds a rather intriguing portrait of his central character. You just may not have a single clue what’s actually occurring in the narrative.
Instead, it may be more fun, not to mention more productive, to play “spot the influence.” Lovecraft and ’50s era Sci Fi are the obvious touchstones in this “monsters meet space” pastiche. But along the way, Morrison tags in Inception, world mythology, John Dee, crypto-astronomy, alternative theology, demonology, ’60s British Mod and classic horror movie tropes. The writer runs all those influences through his distinctive viewpoint and mixes up a meditation on divinity and the nature of the universe that manages to hang together, even if remains somewhat elliptical.
Burnham and Fairbairn absolutely kill it on the visuals. With such a wide-ranging story, Burnham has tons of room to show off his imaginative design work, bouncing from horror-in-space to cryptic dreamscapes to urban apocalyptica to a genuine haunted house riff. Burnham’s character work is never less than expressive, he has some fun with page composition and produces some dazzling one- and two-page spreads that are marvels of craft and inspiration. There’s non-stop invention, a canny blend of fantasy, Sci Fi and horror styles that will have you poring over the pages to soak in all the details. Fairbairn does a heroic job with colors, perfectly calibrating the very different corners of the story with precisely chosen hues, tones and shadows that make Burnham’s images jump out at you. Whether it’s the imposing darkness of a doomed space mission or the garish swirl of a demonic mindscape, Fairbairn matches Burnham’s ingenuity measure for measure.
Nameless is a difficult book to recommend without reservation. It more than earns its adult content rating across a variety of fronts and readers not dedicated to the more challenging aspects of Morrison’s bibliography might not have the patience to work through his dense story. But the Burnham/Fairbairn art is worth the price of admission all on its own. However you slice it, Nameless is absolutely like nothing else you’ll find on the shelf.