Book Review : Grant Morrison - Nameless (2015)
Nameless is a graphic novel co-created by iconic comic book writer Grant Morrison and artist Chris Burnham. It was originally published by Image Comics in 2015 in six volumes. I didn't even know who these two gentlemen were until reading about Nameless in my friend George Cotronis' LitReactor column last year, prompting me to purchase the hardcover collected edition upon release this spring. See, I have this unhealthy obsession with space since having my soul pried from my body by Event Horizon in another life. I don't scare easy anymore, but you definitely have a head start if you involve floating in eternal emptiness in your narrative. So, Nameless wasn't necessarily planned for horroctober. It just happened to fit the bill. If you're into cosmic horror and haven't checked this bad boy yet, drop whatever you're doing and head to your local comic book store. Nameless is FOR REAL.
Brace yourselves, the story of Nameless is anything but straightforward. The protagonist is a nameless occult interloper hired by a secret billionaire consortium to participate in a mission to save the Earth from an oncoming asteroid named Xilbalba. Why the fuck does such mission would need an occult specialist, right? That shit's cut out for Bruce Willis and Aerosmith. We're getting to that. There is an ancient magic symbol carved on the side of the asteroid and it seems like it is a fragment from the solar system's lost planet Marduk, which was sacrificed millions of years ago in a cosmic war. One of the Gods that was defeated during that war seems to still be alive and kicking on Xibalba and the billionaire consortium's real mission is to prevent it from annihilating all life in the known universe.
Grant Morrison is a freakin' PSYCHOPATH and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. I can only wish to have the capacity to narrate horror with such reckless abandon and bless him for that, really. Nameless is ultraviolent and insanely graphic. It also doesn't make much sense at first glace. A quick scroll through the Goodreads review confirms it's not everybody's cup of tea. Morrison wrote himself an annex to explain Nameless to his readers, which is available at the end of the hardcover edition. He explains, among other things, that the project was meant to explore the possibilities of non-Lovecraftian cosmic horror * and states a myriad of influences from Mayan and Polynesian mythology ** to contemporary pessimistic and nihilistic philosophy and post-Crowley "typhonian" schools of magic, whatever the hell it might mean. This caused Nameless to be dismissed as a series of idiosyncratic mythological ravings by Grant Morrison by many readers, but is it?
Several "marked" characters in Nameless repeat the sentence Zirom Trian Ipam Ipamis throughout the story. It is Enochian for "Was Is Will Be" and signifies the inevitable collapse of linear time that occurs in Nameless, which so many readers have problems with. Was it a narrative cop out by Grant Morrison to start writing parallel storylines occuring at the same moment in order to leave his readership obsessing over hypothetical explanations? Not necessarily. I believe Nameless was meant to illustrate the limits of human reason. Despite our boasting to be the only enlightened species in the universe, our understanding of things is still very much tied to narratives. Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman stated in Thinking, Fast and Slow that we're hardwired to make immediate coherence out of everything, which is something Morrison exploits in Nameless. It is meant to be frustrating and thought over. Cosmic horror is not bound to human standards of rationality and therefore can tell a story in whatever order it wants for as long as it is terrifying and Nameless very much is.
Nameless was some kind of Bushido experience in cosmic horror. It's not exactly subtle. It makes the most out of its medium, oozes blood and guts at every opportunity it gets and features freakin' space monsters. I guess the ultra-intellectual approach to storytelling Grant Morrison takes in Nameless clashes with the immediacy of comic books, but I thought the reckless enthusiasm with which Morrison went DEEP into cosmic and mythological exploration was refreshing as hell and I thought the medium supported the endeavor very well because it is not bound by technical or narrative limitations. Just a drawing is sufficient to explain the inexplicable in Nameless. Lots of cosmic horror is bound by imagination (or lack thereof) but it in't the case with Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's Nameless. It is a deep, satisfying and utterly terrifying exploration of our own cosmic insignificance. I cannot recommend this graphic novel enough. Nameless is both terrific AND terrifying.
* I was not kidding when I said it fit the bill of horroctober.
** Xibalba is Mayan for "place of fear".