On January 27, Image will release the collected edition of Nameless, the sci-fi horror comic written by the Scottish comic writer and self-professed occultist, Grant Morrison. Nameless is illustrated by Chris Burnham, who worked on Batman Incorporated and Nathan Fairbairn, who worked in art on Scott Pilgrim and Wonder Woman: The Trial of Diana Prince. The work of these three men, culminating in only six issues, is one of the most terrifying projects to come from Image in years.
What’s more, Nameless is not a horror comic in the same vein as The Walking Dead or Outcast. It’s a non-linear, trippy comic fully indebted to its form, frightening because of the way comics are: silent, private, and full of small spaces between panels in which anything could happen.
The story follows a nameless occult hustler brought on to analyze a huge asteroid, Xibalba, hurtling toward the earth. As it approaches, Xibalba demonstrates a psychic hold over those on earth and over the astronauts who explore it. The nameless protagonist, like the reader, is never able to tell nightmare from reality, and the comic’s effect is disorienting, even bordering on uncomfortable.
The plot, which is almost incomprehensible in the first two issues, is as follows, according to Image:
“A massive asteroid named Xibalba—the “Place of Fear” in Mayan mythology—is on collision course with the planet Earth. If that wasn’t trouble enough, the asteroid has an enormous magical symbol carved into its side and is revealed to be a fragment of our solar system’s lost fifth planet, Marduk, destroyed sixty-five million years ago at the end of an epic cosmic war between the inhabitants of Marduk and immensely powerful, life-hating, extra-dimensional “gods.” One of those beings is still alive, imprisoned on Xibalba, dreaming of its ultimate revenge on all that exists.”
Faces are ripped off, astronauts are torn limb from limb, and multiple characters kill and eat their own families, all in the name of the malevolent entity living in Xibalba. Readers were spellbound and disturbed by Morrison’s story, moved enough to create fan art, gifs and even a soundtrack, which the comic creators shared on Twitter.
The story (spoiler alert) culminates in the idea that every human remembers, on a genetic level, the intergalactic war between good and evil which took place millions of years ago. Morrison’s human characters experience dread and anxiety in their everyday lives because of their inherited trauma. In a huge twist in the comic, the all-powerful force that humanity has come to understand as “God” is simply one of the great warring beings with no concern for humanity at all. The creature, as it approaches earth, confounds the comic’s protagonist by torturing him every way it can think of, all while asking him over and over again, “what is human?”
The nameless occultist, watching the hallucinations — a cop helping to hold a man against a car while he is raped, women and children screaming in the streets and bleeding from every orifice — can only stutter out weak defenses of humanity. He tells the powerful creature that humanity is symphonies, original art and feeling selfless, but his efforts to defend his kind are in vain.
Morrison’s body of work is always marked by a sense of chaos, but his penchant for loose narrative structures and non-sensical dialogue serves him well here. Nameless is scary because its characters search for meaning in the human experience, which turns out to have no meaning at all. Their trip to the asteroid, as it turns out, was over before it started, and the actions of any man are not enough to stop what’s been approaching us all along: destruction.
Though the spinning storyline, and the extremely violent art, are certainly not going to satisfy every comic book reader, Nameless is a tremendous and earth-shattering read for those interested in images of the occult, or in sci-fi horror. Since the comic only ran six issues, it’s a short, though intellectually dense read. Most importantly, Nameless is an experience specifically for comic book readers, as the extreme nature of its imagery won’t lend itself to a TV or film adaptation anytime soon. This one’s just for us nerds.