I’ll be honest: I have started, and then discarded, attempts to write about Nameless #1 countless times today. Maybe somewhere in the region of ten attempts so far? I keep on starting and thinking I know, I’ll say this and then, somehow, everything goes south.
As frustrating as that is, it also feels oddly fitting; one of the things I really appreciated about the issue was how chaotic it felt, how it seemingly tumbles from one set-up to another in its initial pages, as if it’s unsure of what the book is going to be before deciding (Is it a Scottish Hellblazer? Is it an Inception rip-off-slash-parody where the nature of reality is going to be constantly upended? Is it another of Grant Morrison’s attempts to revive the entertainment of his youth by reappropriating images out of context and hoping that their significance will resonate nonetheless? Maybe it’s all of those and more). It’s not as if this issue really rejects analysis, but it’s almost intentionally constructed to find ways to try and twist away from it if at all possible.
And, really, that careening out of control feeling was one of the things I liked so much about the issue; the idea that I didn’t know where it was going next, or even if Morrison and artist Chris Burnham knew themselves — were they trying on ideas and high concepts like clothes, discarding what didn’t really suit them as I read? Burnham’s art (and especially his art with Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring, which is outstanding here) is another plus, taking the playfulness and formalism of their Batman, Incorporated work further here, while managing to evoke the creepiness that that title hinted at at its best. There’s a lot of beautiful, subtle stuff going on that’s hidden by the boldness on show elsewhere — look at the way the panel layout gets more inventive and unexpected when the story heads away from “reality,” and check how that impacts the color palette, for example — but look at what Burnham and Fairbairn do when they are more firmly rooted in reality, it’s just great stuff.
And that’s not even what I liked most about the issue. No, what I liked most — as silly as it sounds — was the Scottishness of the whole thing. Recognizing locations at a couple of times, or the way the dialogue of the main character feels so very Scottish in a way that Morrison rarely attempts. There’s a line early on in the book (one I won’t reproduce here, because it contains a word some find offensive and I don’t want to appall) that can only work in a Scottish accent in my head, and it was the line at which my interest went from Maybe this will be okay, in a weird horror kind of way to What is Morrison doing here? This is something else. It was a sign of things (or, at least, my interest level) to come.
It struck me, reading and re-reading Nameless #1 that Morrison is in yet another career renaissance right now; this, and last week’s Multiversity Guidebook and the run of Annihilator so far, are works that feel as energized and vital as anything he’s done in the last decade, surprisingly. Whatever was weighing him down in the last few years — the experience of working inside the beginnings of the New 52, perhaps, or just personal stuff that fed into his work — feels absent, with these new books seeming more exciting (and more varied!) than the output of men half his age.
It could all go wrong. In fact, it’s tempting to be snarky and say that Morrison has demonstrated that at some point in all of his projects, it will, even if he’ll inevitably pull everything together in a satisfying way in the end. But for now, Nameless feels like another interesting comic that delivers what you expect in ways you don’t expect it from a writer who’s rediscovered his taste for doing that very thing, working with artists who are ready to take whatever he gives them and match him in terms of intensity and inventiveness. Even if it’s hard for me to write about it, it’s definitely something worth reading.