“Nameless”: Gods & Monsters by Grant Morrison

There are comic books writers, then there are the gods of the comic book industry. Those writers whose stories have transcended the medium, providing readers with comic books that have gone beyond the conventional superhero or heroine fighting crime and saving the world from annihilation. Comic book writers like Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Frank Miller (The Dark Knight, Sin City), Warren Ellis (The Authority, Transmetropolitan) and of course, the enigmatic and out-of-this-world Grant Morrison. In Nameless, Morrison’s most recent miniseries from Image Comics, a super-group of astronauts and science-research specialists are sent into space to save the world from destruction by asteroid 62600, appropriately named Xibalba, before it collides with Earth. At first, the story resembles a plot from a Michael Bay film, but a Grant Morrison story would never be so simple or definite, and Nameless left this comic book reader with unanswered questions about life beyond the physical world and feelings of shame because of his lack of knowledge for the esoteric dark arts and philosophy of ancient cultures.

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The minuscule White Valiant surveys the asteroid Xibalba

Just as there is an up, there is also a down. White opposes black, God has the devil, there is the universe and the anti-universe, and the Tree of Life must grow roots beneath the dirt in what is called the “Tunnels of Set”. Evil does exist and the astronauts aboard the White Valiant spacecraft in Nameless discover an abstract and intangible evil inside Xibalba as it hurtles through space. Aerial drones, remotely controlled by the astronauts, are sent on a reconnaissance mission inside Xibalba and what they discover has never been seen by human eyes before. Inside the asteroid is an elaborate, over-sized network of man-made (or god-made) tunnels leading to a gate that is sealed shut by nine criss-crossing swords, built as a warning to anyone who encounters this ominous “place of fear”. Any occultist or patron of the dark arts should recognize the symbols and motifs that decorate Xibalba and recommend that the asteroid be destroyed immediately, but human curiosity for the unknown prevails. This is no arbitrary space rock floating through the cosmos, this is a prison containing the universe’s most dangerous and violent denizens who’ve escaped through the Gates of Hell. You might expect a black hound with burning red eyes or John Wayne Gacy dressed as a clown to emerge from the darkness, but the monsters inside this prison do not have any distinguishable face or physical form, that would be too customary for Morrison’s manner of storytelling. This kind of monster attacks through the use of deadly psychic powers, distorting its victim’s reality and opening its victim’s mind to insanity.  It is unseen and unknown, and upon its encounter with humans the evil from inside Xibalba has a sole purpose to answer an unanswerable question…. “what is human?”

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Diagram of Tree of Life & Tunnels of Set

In the back of the trade paperback of Nameless (released February 2017) Grant Morrison discusses Mayan and Polynesian religions and other written material from authors whose work influenced this weird science-fiction-horror story. Shamefully, I did not recognize many of the authors that he referenced and I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia researching names like Kenneth Grant, Linda Folorio, and John Dee as well as ancient occult words like Malkuth, Yesod, Enochian, and Marduk. Some of these words refer to the heavens and the “light”, however, some of these words refer to an ancient “darkness” or underbelly of the world that may or may not still exist even in these modern times. The destructive combination of ancient occult ideologies and our modern overzealous desire to advance technology is what makes this story so incredible. There are just some things in this world that you do not tamper with, and no space suit or rocket-fueled aircraft or electronic device can save you from them. Only a practiced sensitivity to the surrounding world above and below can save you from the dark horrors that reside in an ancient prison.

We wanted to do something that worked more like a poem or a piece of music than a movie or a Tv show, bypassing the rational mind to aim directly at the subconscious. Many of today’s comic books ape the effects of Tv or cinema, but Chris (Burnham) and I wanted to try something a little different. From the expressionistic panel shapes and page layouts to the multi-leveled, entangled symbols and irrational, dreamlike cadence, Nameless was to be a work of nightmare logic.  

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Beautiful yet terrifying artwork by Chris Burnham in Nameless

If there wasn’t a Grant Morrison, comic book readers would have to suffer traditional comic book storytelling (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but this devoted reader and collector of comics is forever on the hunt for something more enlightening than what’s provided to him by Marvel and DC each week. Morrison has warped this reader’s fragile little mind and expanded my way of thinking. I can’t go back to the Avengers or the X-Men after reading Nameless, those books are childish in comparison. My eyes are now open (my “eye” is open) and the world will never be the same again. When a story has this kind of effect on you, it must mean that you’ve encountered good writing. Nameless couldn’t have been written by a man, it must’ve been written by a god.

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