Annihilator, I was a bit worried that maybe Grant Morrison was becoming too "Grant Morrison", too into metafiction, too into self-reference or deep fictional reverence. For a creator who so rarely disappointed me in the past, and was so frequently unique, Annihilator was like brushing every raw nerve the critics have exposed with a wire toothbrush.
I had amassed all of Nameless before I got to reading Annihilator, but had I actually read it beforehand I likely would have passed on this Image series.
I'm both glad I didn't, but also wishing I did.
Nameless starts off in a very cinematic fashion, opening with our titular hero -- a very British, Constantine-esque mage -- en media res, finishing up a case where he's making an escape through Inception-like layers of surreality. It's weird, but also speaking some familiar enough language to not make it too off-putting.
By the end of the first issue Nameless has taken on his new assignment and is off to the moon. In the second issue he meets the boss (virtually) and the team he's to join. Their objective is to destroy or divert a giant asteroid with a trajectory towards Earth. Nameless' role is to ward off the negative mojo the rock is emanating, a particular sigil emblazoned on its face a signal that it's not just an errant piece of rock.
As the crew takes off, its revealed that the face of the boss in the virtual console is a facade, masking a room of horrors about him. Prometheus --or Alien before it-- as Nameless deduces the origin of the structure as an ancient prison for a mad god, and he's worried they've just freed it. What happens next is a literal horror show as the crew is attacked by an ancient evil and rapidly succumbing to it in horrific ways.
The third issue ends with the reality of the entire series called into question, doubly, with a two page spread taking place with Nameless on Earth, and the final page showing Nameless horrifically mutilated yet kept alive in a nightmare world. The fourth issue expands upon all these, weaving between the three realities of space, Earth, and nightmare, and Nameless (and the audience with him) completely unsure of what is real.
The fifth issue features, presumably, a flashback showing Nameless has not been as in control of any situation as he thinks he has (as most of the situations he's been involved with haven't been working out very well), while the story starts looping back to the beginning, bringing back the veiled lady and the angler fish men from whom he tried to steal a key in the opening pages.
What went from being straightforward through to most of issue three (well, as straightforward as far as Morrison goes) descends into one of Morrison's lesser used traits of total insane mindfuckery. This is comparable, if not even more confounding than The Invisibles, but, coupled with Burnham's terrifying imagination, far more unsettling. (About halfway through issue 3 I was convinced that Nameless would make a great movie, and then it takes its turn and I uttered aloud "Nonono, I don't want to see that.")
There was a point where I thought I understood what was going on in the book, a point when I thought I got the story, but this is one of those Morrison-mind-trips where really only he gets all the connections. They're so mired in his research and knowledge of arcane topics and horror fables well beyond Lovecraft, that deciphering these six issues would be a full time job for at least a year. This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading (I hesitate to recommend it because it is so damn weird and gross, but at the same time it's very fascinating and engaging) but it's not wholly satisfying either. Then again, its structure is one that demands you loop back and give it another pass, or two, or three...if you can stomach it.
Some of Morrison's works are like Mensa puzzles, only for the truly gifted to solve, but that doesn't mean the non-gifted can't give it a go themselves, nor appreciate its complexity.