Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s “Nameless” #1 doesn’t go for an easy first issue. It takes a convoluted in medias res route, plunging readers right into the middle of a dangerous and fast-moving situation. By the end of the issue, though, you’ll find yourself hooked and wanting to see what happens next, even as you’re still catching your breath.
It’s difficult to fully describe the plot of “Nameless” #1, something that feels more than a bit deliberate on the part of Morrison. Without giving anything away (not that I’m entirely sure it’s possible), it follows our protagonist, Nameless, as he embarks on a series of missions through an atypical landscape.
As I said before, “Nameless” #1 has a slightly convoluted path. Readers are left to figure out what’s going on and, while Nameless gives everyone enough to piece together the series of events, it’s not a simple, gentle or hand-holding experience. Because of the sort of mission that Nameless is on, we’re left with shifting scenery, abrupt and deliberate jumps from one location to the next. In doing so, though, Morrison is keeping readers from having a chance to stop and catch their proverbial breath.
“Nameless” #1 is billed as a horror comic and, while there are truly awful things that happen, Morrison and Burnham keep them on the periphery of the comic. We get to see the edges of them, Nameless’s narration coupled with glimpses that hint at the events rather than staring them in the face. It’s a smart move; it lets the reader’s own mind fill in the blanks and the end result is probably something more suited to strike a nerve for each individual reader by allowing them to conjure it up themselves rather than focus on a fixed image from Burnham and Morrison.
Speaking of Burnham, his art is as exquisite as ever. It’s easy to focus on all of the fine details and, if you simply did that, you’d come away a winner. There’s so much going on in every single panel: individual leaves of plants push through ancient stone structures, hundreds of drops of water, even every single piece of dirty laundry in Nameless’s shabby bedroom. It’s amazing to look at and, right there, you’ve more than received your money’s worth.
The real magic with Burnham these days, above and beyond all of his strong figures, is how well he lays out pages; look at, for example, page 19 as Nameless talks to another character via a projection off of a curved sphere. Burnham curves the panel boundaries of the page to reflect that process; the top and bottom hemisphere panels are connected by four long panels that arc and stretch gracefully, as if you’d gone into a sphere and carefully dissected it from the inside out, then laid the resulting pieces onto a flat surface. All the while, the images inside the panels do their job too, starting with a single tight focus on an image and then slowly, gracefully moving back to give us the full perception of just what Nameless and Earth are up against. It’s a joy to see extra little touches, like the mirror image of the two panels where a character is in one image and a strange rune in the other. The character’s face somewhat mimics the rune’s shape, with his goatee coming to a point just like the inscription, his facial structure moving in and out just like the rune does. It’s an extra moment of menace, a little touch from Burnham to keep you on your toes.
There’s a lot to focus on and love in “Nameless” #1, and I suspect that — with each new issue to follow — going back and re-reading this first one will just prove to be stronger. For now, though, it’s really good. In the context of the rest of the mini-series, it has the potential to be excellent. We’re just examining the tip of the iceberg and, so far, it feels like there might be a diamond at its center. “Nameless” #1 is an impressive and attention-grabbing debut.