Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, Providence

Providence Act 1Providence Act 1 by Alan Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is with hesitation that I write anything about Providence. This recent three-volume graphic novel—a prequel/sequel to the earlier works, The Courtyard and Neonomicon—represents Alan Moore’s meticulously-researched and carefully-arranged synthesis of H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos, whereas I am only the most casual reader of Lovecraft and a mild skeptic of his new eminence in the literary canon (I attempt, in the voice of an imagined devotee, the best case I can make for Lovecraft in my review of At the Mountains of Madness). But I wrote this summer about Moore’s earliest comics opus, Miracleman, so for symmetry’s sake I will essay on his latest, Providence.

Moore is, in any case, skeptical of Lovecraft too. While a number of Providence‘s allusions no doubt wriggled tentacularly over my head, I think I got the book’s point. In this narrative, set mainly in 1919, Lovecraft is the unknowing channel used by an occult conspiracy to influence both popular and high culture so that the immemorial dream-world, vanquished at the founding of human civilization and populated with the creatures envisioned by Lovecraft (and kindred writers like Poe, Bierce, Dunsany, and Chambers), can triumph over the earth again. Not for nothing does Borges appear in its penultimate chapter: as a commenter at the Providence annotations site points out, Moore is in essence retelling “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” only with figures from Lovecraft’s life and work. 

But is it a good thing that Lovecraft’s visions triumph? The final chapter of Providence stages a philosophical debate among the characters—including real-life, living Lovecraft scholar, S. T. Joshi—about just that. As we know, Lovecraft and many of his precursors and successors, from Poe to Burroughs, held illiberal views, while our present literary culture, ostensibly including Moore, is ever-more militantly liberal. 

Moore addresses this question through Providence‘s protagonist: Robert Black. Black is a closeted gay, Jewish journalist from Milwaukee, rather than being the WASP scion Lovecraft was. He travels from New York to New England investigating signs of the aforementioned occult conspiracy. When at the narrative’s first climax he meets the man himself in the eponymous Rhode Island city, he lets Lovecraft borrow his journal, in which he’s both reported on his experiences and written down story ideas and literary criticism. Both Black’s record of what he’s seen in his travels and his theorization of the need for a new kind of fantastical literature inspire Lovecraft to write his most important works. Black, meanwhile, realizes he has been the pawn of the occult conspiracy all along, engineered as the “herald” (in fact, he writes for the New York Herald) to Lovecraft’s “redeemer”—a John the Baptist for the Cthulhu mythos’s Incarnation.

This narrative arrangement leaves us with two possible interpretations of Lovecraftian politics. On the one hand, despite Lovecraft’s own abjection of the non-white, of the queer, and of much of modernity at large, he actually owes his visions to these social forces; much of his own inventiveness must be credited to these prevailing conditions allegorized through the figure of Black (and communicated through Black’s understanding of how much “weird fiction” as theory and practice owes to the various social and artistic avant-gardes Lovecraft scorned in favor of the 18th century). 

By contrast, insofar as the Lovecraftian lifeworld, not only inhumane but inhuman, colonizes culture then its collaborators, including real and made-up marginal figures from Robert Black to Burroughs and Joshi, may have something to atone for. (Moore makes clear the grisly methods of coercion it uses, for which rape, as in so much of his work, is here again the metonym.) Perhaps we ought not to have so hastily thrown the realist novel—the “literary fiction” Black anachronistically complains about to his journal—in the historical dustbin.

Providence never quite resolves this conundrum over the worth of Lovecraft or the weird for which he serves as figurehead. When earth becomes Yuggoth at the novel’s conclusion (or perhaps, per the fictionalized Joshi, realizes that it always was Yuggoth), the violated mother of Cthulhu herself says, “I think we should learn to dwell amidst wonder and glory forever.” Moore makes heavy reference to Freud on the unconscious and Jung on dreams to suggest that such a return of the repressed, such a habitation of the dreamworld, is true and inevitable. Yet it was purchased with lies and bloodlines, wrought on the bodies of prostrate women by metaphysical fascists. Can you have magic and ethics, even magic and everyday decency?

We are back in the dilemma, if dilemma it is, of From Hell: the character who speaks for Moore’s occultism is a misogynist murderer, the character who speaks for his humanism the only victim to survive. But perhaps this Yeatsian tension between spirit and humanity, between the work and the life, is preferable to the fantasies of their resolution that we were getting from Moore a little over a decade ago in the not-entirely-convincing polemics of Promethea and Lost Girls.  

Added to all the foregoing to give it an extra savor: Providence is Moore’s love-hate letter both to comics and to America (and maybe they are the same thing for him). Providence is only part-comics. The comics part is drawn in the painstaking ligne claire of Jacen Burrows, avowedly influenced by Hergé and Otomo. Burrows must have once seen that interview where Eddie Campbell called Bill Sienkiewicz a prima donna for not finishing Big Numbers, because he seems to have devoted his life to doing whatever Alan Moore tells him to do. Yet Moore gives over a third of each chapter to the prose of Robert Black’s diary—too often undistinguished prose, alas. The occult paraphernalia Black inserts is usually better, my favorite being the weekly circular for the church in Moore’s Innsmouth stand-in, written all in piscine puns beginning with a hilarious Gospel misquotation: “I will make you fishes of men.” The book itself, then, is divided between Moore’s devotion to comics and his desire to escape into literature.

Likewise, through Black’s speculations on how to write romances for the modern age, we hear Moore’s tribute to American literature: he carefully roots Lovecraft’s achievements not only in the fin-de-siècle avant-garde but in the American modernity of Poe and Hawthorne. It all made me consider for the first time in literally 30 years of reading him (I read The Killing Joke when I was six!) how odd it must be to be Alan Moore: to have spent so much of one’s career writing for and about a country you don’t live in, a country whose culture has—shades of Providence‘s Cthulhu cult—semi-colonized one’s own, even if part of one welcomed it as a liberation from one’s overly familiar everyday world. Comics, pop culture, America: Moore must love and loathe them in equal measure. No wonder he writes fiction of such tortured ambivalence, in contrast to the sometimes unwelcome certitude of the interviews he gives.

Should you read Providence? You probably have to come to it already caring about Lovecraft and Moore. You should also be willing to deal with the nastiness Moore uses to emphasize the inhumanity of his cultists. Providence isn’t as bad as Neonomicon, with its outright attack on the audience, and its most disgusting scene is partially penitent, as it represents a Moore surrogate assaulting the reader (i.e., a character placed in the reader’s point-of-view position). Still, it’s not for faint of heart. (As for the often raised question of Moore and rape: he writes about it as much as he does for the exact same reason as second-wave feminists like Andrea Dworkin or Adrienne Rich talked about as much as they did: both think it’s the foundation of all human hierarchy.)

Providence does contain much too much relatively lifeless prose from Black, all given in annoying cursive handwriting. I understand Moore’s goal in dividing the narrative, but I remain convinced the man who often included three strands of narrative in a single tiny panel of Watchmen could have told almost the whole story in comics form. 

Black’s characterization is also seriously flawed. Moore can’t seem to decide if he’s an aw-shucks hayseed or an experienced habitué of the queer demimonde who is au courant with the avant-garde. He’s naive when Moore needs him to be, not when Moore doesn’t; therefore, he never comes into focus as a character.

But for all that, I enjoyed Providence, particularly the time-jump audacity of its last two chapters. For personal reasons I love that the spread showing Yuggoth as it overcomes urban space takes Pittsburgh as its victim city. And the ethical debate at the end—accept sublime change, whatever form it takes; or fight for humanity and for humanism?—is one that our technological condition will never let rest. I admired Burrows’s heroic feats of drawing and Juan Rodriguez’s distinctive grayish-greenish digital palette.

Finally—a test of the most powerful works—for all its flaws, I have lingered in the disquieting mood of Providence for days after finishing it.

Screen Shot 2018-12-24 at 2.08.13 PM
Borges’s appearance in Providence #11

If you would like to support my work, you might please buy, read, and review Portraits and Ashes or The Ecstasy of Michaela (or even just pledge via email to exchange a free ebook for an honest public review). Thanks!

H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of MadnessAt the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, what choice did I have in this Halloween season but to go on to the twentieth-century sequel to Poe’s only novel, namely, one of H. P. Lovecraft’s only novels, At the Mountains of Madness (written 1931, published 1936)? Lovecraft’s characters twice refer to Poe, “hint[ing] at queer notions about unsuspected and forbidden sources to which Poe may have had access when writing his Arthur Gordon Pym a century ago”—in other words, Poe was a sort of secret documentarian of the Antarctic gothic, a new literary mode Lovecraft’s novel continues and extends by assimilating it to his overarching mythos about the squamous horrors from beyond the stars.

This Modern Library edition packages Mountains with Lovecraft’s literary-historical essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, wherein Lovecraft defines the features of the Gothic novel. It is worth quoting to see how, in this novel, Lovecraft borrows and revises these venerable tropes of a haunted modernity:

This novel dramatic paraphernalia consisted first of all of the Gothic castle, with its awesome antiquity, vast distances and ramblings, deserted or ruined wings, damp corridors, unwholesome hidden catacombs, and galaxy of ghosts and appalling legends, as a nucleus of suspense and daemoniac fright. In addition, it included the tyrannical and malevolent nobleman as villain; the saintly, longpersecuted, and generally insipid heroine who undergoes the major terrors and serves as a point of view and focus for the reader’s sympathies; the valorous and immaculate hero, always of high birth but often in humble disguise; the convention of high-sounding foreign names, mostly Italian, for the characters; and the infinite array of stage properties which includes strange lights, damp trap-doors, extinguished lamps, mouldy hidden manuscripts, creaking hinges, shaking arras, and the like. All this paraphernalia reappears with amusing sameness, yet sometimes with tremendous effect, throughout the history of the Gothic novel; and is by no means extinct even today, though subtler technique now forces it to assume a less naive and obvious form.

What could be less naive and obvious than to convert the Gothic castle into an abandoned alien megalopolis in Antarctica, to render the insipid and suffering heroine as a STEM grad student with a penchant for Poe and other horrific lore, to humbly disguise the highborn hero-villain as a tentacle-faced alien civilization undone by worser interstellar horrors (e.g., “the cosmic octopi”) and their own protoplasmic slave-class, and to take the “high-sounding foreign name” device so far beyond Italian that we arrive at R’lyeh, Tsathoggua, Kadath, and more?

At the Mountains of Madness is the first-person narrative of a geologist named Dyer; he has recently returned from an Antarctic expedition with his Miskatonic University colleagues, where new drilling equipment promised to enable the scientists to collect deeper rock and fossil specimens, “since the primal life-history of this bleak realm of ice and death is of the highest importance to our knowledge of the earth’s past.” But Dyer and team receive more of such knowledge than they wanted or expected, and Dyer—one of the mission’s few survivors—writes his narrative to warn away future polar expeditions. What did these scientists discover?

First, an expedition finds odd animal/vegetable specimens in the ice, one of which thaws out, returns to life, slaughters the humans, and flees to the mountains. Then Dyer and the graduate student Danforth fly out to the wrecked camp to investigate; finding the carnage, they pilot their plane toward the mountains and there discover a hidden city. Wandering its streets and squares, entering its halls and towers, they learn its origins by interpreting its lost race’s (apparently very thorough) friezes and reliefs. In short, the city was built fifty million years ago by the Great Old Ones, an alien civilization seemingly resembling a cross between a squid and a bat. The Great Old Ones once ruled the earth, but were forced back to their Antarctic landing site, also their holiest city, both by subsequent invasions of eviller alien entities and by revolts of their own slave-laborers, the Shoggoths, which they themselves constructed from protoplasmic matter. Eventually, our scientist-heroes decide that the Great Old Ones are not the enemy, but—in their civilizational drive—are actually something like humanity—

God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had faced things only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!

—while the squalid slime-monster Shoggoths who overthrew the Great Old Ones are the novel’s prime villain. One of them slimes his way out of the cavern beneath the city to chase Dyer and Danforth back to the surface and out to their plane. While fleeing the Pole, Danforth gets a glimpse of the mountains beyond the city, where the myths of the Great Old Ones told of nameless horrors—

the terrible mountains of the forbidden land—highest of earth’s peaks and focus of earth’s evil; harbourers of nameless horrors and Archaean secrets; shunned and prayed to by those who feared to carve their meaning; untrodden by any living thing of earth, but visited by the sinister lightnings and sending strange beams across the plains in the polar night…

The novel concludes with a tribute to Poe’s Pym, as the cry of the giant birds at that novel’s Antarctic conclusion, “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” is here reprised as the call of the Shoggoth and the Poe-reading Danforth’s own maddened cry as Dyer pilots the plane from the Cyclopean city and the invertebrates whose “nightmare plastic column of foetid black iridescence [ooze]” beneath it.

The narrative is told in a deliberately dry scientific prose that allows the horrors it uncovers to seem all the more grotesque by contrast with Dyer’s literary decorum. While the novel gradually gathers force and then erupts to a crescendo, Lovecraft’s métier was the short story, and I am convinced he could have gotten his wanderers into the hidden city in twenty pages rather than forty, even at the risk of sacrificing some of the opening’s elaborate scientific verisimilitude. But this is, in comparison to the mishmash of Poe’s Pym, an artful construction, if less impressive than the concentric narratives of its other evident precursor, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, here re-written for the snowbound polar wastes as a heart of whiteness.

In an introduction to this edition, the Marxist novelist China Miéville ably explicates the political subtext of the Shoggoths’ successful overthrow of their erstwhile masters and the horror it inspires in both Lovecraft and his narrator by identifying the Shoggoths with The People in revolt:

The uprising of the masses is something Lovecraft views with evident terror. This is because he both views such masses as racially inferior (“sub-human Russian rabble” in the case of the Bolsheviks) and loathes them precisely because they are the masses. There is little more contemptible and terrifying to this elitist.

You might think this is tendentious, but it is not really less tendentious than the novel itself; reactionaries and revolutionaries alike are fond of the didactic, and Miéville gets in a few good lines (my favorite: “The Shoggoths are, literally, revolting”). For my part, I am less faithful to the essentially chiliastic religious dream of The Revolution—history has given us some cause to fear revolutions even if we are not otherwise in sympathy with Lovecraft’s illiberal politics, or indeed with oppression. (How can both oppression and revolution be bad? You would need not a revolutionary or a reactionary but a tragedian, or at least an ironist, to explain that.)

Anyway, if illiberal politics were all that mattered, we would have to toss out most of the books in our libraries, and not all of them by straight white men either, so the question of Lovecraft’s merit cannot be dispatched by a critique of his ideology, which was not much worse than that of all the other fascist or Stalinist or imperialist modernists we have grown used to admiring.

Lovecraft’s achievement is, as every critic has said by now, to recast modernity’s repressed nightmare not as the intractable remnant of Old-World daemonism or l’ancien régime, but as the inhuman vastnesses opened up by scientific materialism itself, as it has dispelled the illusions of metaphysics, displaced humanity from the center of the cosmos, and revealed life to be a chaos of rioting matter only ever contingently assuming form. Lovecraft provides, in essence, a new myth—and it would be hard to deny that we needed one in a century that cashiered Platonism, Christianity, and humanism in turn.

If I were wholly devoted to Lovecraft and resentful that he had still not quite gained the respect I thought he deserved, here is what I would say:

“While T. S. Eliot was inventing modern conservatism by half-heartedly trying to piece tradition back together, while James Joyce was inventing postmodern nihilism by happily spraying his ejaculate over the ruins, while Virginia Woolf was inventing elite left-liberalism by nervously pretending that spiritual-but-not-religious and privileged-but-really-guilty-about-it could somehow answer for the ruins, Lovecraft threw everything—including, above all, good taste—to the wind and devised a set of images to express something of what the world would actually look like if we ever succeeded in forgetting that we had once been Platonists or Christians or humanists. And, given that he takes his literary stand at the intersection of symbolism and naturalism no less than did Joyce, he should not even be denied a share in modernism.”

Is the above what I actually think? Hard to say, though probably not. The original writer must, said Wordsworth, create the taste by which he is to be appreciated. Lovecraft has not quite created the taste in me yet. But his essay on literary horror (some of which I admittedly skimmed, as it is partially intended as a reference work consisting of plot summaries) nevertheless impresses me with the breadth of his reading and the modernity of his judgments. His praise of Poe consists, for instance, in recognizing him as the first true artist of horror, on aesthetic grounds that Pater, Wilde, Joyce, and Woolf would readily appreciate:

[Poe] perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist; and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend or what they prove—good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating or depressing—with the author always acting as a vivid and detached chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathiser, or vendor of opinion.

And his perhaps surprisingly extravagant praise for Wuthering Heights as one of the central novels of the nineteenth century is consonant with my own experience of that extraordinary and extraordinarily weird book. I was expecting criticism more archaic and stodgy, but Lovecraft-as-critic, in advocating for a literature of the unseen, is a true modernist.

And yet, and yet. As a fiction writer, isn’t he too literal and therefore too crude and childish? Isn’t the greatness of Poe (and Pym) in the sheer suggestive vagueness, the spiritual vagary, of his symbolism? Isn’t this why Mallarmé and Melville found inspiration in Poe’s almost empty picture of whiteness that they could never have found in trashy, puerile images of crawling slime monsters and things-from-another-world with tentacular faces?

Let me return to my imagined Lovecraft advocate and hear what he has to say:

“Consider how much of At the Mountains of Madness consists of Dyer’s description of the Great Old Ones’ wall friezes. A third of the novel is ekphrasis, like the book of the Iliad concerning the shield of Achilles. Consider too the mundanity of that ekphrasis. Lovecraft through Dyer tells us that the Great Old Ones ‘had passed through a stage of mechanised life on other planets, but had receded upon finding its effects emotionally unsatisfying,’ that last phrase redolent of advertising and popular psychology, and also goes on to detail the changing nature of their furnishings and home designs, such that we have to picture these winged mollusks as ‘they used curious tables, chairs, and couches like cylindrical frames—for they rested and slept upright with folded-down tentacles—and racks for the hinged sets of dotted surfaces forming their books,’ an image impossible to imagine without laughter. Lovecraft is too learned a critic and too conscious an artist to be producing such comic effects—precisely the emotional consequence of the over-literal fantastic—without design, so what, between the ekphrasis and the mundanity or near cuteness of his horrifying anti-divinities, is he trying to do? He is obviously trying to return literature to the naive concreteness of the epic, with its squabbling gods and strange journeys, its quotidian bizarrerie; he is trying to become the bard of the new age, the Homer of the scientific millennium, the de-spiritualized singer of the new gods we find on the threshold of our post-Darwinian and post-Einsteinian perceptions. It is not a question of his being better than Joyce or Eliot, but of his truly accomplishing what they only wished for and gestured toward—not the invention of a new Gothic, but rather, at long last, after the Platonic, the Christian, the humanist centuries, a cyclic poem of the universe, nothing less than the restitution of the epic to modern man.”

Well, that is what a devotee would say. I would say At the Mountains of Madness is a strange, slow book, well worth reading and thinking over, if occasionally and in various ways hard to take. Maybe to say that—that a book can still be read some eight decades after it was written—is praise enough.


If you would like to support my work, you might please buy, read, and review Portraits and Ashes or The Ecstasy of Michaela (or even just pledge via email to exchange a free ebook for an honest public review). Thanks for reading!

Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, Nameless

NamelessNameless by Grant Morrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

But did Grant Morrison deserve my bitchy crack about Coldplay toward the end of my review of Greg Carpenter’s British Invasion? After being too pleased with myself for its cleverness, it occurred to me that I had not read a Morrison comic all the way through after All-Star Superman, which is about a decade old and the sentimentality of which I found grating, despite its other many virtues, especially its iconicism. (I have flipped through some of his Batman material, but it seemed too complicated for a Batman story, and I say this as someone who enjoyed the hell out of New X-Men.) So I saw Nameless, a work in the undersung genre of “space horror,” and decided to read it to find out if I had indeed been unjust to Morrison’s later career.

Of the events in Nameless, one character metafictionally explains/exclaims, “It’s like the goddamn ‘Exorcist’ meets ‘Apollo 13’!” Even allowing that such a film has already been made—such that the line of dialogue should have run, “It’s like goddamn Event Horizon!”—that description aptly capture’s Nameless‘s mix of space adventure with unsettling and sometimes subliminal demonism. Unlike The Exorcist‘s ingenious and intense crypto-papist propaganda, though, Morrison’s book is not trying to make us consider a conversion or reconversion; the villain of Nameless is God, the God of monotheism, stranded in our universe as the prisoner of a long-ago galactic and interdimensional war, and accordingly psychopathic and the incitement of psychopathy in His worshippers. The graphic novel spins around a scene of murderous horror inspired by the Deity. The conceit of Nameless is something like the following: what if Lovecraft’s fiction describes not a cold mechanical materialistic universe, as it is often taken to do by the Rhode Islander’s admirers, but rather the universe as seen by traditional monotheism?

For readers keeping score in the great and largely one-sided Alan Moore vs. Grant Morrison feud, Nameless may be read as a furious riposte to Moore’s Neonomicon. In Moore’s notoriously hideous book, the weakness and squalor of humanity brings Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors into being; as in Rorschach’s famous soliloquy from Watchmen, it is us, not fate or the gods, who butchers the children and feeds them to the dogs. Nameless, by contrast, places the blame for Cthulhu—which is to say, those aspects of human experience for which Cthulhu is a metaphor—on the metaphysical forces that Moore sees as elaborations or avatars of human consciousness. “God made me do it,” says the murderous anti-hero near the book’s conclusion, and Morrison’s narrative design ensures that we read it that way. Morrison is, in a sense, both more and less humanistic than Moore, seeing humanity as kinder than the gods (or whatever universal forces the gods allegorize) but also less powerful than they are, whereas in Moore’s more traditional Romantic view, the gods are, as he says somewhere, “ourselves unfolded.”

A set of endnotes far more compelling than the actual graphic novel concludes Nameless; in them, Morrison explains the novel’s elaborate Tarot and Kaballah symbolism, its autobiographical and local Glaswegian roots, its debt to contemporary nihilistic metaphysics (Brassier and the ubiquitous Ligotti), and more. He further explains that his intention was to dramatize the passing of the Son’s Aeon to that of the Daughter—a shift in cosmic consciousness wherein the feminine principle defeats the masculine, with the latter typified by monotheism’s insane Gnostic demiurge (AKA God) and His malevolent male worshippers, to initiate an era of peace and mysticism. Is it me or are male thinkers more prone to these flights of mawkish fancy than female thinkers? Perhaps because I was educated by sometimes physically violent nuns and brought up in the suburbs where all those white Republican women (the ones we hear so much about every election year) live, I am unable to appreciate this worldview wherein girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice; and say what you will about contemporary feminism, especially in its popular or vernacular forms, but it is certainly a force devoted to extirpating the so-called feminine principle from the world, givens its advice to Lean In (i.e., project oneself phallically) and its elevation of such warmongering women (“phallic mothers,” I believe the psychoanalysts like to say) as Hillary Clinton to political authority. In short, I am not so unimaginative as to refuse to accept that there are psychic forces that might provisionally be labeled “masculine” and “feminine,” but I also think the world is far more complex than such a philosophy as Morrison’s chivalric sexism can capture.

But what about Nameless itself? Morrison claims that he wanted to write more of a poem or piece of music than a narrative, so the narrative is consequently fragmented and half hallucinated. Characters are archetypes, undeveloped, and most of the book’s plot—the aforementioned space adventure—is a red herring in the form of a dream or psychic trip that merely symbolizes the actual content of the narrative, which is the conflict between Son/Daughter or Brother/Sister leading to the defeat of the threat posed by God and the subsequent apotheosis of the eternal feminine. This fact renders the whole middle of the book somewhat extraneous to the far more fascinating nightmare lyricism of the first and last chapters; the first, in particular, offers moving narration seemingly straight from Morrison’s psyche:

Sometimes you ask yourself, what’s real and what’s not these days? Way I see it, everything’s been fucked up since 2001 anyway. Since the towers came down—since the pylons fell on Trump 18 and Malkuth was gathered up into Yesod— My mum died just up the road at the Western.

This is all much better than a disavowed Event Horizon homage, and much closer to the ambition of producing comics as poetry. But if a poem is what Morrison wanted, why even bother with characters who never do anything or come to life as they go on a conventional action-adventure quest without an actual stake? You can write this way about characters readers already accept as archetypes and about whom readers already have many thoughts and feelings—such as Superman and Batman—but not about characters we’re meeting for the first time. Is the veiled woman in this book anything at all other than Woman?

As for Chris Burnham’s art, its shagginess—evocative of ’70s horror and French SF comics—was very effective, but such ink-heavy styles often look awkward against today’s computer coloring, with its relentlessly mimetic modeling and color gradients that seem to make black-spotting appear primitive or redundant. (This excellent article applies to more than just its ostensible topic, Frank Miller.) The grotesque imagery throughout is effectively discomforting, though probably best where most subtle (somehow the image of an eel about to eat its own tail in a way suggestive of copulation is far more nauseating than the image of a man getting his face hammered off in an explosion of blood and bone).

So, all in all, Nameless is not Coldplay, but it probably capitulates too much to conventional SF/horror tropes and structures to come into its own. A book whose tacked-on didactic essay is more interesting to read than the main narrative suggests an author more interested in lecturing than dramatizing or even lyricizing. If Morrison moves even closer toward such essayism, though, I think it may be all to the good. Piling up archetypal and occult correspondences does not really make for deep characters or involving narratives, but if those concepts are involving in themselves, sans narrative, there is no reason not to explore them as such.


If you would like to support my work, you might please buy, read, and review Portraits and Ashes or The Ecstasy of Michaela (or even just pledge via email to exchange a free ebook for an honest public review). Thanks for reading!