Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL 9000: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that
2001: A Space Odyssey
Drew: Arthur Miller called betrayal “the only truth that sticks,” and it’s hard to deny the visceral power of a betrayal. Betrayals are at the center of every great tragedy, from Euripides to Shakespeare, and are still very much a driver of drama today. In it’s simplest form, a betrayal is simply someone acting differently than we expect, but “acting differently” can have dire consequences in a life-or-death situation. That’s what makes HAL 9000’s turn in 2001 so compelling — a computer with a sense of self-preservation is shocking enough, but because the story is set in outer space, there’s a lot more at stake than when your laptop decides to auto-update. Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s Nameless 2 clearly draws a lot of inspiration from that betrayal, as the crew remains unaware of a mutiny brewing back at the base.
Of course, as a Morrison joint, any one allusion is hard to pick out from the masses. Everything from Planet X Theory to John Dee’s “Language of Angels” is name-checked, with Nameless going so far as to tell us we can “look it up.” It can be hard to parse the actual events from all of that exposition, but it seems clear that the murders we saw in issue 1 were triggered by a broadcast from Xibalba, which Nameless believes is a weapon leftover from an ancient war that destroyed a planet that used to exist between Mars and Jupiter (now reduced to the asteroid belt). Unfortunately for the crew, those broadcasts didn’t just reach Earth — one of their team, Andrea Blackstone, also went nuts, which is why Nameless was brought along to the project in the first place. That’s a scary/mind-fuck-y enough of a premise, but again, this is a Morrison joint. While Nameless and the majority of the crew are on an away mission, the Billionauts that assembled the team — also under the influence of the Xibalba broadcast, have unleashed Blackstone on the remaining crew at the base.
That’s more of a set-up for the exchange I included as the epigraph than an explicit reference, but fortunately, Burnham is there to prep us for that eventuality, long before we ever see it coming. Heck, I even commented last month on the seeming ubiquity of circles after Darius was introduced, but totally failed to see the resemblance to HAL in the round lens of his drone. HAL imagery is all but inescapable here.
I could happily spend the rest of my word count on a game of “spot the circle” in this issue, but they really do saturate the art. That could come across as a little heavy-handed for foreshadowing, but I actually found it to be a rather subtle preparation for the reveal that Darius isn’t the ally he seemed to be (though I won’t deny that I might just be too dense for visual-allusions-as-foreshadowing).
That’s not to say Morrison doesn’t pull his weight in evoking 2001 — indeed, the “giant alien object somehow inspiring people to violence” is ripped straight out of the opening act of the film. My particular favorite, though, is that the “key” to the crew’s protection is F-sharp — the key diametrically opposed to C, which is the key of the “Dawn” movement of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, the tune so strongly associated with 2001 that we might as well think of it as its theme. Coincidentally, C and F-sharp comprise what is known as the “devil’s interval,” a dissonance so clashing that it was banned from Gregorian chants. (I know that one seems like a stretch, but Nameless spends an entire page intoning the F-sharp — it clearly bears some significance).
Michael, I’m curious how the wealth of allusions struck you. I suppose a few visits to Wikipedia is to be expected when reading a Morrison comic, but this issue seemed to pile the obscure references on particularly thick. Heck, they take the place of actually introducing any of the characters by name. Do you think consulting reference materials just to follow a series is a good thing, or do you dismiss it as easily as the pilot?
Michael: When it comes to Morrison I’d say that consulting reference materials is not absolutely necessary, but it could never hurt. I did a lot of Wiki-ing for Nameless 1, just to get my footing in the latest universe presented by Mr. Morrison. Also, I would not be so unwise to completely dismiss any possible reference as the pilot did; this is Nameless’s story, after all, and that pilot will most likely get gruesomely murdered at some point because of his lack of faith. Maybe. (Morrison defies all expectations.) Since this is Nameless’s story we get all of the inside occult information that he has in addition to his cheeky manner of skipping over the non-essential details. The fact that we didn’t learn any of the crew’s names was wonderful to me, both as a reader and as a non-rememberer of names. It has been a long time since I saw the original Alien, but the one of the “Hal circle” scenes that Drew refers to gave me flashbacks to the crew of the Nostromo. Maybe it’s the space horror connection?
Being the Grant Morrison fan that I am (specifically with DC Comics), I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between Nameless and Final Crisis — specifically when Nameless is talking about the “war in heaven.” This immediately made me think of the first chapter of Final Crisis in which a disguised Darkseid tells Dan Turpin of his victory over the New Gods.
In that regard Nameless is like Final Crisis in that the characters of the story are dealing with the aftermath of a battle between forces far greater than themselves. If there was “a war in heaven” then it most certainly was bigger than anything that any of humankind could imagine. The stakes are equally immense — our heroes are a group of individuals going up against a massive weaponized asteroid left by an alien civilization. There’s a larger alien plot at work but the humans are so small that they can’t anticipate it coming.
“War in heaven” makes us think of “Good vs. Evil.” Between Nameless’ (mostly sarcastic) narration of the “Knights of the Round Table in Space” and Sofia’s view of “saving the world because I want to” we have a very simplified version of Good. There seems to be an over-reliance on justifying what they are doing is good. I mean, asteroid heading for Earth = not good, but Morrison makes note of Nameless and Sofia’s particular views for a reason. Nameless is the tough guy who doesn’t want to be there, but you can tell that there’s a part of him that is inspired by their mission. And with her cavalier attitude, Sofia is like a little kid pretending to be a superhero, ready to save the planet.
With the emphasis on the virtues of goodness it may turn out that our team/humanity are not the good guys. Maybe it’ll turn out that the aliens have a pretty damn good reason to wipe us all out; we humans can be pretty big jerks sometimes. I mentioned Alien earlier, but Nameless also heavily reminds me of Prometheus. The crew of the Prometheus was hired by a private billionaire who wanted a group of zany scientists to explore, while the crew on Nameless’ ship were hired by billionauts to save the world. Both missions are just the whimsy of an old rich dude — I hope the crew did their research on their employer before taking the job. The crew is obviously competent at getting the job done (so far), but their gung-ho naiveté shows their lack of foresight. Paul Darius has lead them into his spider’s web and they don’t even realize it; they can’t anticipate Darius’ betrayal.
I still can’t put a finger on Darius and the rest of the quarantined crew. Are they zombies? Are they possessed? Is Darius on the other line? Part of me thinks that Darius and the rest of them ARE brain dead and the Darius whizzing around on his drone is a computer program. I dunno, trying to break down Morrison’s work often leaves one scatterbrained. Maybe I’m thinking too much of Prometheus. Then again, maybe Xiabalba is messing with my head now too… ZIROM TRIAN IPAM IPAMIS!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?