In "Morning Glories" #23 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma, the usual plethora of mysteries abound in this climax of the third major story arc. The issue contains many answers, including what occurs during the titular "Ceremony," but Spencer's answers are like bewildering Hydras, with more questions sprouting in the place of each that is eliminated.
The ceremony at the center of "Morning Glories" #23 is indeed shocking, with an unexpected twist from an interruption. Perhaps because of all the buildup, however, it feels anticlimactic. There is no murder mystery-style big reveal of the Ceremony's full purpose and mechanism. Furthermore, even its ramifications are left unresolved, spilling the dramatic punch out into the next issue. However, the ceremony's buildup makes up for it. "Morning Glories" #23 is a subtle heart-wrencher. Its effects are not due to tragic events, which speak for themselves, but from witnessing despair and dismay on the faces of characters, some of them usually stoic or silent. Fortunato and Hisao are men of few words, so when they speak with passion and vigor (or speak at all), their scenes have added dramatic weight.
In the medium of film, emotional resonance comes from actors' skills and director's choices as well as from the scriptwriter's text. In comics, it's too bad there are no Academy Awards, because Joe Eisma ought to get one for how the linework of his body language and facial expressions make every character fully inhabit their given personalities and the emotions of Spencer's script.
Character relationships form a shifting web through "Morning Glories" #23, with some characters growing subtly closer in the crisis and others tested past endurance. The Truants are still relatively new to readers, but within the backstory, they have known each other since childhood. Given the events of the storyline up until now, Hisao (passing as Jun), has been long-separated from his old allies and is the obvious rebel to Irina's leadership, but there are further, more subtle fractures. The Truants' custom of calling each other "brother" or "sister" reinforces the magnitude of the bonds being challenged.
Spencer's timelime within "Morning Glories" #23 is elaborate. There are five transitions between the events of two years ago and present-day, and the plot moves between three sets of characters. Tonally, too, there are also multiple shifts between dread and humor, silliness and shock. It's amazing that the issue holds together so well, and credit goes to Eisma's visual pacing and Alex Sollazzo's colors, which quickly define a setting, as well as Spencer's tight plotting.
Spencer ends "Morning Glories" #23 on a cliffhanger, preceded by a delightful, endearing scene with Ike and Jade reminiscent of their earlier conversation in the cave. The two are a classic odd couple, with their contrasts in personality illuminated by Spencer's dialogue. Like Hunter and Zoe's camping conversation, the gap between earnest and cynical, between Jade's sincerity and Ike's affected irony, is hilariously wide.
If "Morning Glories" #23 had a theme, it would be faith. All the characters, especially The Truants, deal with each other variously in good faith, bad faith, broken faith and a shared faith in knowledge, power and destiny. The victims of the Ceremony also each had faith, though their beliefs and understanding differed. I'm looking forward to seeing more of how Spencer's themes of faith and destiny will tie into the long-running religious allusions in "Morning Glories," as well as the recurring, ominous phrases like of "For a Better Future."