MORNING GLORY DAYS: A Killer Chick Named Zoe

Welcome to another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, Comic Book Resources' exclusive column dedicated to all things "Morning Glories," the smash hit Image Comics series written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma. Following every new issue of the series, CBR News will sit down with Spencer for insight and illumination on some of the most mysterious layers "Morning Glories" has to offer.

This time out, we're back with a two-for-one deal! Below, Spencer dives into issues #14 and 15 of the series where the third arc ramps up in the form of a murderous two-part tale. As the dangerous and bizarre schoolwide game known as Woodrun ramps up, the series story splits in two directions. On the one hand, we see Guidance Counselor Ms. Lara Hodge clash with her fellow staff members over their deadly tactics to find the student serial killer. And meanwhile in the forrest itself, actual killer Zoe gets closer to Hunter as Woodrun takes strange turns on the Academy's ever mysterious grounds. And don't forget the flashbacks to Zoe's first kill and the surprising fallout from that event!

Below, Spencer digs into the two-part story from all angles, exploring both the planned and not-so planned aspects of the Woodrun game, pointing readers to the important details of the sci-fi tool shed that Hunter and Zoe stumble upon, sharing insights into the connection between past and present that runs through the series and most important of all, a view inside Zoe's mind and whether or not her killer tendencies run as deep as they seem. Read on, and don't forget to look for issue #16 when it goes on sale February 15!

CBR News: We open issue #14 with another flash to another time, and I think this is an all-new piece of the puzzle. We haven't seen 1693 yet, have we?

Nick Spencer: No. This is something new for us - a new place. I think that what was cool was that I went back to issue #3, which was our first visit to the past, and I wanted to make sure that we recaptured the feel of those kinds of flashbacks. They're tricky to pull off sometimes. This is a new set of a characters and a new location, but when you look at the totality of the book, it's pretty easy to see how it synchs up.

The question I asked myself reading this was "Is what these men are doing directly connected with the building of the Academy and the current actions of the faculty?" And while I'm sure we're not going to get a direct answer on that any time soon, the theme that really seems to be developing across the series is the idea of adults doing terrible things to teenagers to get a desired response out of them. Is that what you think school is like in general?

[Laughs] Well, obviously so much of this book is about taking the feelings you had and the environments you were in in your high school days and exaggerating them to have fun with all that. Beyond that, obviously there are certain tactics in play here that are reminiscent of what the faculty do at Morning Glory Academy right down to the terminology and phraseology. Clearly there is some commonality here, and there's some commonality on the other side of the equation. When the girl talks about what she saw, there are parallels to what our kids are going through. Again, that's similar to what we saw in issue #3 in terms of the past and the present. Exploring that connection is going to be a recurring element throughout the series.

As we shift back to the modern stuff with the faculty, we're starting to see with the introduction of Lara to the staff how the teachers don't always have their act together as much as the kids may think. Particularly, here we see how the Woodrun game is their tool to try and figure out who the killer is amongst the students. While Woodrun is a bigger part of the world your building, do you want that serial killer story to come to a head in a big way by arc's end?

Well, we've seen for quite some time the fact that the faculty are very concerned about the killings that have happened on the grounds. And we've always hinted at it, but it came to a head in issue #12 that there are these various opposing schools of thought in terms of how to get what they want from these kids. This conversation very much reflects the fears that they have and the different responses that they take to a situation. Beyond that, I think that there have been a number of hints as to theories that Daramount and Gribbs have in regards to the source of their problem here. We've been dropping those hints for a very long time, and by the end of this arc, what they're afraid of or concerned about is going to be very much in front of our eyes. They know that there's something that has to be dealt with. Woodrun is Daramount's big idea for how to set a trap for this perceive threat while also accomplishing some of the Academy's other goals. And we've found out that things haven't gone exactly as Georgina would like.

And this is the first time we've had mention of the Headmaster as Georgina and Lara's father, right?

We had a little hint of it in #12, but I think a lot of people were not sure whether they should take that literally or not. So while I'm not quite ready to come right out and say that...two references now to being daughters or sisters in reference to a father makes it clear that the connection is somewhat along those lines. But it will be a complicated story. In issue #20, we'll spend a lot of time with Georgina and Lara. Some of their story before they arrived at the Academy will come into focus there.

Zoe is such a huge part of this arc for so many reasons, and for so many reason, it's hard to wrap your head around exactly what she's doing and what she's going through. Overall, she deflects very well. In #14 here, we get a repeat of the scene where Hunter chews her out where at first it seems to have no effect until later in the bathroom where that and girls talking about her and everything seems to crash down on her to where she responds like any other kid would. We see sometimes characters in fiction who are emotionally cauterized, but this feels more like an ingrained personality trait...maybe one of a psychopath. [Spencer Laughs] To you, is this response more about defenses built up or a core difference in who she is as a person?

I think that's what's fun about Zoe as a character. Nobody can quite get a full handle on her. Is she the "bitch" of the group, or is she actually a genuinely good person who just hides her true feelings a lot? Or is she a psychopath and serial killer? Some of this goes back to what we were talking about earlier - exaggerating the familiar high school tropes - but I think one of the things I'm most proud of in the recent issues. We spent a lot of time on Zoe in issue #7, but the more time we spend with her, the more fully formed and fully fleshed out she becomes as a character.

The nice thing for me is that what makes me happy about her is that we're now at a point in the book where the emotional connection to the reader is hopefully strong enough that the twists that we're going to see are not the big sci-fi, high concept moments but rather the reactions characters have to events or the changes in their relationships. That's where we've been working hard to get to, and I think we're just getting to the point now where we can pull it off. And this is one of those moments: Zoe hiding in the bathroom. She's obviously the "never let them see you cry" type, but we can get a window into that, and that's a big moment. It really shows that this is a girl in a great deal of pain. How she responds on the face of that is half her problem.

Let's skip over Zoe and Hunter for the moment until we can get into the hear of issue #15, and let's instead talk about how Jun cracks me up.

[Laughs] Mr. Deadpan!

"You have many problems with women" is probably Jun encapsulated in one sentence. Does having a character who deflects so much of the teenage drama of the cast provide you with a kind of breather from getting bogged down by melodrama?

Yes! Yes, very much so. He is not a man of many words, and I thank him for it. In comparison to the other two guys who are very different but very effusive in their own ways - they both talk a mile a minute - Jun can be a breath of fresh air. What's become a lot of fun with him is that he can be your deadpan voice and be the guy who cuts through the bullshit. And when he does that, it's funny in its own right. It's a different kind of humor. I like him and Hunter together a lot. I have since the first issue. Their friendship is a fun thing to keep coming back to, and Jun gets a lot of time later in the arc. He always works best when you keep him in the background for a while and then bring him to the forefront for an issue or so. Sometimes it seems like he's not around as much as the other five, but it just give more impact when he does arrive.

The last major element of this issue is the change to the Academy's grounds, which we assume ties both to Casey and Hunter's time traveling in the cave from last issue but also to whatever's happening in the past that we keep checking in on in some way. We know that the Academy isn't situated in some normal place like Ohio, but what can we glean from the dominos falling here in light of what else is happening in this arc?

Again, you look at #14 and #3, and you see some recurring themes. Things happening in the past seem to mirror things happening now, and they seem to affect each other. What happens to our kids today is affecting the people in the past, and what these people in the past see or do is affecting what our kids do now. That link is very important, and I think that's becoming clearer as the story progresses. That's happened twice, and it's something we're going to keep coming back to. An astute reader should be keeping an eye out for that.

As for the link between the end of #13 and the end of #14, that's an answer you'll get before the end of the first season. Whether there's a direct link there isn't something I'm quite willing to say yet, but obviously, the two timelines seem to synch up very closely.

Issue #15 really continues the focus on Zoe after so many issues that moved from kid to kid. And here specifically, we focus on Zoe's history with the teacher she killed in a case of mistaken identity which was revealed back in issue #7. That moment was more played for shock value, but we're starting to see more of the specific details and revelations that hit in its wake now. Is a part of the series for you just finding ways to unpack the crazy images you threw at us early on?

Yeah. All their back stories will play out a bit differently, but what's obvious - and we've spoken extensively about this - is that it's a very long game that we're playing. What we did in the second arc was all about sewing seeds for storied to play out over the next several years. In Zoe's case, what happened to her at her old school is something where we certainly showed the big moment, but the reverberations of that and what it did to her as a person - the consequences of it all - are things we haven't seen yet. Now we're coming back to explore those, and by the end of that, we'll have a much stronger idea of what it was all like and a better picture of who Zoe is as a person.

Let's do a lightning round on some of the story points in this issue: Jun goes to "jail" as part of Woodrun. Will we pick his story right up from what that is when we next see him?


And with the introduction of Maggie, I think you may have written the first comic book ever that references a Joel Schumacher film in a non-snarky way.

[Laughs] What can I say, brother? I love "Lost Boys!" She was a fun character to introduce. I know Joe [Eisma] was excited to introduce her, but as anyone reading this knows, she doesn't last long. But Joe didn't know that when we started. [Laughter] He didn't know of the unfortunate fate I had for her, and I wasn't going to tell him out front. I don't tell Joe stuff and not because I don't want him to know but because what you get on the page is the truth, if that makes sense. So she was a fun character, and we've had a lot of kids being introduced to us to meet gruesome ends within an issue or two. There, you run the risk of them becoming red shirts. The only thing you can do about that is make sure that they are real characters with real personalities so the audience can make a quick connection with them. Hopefully we pulled that off with Maggie. It feels to me like we did. I like that moment between her and Hunter, and from what we've seen in Hunter in his futile attempts to woo Casey, it was kind of nice to see him be the object of affection for a minute.

The next element introduced to us is this weird sci-fi room that Hunter and Zoe discover and then barely escape. We get a lot of little details and big ones thrown at us here. What to you is the most important detail that readers should mark down in their "Morning Glories" notebooks?

Wow. That's tough. We drop a looooooot of hints over these few pages, and this is one of those "weird out" scenes that's jumping so far forward in the book that we sort of have to play it very coy. But it's a big moment. It certainly seems to have a big impact on Hunter, and I would say that if there was something to write in your notebooks, it'd probably be his response. I think that's something we'll have a very nice payoff on down the road.

You anticipated my follow-up question in terms of Hunter responding differently, but my second follow up was about the flag in the bag and the knife in the bag. It feels like those were left very specifically for Zoe to find, which comes on the heels of her finding the photo of the dead cheerleader in her locker last issue. Can we assume that these were left by the same person?

There's obviously a plan and purpose to all this, and as we talked about before, Woodrun seems to be here to accomplish two goals: one is setting a trap for the suspected killer. Two is to generally further the Academy's goals. When that conversation with the faculty took place, Lara makes a reference to the fact that the last time they attempted Woodrun, a lot of the kids ended up in padded rooms down in Nine's basement. When you add that all together and see Hunter's response here, I think the picture comes into focus a bit. Woodrun's a crazy game, man. [Laughter] It's like Capture the Flag on LSD!

Last time we talked, you called Woodrun your Quidditch. Would you like to see people trying to play their own versions of the game as Harry Potter fans have done, or is that a very bad idea?

Look, there's a lot of money in Quidditch, but I think this game might be a little difficult to replicate. I am working on it, though. I think for the next hardcover, we might post up the rules for the game so that people can see them. I kind of copped out in the book [and put the rules off panel.] I just decided it wasn't important to the story, and I think it's more fun to follow along right now. But when it's all over, the rules for Woodrun will be posted somewhere, and if someone wants to try and make it happen, nothing would make me happier. When we get people with tattoos or cosplay, it makes us really happy. Maybe this will catch on too.

We get a very meaty scene between Zoe and Hunter in the woods, and it's a bit of the b-side to the scene from last issue where she threatened him without coming out and threatening him. Here, Zoe plays the role of "I'm so smart that I'm going to tell you what's really at the heart of everyone else, up to and including your crush Casey." But I also get the feeling that Zoe is flirting with Hunter here in her own messed up way. [Spencer Laughs] She is! She's opening this connection to a kid who she taunts with "I can make any jock kick your ass." Is this how she relates to people?

I mean, she's one of the most fun characters in the book to write in part because her relationship to everyone is complicated in some way. This is another one of those moments that keeps you off balance as to what's really going on with her. As you said, last issue she was threatening and abusive to him, and even at the start of this one she's screaming at him. And then you have a "chips are down" moment where she saves his life and seems to take some pity on him. Whether her advice here is sound or not, it would appear that her motives - while somewhat annoyed - are genuine. So it's just another one of those moments where you can't quite figure out where she is. You go through a scene like this, and you think "Maybe she's not so bad." And then obviously the next time we see here, it's in a very different light. [Laughter] She's a complicated woman! That's what it comes down to.

As for the flirting bit, the only thing that I would say about that is that Zoe has made a career of getting guys attention and getting them to do what she wants. And a guy like Hunter is to some extent the greatest frustration for her because he's a genuinely good guy, and he's very harmless. There's no opportunity to be seised there because he has nothing to offer here. But I'm sure that there's some part of her that looks at somebody like Casey and the kinds of guys she attracts and then Zoe compares that to her own life and feels a source of consternation there. So that's why she throws cold water over [Hunter and Casey.] She's a cynical person, and we can't forget that here. There's a level of unhealthy pragmatism at play in the way she views relationships. Zoe views relationships as power dynamics, so she'll look at Casey and Hunter in terms of that imbalance. That's why she fixates on it and on the idea that it can't work.

Rounding out this issue, we see a lot of bits and pieces from the fallout of Zoe's first kill...and is this a "Powers" nod we get here?

[Laughs] Ask Joe. For legal reasons, we don't confirm or deny anything, but he's amazing at the nods, and we're both big "Powers" fans.

But we end that story line with Sarah's funeral without ever seeing how she dies. Can we take that as a hint that maybe Zoe didn't do it, or is this really just the most efficient way to tell that story?

No comment. I think that's where you should be at this point - wondering if it's done this way simply because two stabbings in two panels might be a bit much and even a bit unnecessary, or because Zoe wasn't involved. Either way, this is a story we're not done telling. There's more to see from that part of Zoe's life.

We end on another shocking cliffhanger, but a few issues back we were talking about a similar ending with Casey meeting her father in the past, and from #16's cover I assume we'll be trading one tense moment for the other with that issue?

Yes. We're going to come back to Zoe and Hunter down the road, but next we come back to Casey. And I should say that I think #16 is my favorite of Rodin's covers. People have been wondering what the hell happened with Casey, and we're going to establish very quickly what and where Casey is. It's a big issue and a crazy one.

And obviously Hunter has just seen something that's very much going to change his relationship with Zoe, and it's very much a big moment for both of them. One of the really cool things with this scene, like we were talking about before, is that the twist is in the change in the relationship. Zoe killing someone is not going to be a big surprise, but Hunter seeing her do it is. It's nice to be at a point in the book where that is a big moment on its own. There don't have to be any flying saucers involved to make people want the next issue. I'm really proud of these two issues because we were able to stay on one story for a while and spend a good amount of time with both Zoe and Hunter. As a result of this, we have a more full grasp on those characters and care more about them...even as we should be scared as hell of one of them. [Laughs]

"Morning Glories" #16 goes on sale February 15 from Image Comics and Shadowline.

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