MORNING GLORY DAYS: Forward Momentum

Welcome to another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, our 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 that "Morning Glories" has to offer. Best of all, readers are invited to write in to see their very own questions answered by Spencer!

The first arc of "Morning Glories" came to a close earlier this month with issue #5, an installment that saw the evolution of some critical mysteries involving the destructive spinning cylinder and a certain mystery man named David. It was also an issue that highlighted each of the book's main characters, forging what Spencer describes as "the foundation of the entire story."

We spoke with the writer about all of that and more, including a look ahead at next month's sixth issue, an epilogue of sorts to the first arc.

CBR News: "Morning Glories" #5 opens with Mr. Gribbs, who has been a supporting character in the book so far. He's definitely had a presence, but he hasn't been in the forefront of the series. Now, he gets the first scene of the issue and hogs plenty of screen time after that. What were some of your goals in giving Gribbs the spotlight in this issue?

Nick Spencer: We'll definitely get to know more of the faculty over time, but I always liked the idea of Mr. Gribbs and Ms. Daramount being this Gaiman-esque pair. One of the things I decided early on was that it would be fun to sort of have Daramount taking the early lead and being in charge of these kids, and maybe as there are more struggles to rein them in and break them down, Mr. Gribbs would assume a bigger role in their education.

I also liked this idea of him hanging back and watching everything develop over this arc. We've shown some of the strains in the relationship between him and Daramount now, which I think you see a hint of in issue #4 and he talks a bit about in #5, and even in #2. There are some disagreements between all of the members of the faculty, really, in terms of what to do with these kids and how to best bring them in line. That's all pretty carefully thought out. But I liked the idea of Casey getting a one-on-one with him.

Gribbs has a lot interesting things to say to Casey, including the fact that "making her acquaintance is the highest honor my life may ever see." That speaks volumes about who Casey could be. Killing a student in front of her and saying that this could happen to her friends -- even if he's pretty sure she won't meet a similar fate -- again, it says a lot about his opinions of Casey at the very least. At the same time, this is a man who works for the people who killed Casey's parents. Given that, how much should Casey and the reader buy into what Gribbs is saying here?

Well, what I would go ahead and say is that Gribbs is sincere in what he says, but what that means -- one person's good is another person's bad -- I think that's something very much to keep in mind with what he's saying here. The things he views as amazing and wonderful and great and beautiful might not be the same for Casey. I think he is coming from a place of sincerity. I think he's genuinely impressed with what Casey pulled off.

One of the things we're going to be dealing with that I think you see in this issue, especially when Daramount rescues Casey and Zoe, is the strange relationship that we're beginning to see develop between the students and the faculty. We're just at the beginning of that, really. Clearly, their intention is not to harm the kids they view as special people. They have a goal in mind, and in their opinion, their aspirations are noble. They're like a lot of the teachers that all of us have had, which is to say that we've viewed them as the bad guys even when they've felt that what they're doing is valuable to us, so they forced us to do things. That's most children's experience in school: this is just an exaggerated version.

Gribbs is a character who hasn't said too much up until this point. What was it like finding his voice?

I've always said the teachers have an odd, non-specific accent. Sort of an affectation. It's not a geographic accent necessarily, but more that they tend to call back to colloquialisms that you would associate with classic teacher stereotypes. That's something I keep in mind with all of the teachers' voices. There's sort of a Mary Poppins-esque quality to their speech that wouldn't be an accurate accent to any place, and that's purposeful -- I'm dropping a little hint there -- that it's more of an affectation.

Finding Gribbs' voice, that was a part of it. But in terms of finding the substance of the speech, I think he's a complicated man and he believes that what he does is necessary. He believes there's a nobility to it and he believes the end goal is worth whatever he has to do. In my opinion, those are always the scariest villains, the ones who very much believe in their cause and very much believe that something has to be done. If you could sum this speech up, it's basically him saying the ends justify the means.

He doesn't expect Casey to break in the same way Daramount does; Daramount has a tendency to revel in it and enjoy pushing someone down and making them adhere to her instructions. Gribbs isn't that type. He simply wants to convince Casey of the necessity of what they do and explain to her why she doesn't necessarily have a choice in the matter. He's a little more practical. It's a little more of a meat-and-potatoes approach to what they do. He's kind of through with the games. He's not taunting her. When I was a kid, those were always the teachers who got through to me, the ones who would cut through the bullshit for you and really just try to be as sincere as they can manage. That's a big part of who Gribbs is.

Right. Except that he breaks your neck if you fail your tests!

Yeah, exactly! If you're not one of these kids he sees as part of the grand plan, then he has no use for you. We see firsthand what that means. With this speech, we tried to leak out a few of the rules, which I heard somebody online saying very clearly that way: this lays out some of the rules. I think it does. I think that now you have a firm understanding of what exactly the dynamic is [between students and teachers at Morning Glory Academy].

Let's move on and talk about the kids. Casey's plan is seemingly blown because Ike betrayed the group at the end of the last issue. He's digging himself deeper in terms of our opinion of the guy, and he's saying pretty much exactly what you and I discussed last month: sometimes it's not enough to survive. Survival is great, but what is it worth without enjoying your life? He made a move to improve his life at Morning Glory Academy, and at a certain level, it's something that you could selfishly relate to.

It's a very Machiavellian approach. One of the things that Ike keeps saying here is, "Don't get upset and don't take this personally. This is not out of spite. This is just what I have to do." I think one of the things we'll go back to in the second arc is that Ike is now very much in favor at the academy. He's done something that very much pleases the faculty. The next time we get to spend a significant amount of time with Ike, we'll be looking at what this means in terms of his relationship with the school and what position this puts him in now.

I think Joe did an exceptional job with the panels of Ike and Ms. Daramount. She seems very pleased with him and very much has him under her wing now. That's something that we'll have a lot of fun playing with the next couple of times we see Ike. Ike and Daramount are going to spend some nice, quality time together. That's going to be a lot of fun.

At the end of the issue, Casey gifts Ike with the nutshot heard 'round the world, and it's surely a cathartic moment for readers and for Casey. Even Ike has an revealing take on the beat down.

That's a bit of a peek inside of Ike's head. One of the things we're exploring with Ike is that he has some self-destructive tendencies in terms of relationships and building bonds with people. He has a very typical thing where he finds creative ways to hurt others who try to befriend him and get close to him. It's a bit of a defense mechanism, and it's a big part of what makes him so fascinating to write. I'm dealing with Ike a lot right now in my writing, and I've really fallen in love with writing the character more and more. He has a very complex trajectory, a very interesting past and a very interesting future. Watching the way he just finds rational ways of hurting others for his own sake, it's really a blast to explore.

One of the things we wanted to establish with that page of Casey beating the shit out of Ike is that she's done playing around at this point. The thing I'm most satisfied with about this arc, which obviously spent a huge amount of time on Casey, is that I think we really did establish her as a character. We really presented her as a fully-formed character by the end of this. It was fun to watch her grow and to watch the different ways she learns to assert herself. I'm really proud of how she turned out.

The issue is filled with a lot of callbacks, and this scene in particular is not just a reminder of the chalkboard blowing up in issue one, but also a throwback to Hunter and his bravery. Hunter hasn't done too much so far, but look at what he just accomplished -- he got his friends out of a jam and really played a big role in Casey's plan, whether he knew it or not. It's a big win for Hunter and Hunter fans around the world!

Yeah, I think Hunter had a really big issue. We've seen that there is something special about him. It's harder to put a finger on than with some of the other kids, and I think Zoe says it really clearly in issue four when she says, "We're still waiting on some kind of skill set on you." I think Hunter has a big role in this plan. More than anything, he's the one that Casey clearly trusts the most and depends on the most in a lot of ways. It was a big moment for him.

What I enjoyed most about this issue is that every character gets some time in the spotlight. One of the most interesting sequences in the issue for me is when Casey and Zoe are paired up. They've interacted before, but never for this long a stretch of pages. On the surface, they're so different. What do you think of their dynamic?

It's an interesting, burgeoning relationship and possible friendship between the two of them. They have a little bit of a Betty and Veronica dynamic. If you go back and look at the first issue, I think Zoe starts immediately talking to Casey thinking that they're going to be friends. A girl like Zoe looks at Casey and goes, "She's my age, she's a pretty girl. This is who I hang out with back home. We can be friends."

One thing that I think puts Zoe off about Casey is that Casey wears her wisdom and goodness on her sleeve. She's very up front and in people's faces about it, even maybe a little on the sanctimonious side at times. Zoe is the opposite. Every nice thing she does, she immediately wants to deny that she did it. She's complaining the entire time that she does it. That's one of the most interesting things about Zoe as a character to me, that denial. I think she's at a point here in this scene where she thinks Casey has gone a little far. She's seeing it spin out of control and she's not entirely sure why she did this in the first place. Zoe's going, "The gig is up. It's time to just go. I'm sorry about Jade, but this is just not working." I think Casey is intensely stubborn. It's one of the biggest things about her as a character, and I think Zoe is a bit appalled by how it's getting her into trouble.

But at the same time, Zoe doesn't do what she says she's going to do, which is the key thing to look at here. She says, "I should just go surrender right now," but she doesn't. I think that says a lot about her. The other thing that's interesting about the two of them is that in a lot of ways they are equals. They have a dynamic where they can look each other straight in the eye without the other person looking up or down on them. That's fun to write. Zoe is never going to view Casey as "the leader of the group" or anything like that, you know? I like that back-and-forth. When you're writing Casey with Hunter or Jade or whoever, they clearly are following her lead. Zoe just wants absolutely nothing to do with that.

So, I guess we can start calling "the monster" by his real name: David.

See, we did the decent thing. We gave him a name! I hope that to people who think we're making this up as we're going along, that it's sort of incoherent, I would hope that they look at that and say, "Well, maybe there is sort of a plan here."

This is a big defining moment, here. I would go as far as to say that it might be the most important moment in the issue. By the time the story is done, this will be a key moment we'll look back at. I think his body language is interesting and I think her body language is interesting as well. There's a very different look on Zoe's face than we've ever seen from her before. In issue #7, we're going to be exploring what this has changed about her. These characters have been through a lot, all of them, and one of the things we're looking at in the second arc is...you know, one of the most common things I hear, and I know we've talked about this before, is this sort of question of why aren't they freaking out more? Why are they seeming to roll with things at times? But this is an incredibly condensed timeframe. It's taken five months to tell the story, but it's only a couple of days in the story. They're still in the shock stages in a lot of ways. Things are happening every minute. In the second arc, you'll see a lot of what the fallout from this is. Zoe is first up to bat on that one.

Almost immediately after the David reveal, we get another big payoff when the cylinder starts causing massive destruction.

This is a very important thing we're learning here. Gribbs, in his monologue, leads us to it -- "I have such wonderful things to show you." The cylinder is really the first thing we showed the reader in issue one that's part of the central mystery, and I was really excited to get to come back to it in issue four, to get back to David and the cylinder. It had been a while since we'd seen them. This is sort of the Glories' first encounter, and it's definitely something that people will come back to. I think there's something here that in the final act, as we're starting to explain things, there's something here that people will look back on and say, "Yeah, they knew what they were doing in the first arc."

In terms of villains, Ms. Daramount has been featured as the primary antagonist in this first arc, and this scene with Casey is a great example of the dynamic between our hero and villain.

She's always got that wicked smile. Ms. Daramount is someone we're going to spend a lot of time with throughout the series. I think she and Casey are always fun to write in opposition to each other. Like we were talking about before, Ms. Daramount, for all of her evil ways or what have you, she still has that adult to teenager dynamic -- she still has a maternal quality to her. She has very strong feelings about these kids. I'll say that towards the end of the second arc, we'll spend a lot more time with her and we'll get inside her head a bit. People are going to be a little bit fascinated with what her motivations are and why she does what she does.

I think she has her own level of respect for Casey. If you recall back to our first issue, she was very excited to meet Casey. She came out to personally meet her, and in the second issue, she's very frustrated by Casey's initial resistance. She has such high hopes for her. But they're such different people: Casey is so inherently good and Daramount is so inherently evil that they're just never going to see eye to eye.

As the issue starts coming to a close, it's revealed that Casey's plan all along was to get caught and cause a distraction to free Jade. Her plan paid off and Jade is back in her dorm, safe and sound. Pretty impressive for a 16-year-old!

We talk a lot about the "Lost" inspirations in this. I always loved Jack, but if there was one thing that drove me crazy about him it's how shitty he was at making plans. For a leader, he was very much an old school Scott Summers type that constantly walked everyone right into a wall.

Which is arguably part of the character arc.

Absolutely, it is. But as a fan, you'd want Jack to succeed so much and he's come off as so inept. I wanted to say really early on that Casey is more like the best parts of Jack and the best parts of Locke in that she's so capable and when she wants something, she's so good at getting it. I put a lot of thought into exactly how we could show in this finale what they see in her and exactly why she seems to be so special. If there's one thing that we did succeed in with this issue, it's that I heard so many people online talking about what a badass she was here. She really showed that she wasn't afraid to play a little rough and take some risks. It was a big moment for her.

But when we get to the final scene, we see that even in the wake of a successfully executed plan, for as strong as she is, this 16-year-old girl just lost her parents in brutal fashion. It's a lot to take for anyone of any age, let alone a teenager.

She's had this rescue of Jade to distract her for the past few days, and I think inside of her head she's barely thinking about her parents. She's just shoved it back. It's sort of a first stage of grieving for her. Casey isn't going to get over this very quickly. It's something that throughout the series, it'll drive her different actions and it'll drive her into different directions. What you've seen in this first arc is really just the initial response, which was basically denial. Now we'll see what's next for her.

And it's a nice moment with her and Hunter. It's an interesting relationship and it just continues to develop slowly.

Let's pull the focus back and look at the whole series of "Morning Glories" as it stands. The first arc is officially over. How are you feeling so far?

You know, I sat down last night and read issues one through six, and for me, I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish. That's probably the best thing that you can say about any story. It's a funny thing: as the issues went on, especially in three and four, we saw some people saying, "You know, this isn't for me. I need more answers right now. This is a bit of a slow burn." This is the kind of story that won't be for everyone, because it's a big investment, but when I look at this first arc, I think we set a foundation and we had a first encounter that I think when we're at issue #75, everyone will look and be able to say that this is the foundation of the entire story. I think we hit the touchstones that we needed to.

Now, looking forward into the second arc -- once we're past our epilogue issue in #6 -- we're going to pull back. I'm really excited and also curious about how people will respond to the next arc. It's really about pulling back in each of the issues, spending a lot of time with a particular Glory and really getting to know them and see a bit of their past. Each issue is sort of a spotlight on them. It's going to be something where we'll pull back and breathe for a second and let you get to know these kids when there aren't explosions going off and they're not necessarily running from things and orchestrating big plans. We're going to get to know them a little better. I'm really excited about that. Going back to "Lost" again, it's similar to the second half of the first season when you would have those episodes that just focused on Charlie or Sayid, that sort of A-and-B story structure. We're playing around with that a lot.

Do you feel like there's anything you would have done differently given the chance? Is there anything you feel you didn't execute as well as you wanted to?

Yeah, certainly. I think with any story, you always see things you wish you could change. I think there are a few things that maybe we could have done sooner that we played a little coy. Looking at fan and reader response, it seems as though number four was the least appreciated issue. But there are a lot of things in number four that I really like. It's sort of a reminder that sometimes for the single issue buyers, it can be hard to appreciate the sort of breather issues and the character moments. I hope that as the story progresses, people will see more value in this. I don't think you could have done what you did in five without the scenes of them making tear gas in four, and Casey recruiting them -- I just don't think it would have had the same impact if we skipped that.

One thing that I learned is as we do these spotlight issues, which has always been our plan for the second arc, I'm trying to make sure they have a certain intensity and level of excitement on their own while not taking away from the character development that we need to have taking place in order for everyone to care. That was maybe the most interesting thing to learn with this being my first ongoing series; that was a learning experience for me. I'm really interested to see what the trade buyers say when they start talking about the book. I wonder how much they'll view three, and four especially, differently than maybe the single issue buyers did.

Looking ahead, issue #6 is on the horizon next and it promises to be an interesting one, to say the least. What can you tell us about it?

People should really prep themselves for something different. We've been particularly cryptic about the issue, haven't talked much about it. Even the solicit is just three words long. Everybody needs to be ready for a curveball, and needs to be ready for something wholly different from what we've seen before. We're fully braced for a lot of people to scream to the rafters with their displeasure over the decision we've made. At the same time, I think it's a very strong issue and a very strong story. I'm so excited for people to read it and to get to know somebody new here. It will have massive importance down the road. It's a critical part of the story that we'll be seeing much more of, and we're really just at the tip of the iceberg. It'll be one of those issues that people look back on and see the importance of as the series progresses.

Just be prepared for something different, and be patient, is the biggest thing. What I feel I'm constantly stressing about this series is that it's a long-form mystery; if you're expecting answers to the key questions, you're in for a very long wait. It's a decision for everybody to make as readers, and I think it's true of any long-form mystery, whether it's on television like "Lost" or whether it's in comics like "Y: The Last Man" or "The Unwritten." Some people can really appreciate the journey and other people can't. I think this next issue is where we'll find out who sits on what side of the fence in terms of the readership on that question. I'm excited to see it.

"Morning Glories" #5, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma, is currently on sale. The sixth issue hits stands on January 19, 2011.

Check back next month for another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, and make sure to send us your questions!

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