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MORNING GLORY DAYS: Fully Physically Educated

by  in Comic News Comment
MORNING GLORY DAYS: Fully Physically Educated

Image Comics and Shadowline’s ongoing series “Morning Glories” by Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo continues to be one of the most involved, demanding sci-fi comics on the market. And right now, even as the kids of the Morning Glories Academy continue to pull together or be spun apart by the horrors of the school’s Woodrun game in the “P.E.” arc, the mysteries behind the action grow only deeper.

That’s why we’re back today with a new installment of MORNING GLORY DAYS — our ongoing discussion of the ins and outs of “Morning Glories” with Spencer himself. Who’s behind it all? What kids can be trusted? What the heck is up with that goat? This is the place to find all those answers and more.

With the “P.E.” arc wrapping in today’s #19, we’re back with a double-shot column delving in to the turns of #17 and 18. In the former, Ike works every cynical bone in his body in the cave while we learn more about what turned jade into an uber Goth, and in the latter, Jun’s military and romantic past get explored in some unexpected ways. Below, writer Nick Spencer answers questions on everything, teasing what kids at the Academy belong to Abraham’s secret society, why the father of at least a few students remains locked up, what will happen with Hunter’s confrontation of the murderer Zoe and more!

CBR News: With issue #17 of the series, it feels like you got to cram in everything you do in this series into one issue. We’ve got bloody deaths, snappy conversations, torture, time hopping and the return of David. It’s very packed. Let’s start with Ike and Jade — two characters who are polar opposites of the cast who draw strong reader response. Do their ingratiating qualities make them a better match on the page?

Nick Spencer: Yeah. Probably of the bunch, they are the most divisive members of the cast, right? I mean, maybe Zoe is, but I think Zoe certainly has more fans than detractors. I think Ike and Jade are probably the two characters who provoke the strongest responses. Lots of people really, really love Ike, but a good number also really loathe him. With Jade, it’s been a situation where in the early going of the book, she had the smallest number of fans. But as we went on — particularly around issue #10 where we spent a lot more time with her — she seemed to generate a lot more sympathy and compassion from the readers. So they both had fairly divisive trajectories, and I think that’s a part of what makes them an interesting pair to put in a room.

But then also, if you look at the genesis of the book from the first arc, Ike’s betrayal of the group as they are attempting to rescue Jade sets up an interesting dynamic. When Jade looks at the rest of the new entrants to the Academy, she sees a bunch of people who did show up when she needed them. Obviously, that’s not the case for Ike. Her feelings about that were something I wanted to get at in this issue because they really haven’t been able to spend too much time together since this all went down. And this is an interesting point in the story to put them together.

We open with another big, great, gory death. All of these kids have been marked for a greater purpose, and while some of them have been set on their path in a very controlled, deliberate manner, Jade has a lot more trauma in her recent past. Can we look at the death of her mother as a deviation from the plan that’s shaping the lives of the Glories?

That’s the trick, right? Are these things that happened to the kids before they got to the school a part of a grand master plan, or are they just things that put them in the position to be part of the plan? The question of causation and relation is a big one as we look at their back stories more and more.

This is an event that has a pretty profound impact on Jade and the way she views the world around her — obviously. There’s that dramatic personality shift that takes place in her after this has happened. So I think one of the good questions to ask at this point is whether these experience shaping them are part of their destiny to come or just something that landed them in this position.

In the present, Ike and Jade’s conversation starts out with them exhibiting the core of their personalities and then twisting what we might view as their strengths. It’s easy to look at Ike as a cynic who’s more knowledgeable about the place they’ve landed in and Jade as a naive girl. But that naivete seems to go both ways over this talk, as does the knowledge. The standout line for Ike is how Casey saved Jade “because she was angry and wanted to show the faculty here that they couldn’t beat her.” How on point do you think he is there? Is it kind of true that Casey would have taken any opportunity to stick it to the man?

Well, this is something we’ve touched on a few times since all that went down. We saw it a few issues back with Zoe and Hunter — the question about Casey’s motives and why she does what she does. Is she a genuinely great person who cares about the people around her, or are there motives that are a little more selfish? Or if not selfish, are they at the very least a little Machiavellian? Different characters come down on different sides of that. My personal read is that there’s a little bit of truth in both sides. Obviously, the more cynical and jaded members of the group like Ike and Zoe will look at Casey’s actions and see them through a lens of self-preservation, where as kids like Hunter and Jade will take them at face value. It’s all very much the way most of us respond. We’re skewed by our own opinions and experiences.

But I think there’s both in there. We’ve seen Casey do things that are fairly noble and some things that were very brave and selfless. At the same time, we’ve seen that Casey has a lot of stubbornness and is a very combative person.

To flip that around, Jade is pretty adamant that she “has” to die. It’s kind of like a religious experience she’s had to bring her to this realization, but she’s also had a huge trauma in her life. Are her expectations pointed in remotely the right direction, or should her mental health be called into question?

Ike really sums this up. In the end, how much can Jade really trust her own read on the situation and her own opinions? Because they’re obviously impacted by what’s happened to her. Is her faith just due to circumstance? I think Jade is like a lot of people: when they have personal tragedies or life upheavals, they try to create a sense of order around them. Her enrollment at the Academy — being trapped there and the things she’s seen and experienced since arrival — those things certainly make her the most malleable of the group. It’s easy to push her into a broader belief system.

Jade talks earlier in the issue, and it makes her sound like she’s stopped believing in anything for some time. But I think it’s fairly obvious that whatever turn away she had from those elements in her life, it was destined to be short-lived. She has an innate belief in something more that’s always been a part of her.

We’ve talked in the past about religion and the role of faith in this story. Most of that has been religious and literary iconography, but here we’re talking about two kids who have seen IMPOSSIBLE things questioning what they believe. I feel like it’s harder to craft a story where people have no faith in something bigger when they constantly confront unexplainable ideas. Do you find that’s true?

Yes and no. It tends to be a pet peeve of mine in stories where something supernatural is directly in front of your face, and you have that skeptic who refuses to believe their own eyes. I think that’s a very rare person. For the most part, if you saw a flying saucer land, you’d change your mind about things very quickly. So what I’ve tried to do here — and we’ll see more of this as we go on — is that if you started out as a skeptic and were then confronted by these things, you may quickly concede the point that something is out of the ordinary. But what may not come so quickly is the concession that this thing is good or beneficial to you or benevolent. You’ll see that more with Ike as we go forward especially. I’ve never had an interest in having a cast member here that’s in a perpetual state of disbelief.

This is something I’ve thought a lot about with Casey especially. When she ends up in her past, you can see that she’s shocked and surprised — maybe even a little hesitant to believe it — but she accepts things very quickly and moves on. I think that’s what any of us would do in that situation. So I’m interested in a different kind of skepticism. The idea is that if God comes down and reveals himself to a skeptic, does that skeptic start wondering what God’s angle is? Or do they question what the explanation for God is?

At this point in the story, Ike has seen things that he feels there is an explanation for even when that explanation is a bit of a stretch. He hasn’t seen David at this point. He hasn’t quite seen anything that would completely push him over. But obviously, the disappearance of Casey he witnesses here shakes him up a bit.

Let’s go through the craziness of this issue in rapid-fire succession, starting with Ike and Jade’s shadows on the wall. They don’t act as they should until the very end of their time together. Did you have specific instructions for Joe on what the shadows are doing this whole time, and what relevance can we draw from the eventual synching up of kid and shadow?

First on the choreography, I gave it to Joe pretty broadly. I told him, “They can’t be doing the same thing.” And he did a great job with it. It’s not terribly important what the shadows were doing as long as they varied from what the kids were doing.

To the second point, we’re going to revisit the cave very early on in the fourth arc and give a little bit more in terms of explanations. Hopefully after that people will have more of a handle on what it is and what it does.

Next up: Jade’s brother! We’ve heard mention of him before, but we haven’t seen him. He’s definitely more sympathetic to her than her father has ever been. Can we expect to see more of him?

Yeah. He’s a big part of her life, and we’ve talked about that in a couple of bits. They have a nice relationship, you know? I wanted to work a good brother/sister relationship in this story, and this was a great point to drop it in. Experiences with siblings are a big part of people’s lives when they’re teenagers. So we’ll definitely see him again.

Jade keeps seeing her dead mother. We have so many threads that this idea can link up to at this point, can you give us an idea of what quadrant of “Morning Glories” this phenomenon falls under?

[Laughs] Um, I do think this arc — even more so in some ways than the second arc — because of the scope of it feels more right now like a lot of these things are scattershot. But I’ve said throughout that what we’re dealing with here is something where things aren’t as disparate as they seem. That’s the beauty of the mysteries here and what helps them from spiraling out of control — even though it feels sometimes like that for the reader.

As far as what quadrant we’re coming at this from, Jade’s story we’ve tipped off as being very much in the “faith/mysticism” side of things. She’s our door into that world. It’s been her place for a long time. When people see things like Casey’s story, it has a sci-fi bent to it with the time travel elements. Jade’s story is primarily about dreams and prophecy, so her mom very much synchs up with that.

Will what we see with her mom here have a direct path to future Jade?

Yeah. There’s definitely a reason why we abruptly cut back to that story for a few pages in this issue. And there’s always been a close relationship between those two stories. Ever time we spend a lot of time with Jade, it seems like we touch on that story.

This issue ends with Daniel, but overall I feel like all roads in this arc lead to Abraham. Can we assume that by the end of this arc, all the threads dealing with this benefactor’s lock-up will come to some kind of a head?

Yeah. What I can say is that this arc leads very directly into the fourth arc, and a lot of the things we’ve set up here in this arc we’ll see resolution to in the next as we lead to #24 and #25, which are huge issues for the book. I’ll say that this Woodrun/”P.E.” story got so much bigger as I got into it, and I think it’s going to end up as one of the bigger stories in the book period. Everything that we’re seeing in this third arc — when we get into the fourth arc, you’ll see us come back to each of these things and resolve them as they come to a head. And obviously, Abraham is a major part of that. #23, #24 and #25 are big issues for him.

Getting into Jun’s story in issue #18, we’ve seen a bit of every kid’s past at this point, but here we learn that Jun — AKA “the quiet one” — has had more experience in this kind of crazy world than any of the other Glories.

That’s convenient! [Laughter]

At this point, how much can we assume in terms of Jun having a plan or being ready for the Academy? Or in some ways, is he just as in the dark as the rest of the cast?

I think we’ve started to touch on that a bit here. When you look at especially the first arc of the series, it’s obvious that Jun is more aware of what’s going on than the rest of the kids. He’s more comfortable in his surroundings, and there are not a lot of surprises for him, per se. But now as we get here where we peer into this part of his life, there are some hints that while he certainly knows more than the rest of the Glories, he may not know everything. It’s a pivotal point in the story where Guillaume mentions that there are things they can do that Jun wasn’t aware of. There are different levels of knowledge in play. We’re starting to see the limits of what Jun knows.

Let’s talk about Guillaume for a minute. He’s obviously going to have a very complicated relationship with Jun moving forward, but the standout for the broader story is that his appearance at the school means a whole group of kids at the Academy know more than they’re letting on. There has to be a group who know Abraham like Jun. How many characters have we seen so far that are a part of this group? Are there any big cast members we’ve met at the school who fit this bill?

Ooooo, this is a good question! [Laughs] Look to the fourth arc. That’s where all this will be revealed. #18 is a big issue in that this is the moment where we start to see the other side of the conflict. There are competing agendas at play here, and you might see some familiar faces show up on that front shortly.

So Obama comes out in favor of same sex marriage, and then the next week, we get this love scene…

[Laughs] I’m not going to lie — coordinating the release of the issue with the White House was difficult. Any time you deal with an organization of that size, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. But I’m proud we could pull it off together. It took us, the President, the Vice President and the entire electorate of North Carolina to make this issue as big as it could be. [Laughter]

Though seriously, a big part of this book from day one has been building diversity in the cast not in terms of tokenism but in terms of making them unique to have more drama. With sexuality — gay or straight — every teen has a process of discovery to go through. In that way, the story we get in this issue is very honest and straightforward about these young men realizing who they are. How do you complicate that relationship from here?

The first thing I’d say about this is that the reader response to this scene was really cool. There’s no other way to put it. I didn’t have much in the way of worry in terms of backlash or not accepting this because I have a generally solid idea of who reads the book. I think it is an audience who wouldn’t get up in arms about this. But to see how people were excited and happy about the story and who seemed to think we pulled off the story well was really cool. Because this is a tricky plot device that we’ve all seen handled clumsily or shoved in for tokenism or done with a tone that’s less than genuine. And the real credit here goes to Joe, who I think captured the younger relationship between the two of them in a way that really stuck the landing. That page of the first kiss is one of my favorite pages of the book to date.

But like you said, what we can’t really do from here — and I think the mistake that sometimes gets made if you’re trying to make cultural points — is let your characters get really boring. There are certainly, even in this issue, some differences of opinions between Jun and Guillaume. There are different directions they’re going in. They have a strong connection and something special, but they’re 16. So it’s probably going to be a pretty bumpy ride.

Another thread here that we’ve discussed before that we have to swing back to is that whatever organization is running the Academy, they do not have unified ranks. Different faculty members seem to have different goals and opinions on the school. Now here, we get a flashback where Abraham meets with someone who I think we can assume is Georgina…

Sure does look like her.

Sure does! And if we make that assumption, it means at one point Abraham was working in concert with the Academy. And furthermore, it means that whenever he splintered off it was only a few years ago. Where can we look for the story of his rebellion against whoever the headmaster’s organization is? Is that a long-term mystery or a shorter-term one?

That’s a relatively long-term storyline. There’s a lot more to learn about Abraham — who he is, where he’s been and what he’s done in regards to the Academy and the kids. It’s a huge, huge part of the book. That’s really one of the elements of the story that grows and grows as we get further in. We talk a lot about what was there when we started and what’s grown to have a life of it’s own, and Abraham fits into the latter camp. We’re going to spend a good amount of time with him, again, in the fourth arc. But then there’s another arc that we’re a ways away from that’s pretty pivotal in terms of his involvement. So there’s things we’ll learn really soon, and some we’ll have to wait for.

There are a lot of key phrases in “Morning Glories” worth watching for. “For A Better Tomorrow” is the big one. “A Sacrifice Is Demanded” is another. But I think this is the first time we’ve seen someone say “The Promise That Was Made To Us.”

I’m pretty sure this is the first direct reference to it, although there are some things from the past that heavily involved that idea without saying it in so many words. So yeah, what we can take from this is that we’ve laid out a conflict between two sides. And Abraham does what he does at least in part because of a belief that something in the future is going to happen.

You know, it sounds almost like a religion itself. We’ve got a prophecy, interpretations, and expectations for a reckoning…

Again, this book has a lot of religious and quasi-religious elements. The last couple of issues — where we’ve been spending our time with Jade and now Abraham — those characters are very much a part of that story, so we’re rife with references.

We wrap back with Zoe, who’s murdering is coming to a head for the Jun thread while Woodrun is still in effect. Does the end of the game put a time clock on these moves?

It’s tricky structurally because this arc, the next arc and even the arc after that are linked. It became a kind of mega-story as I kept seeing the different angles we could tell it from as the kids split and went their own ways. It became a lot of different stories. What happened was that the fourth arc had always been planned from a long-term standpoint, but things merged together. Ultimately, what you see in this arc is setup for things coming in the next one. Where things end with this “P.E.” arc lead directly into what happens next. Even though next issue is the last issue of this arc, there’s no real pause.

We’ve focused on every character in the main cast in this arc. In #19, who steps in to be our focal point as the story wraps?

It’s very much Hunter’s issue. Where we left Hunter was discovering Zoe’s actions at the end of #15, and I’ve heard consistently for months that this is the thing people have been waiting with baited breath for. We’re going to pick up right there. Hunter has seen Zoe murder Maggie. They’re in the woods, and it’s dark and late and something’s going to happen. Zoe’s secret is out so things have to come to a head.

“Morning Glories” #19, the finale of the “P.E.” arc, is on sale today from Image Comics.

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