MORNING GLORY DAYS: Nick Spencer Hands Out "Demerits"

The writer and artist spent five bi-weekly issues, from "Morning Glories" #30 to 34, digging into the secret side of some of the most troubled teens populating long-running sci-fi/spiritual/mystery/school drama with the "Demerits" arc. While life gets back to "normal" at Morning Glory Academy, readers return having learned how Irina's mother made her the psycho killer she is today, what Hunter's next step in his confusing war against the Academy might be, how Vanessa is set to change the fate of the cast across time and maybe most importantly, why it's Jun who's survived even though he's physically Hisao (get all that?).

With issue #36, on sale this week, continuing the complimentary "Honors" arc, CBR's ongoing look behind the scenes of the series -- AKA MORNING GLORY DAYS -- returns with a jam-packed new edition. Here, Spencer discusses all the revelations and mysteries explored in "Demerits." From the secret of Irina's sister to the background moves of Casey as she travels through time to the mysterious blue light that revives/body swaps/does something to the dying and desperate, the character pieces of this arc all continue to come together as we dig deeper.

CBR News: Nick, since we last checked in, "Morning Glories" essentially did an entire arc at a breakneck pace from #31 to 34. Before these issues hit, you had talked about doing a story that focused more on the Truant kids in the same way the second arc of Season 1 focused on the Glories. And while some of that is in there, it feels more like the two groups are melding together. Did that grow out of the telling here?

Nick Spencer: Yeah, I lost my nerve a little bit. I think we took a good hard look at the previous few arcs -- the end of Season 1 and the start of Season 2 -- and from all the camera time given to the Truants and to Clarkson's scenes and the future Jade/Hunter stuff, I began to realize that the complaint about the original, core cast receding a bit was fairly valid. So rather than doing five issues of the Truants where we would have seen very little of the original cast, I decided instead to do this two-arc-long character spotlight where we'd alternate between the Truants and the Glories.

And that ended up being such a huge help in terms of making it much more organic for the two casts to intermingle and become one. It's been much more successful than if I had stuck to the original idea of zeroing in on the Truants immediately. Especially by the time we get to the end of this arc, with Jade's issue, we had all of the kids together in the basement. I think that's the first time we've really seen something like that. It was a big moment for the book to see that natural co-mingling start to take effect.

As the casts combine, you've also been returning to and twisting some of the common "Morning Glories" tropes that we've gotten used to. For example, a lot has gone on in the book with the fathers of these kids and how they've impacted their lives, but with issue #30 and Irina's story, we got a much stronger focus on one of the mothers, and that's held on through #34 as well. Irina's mom is drastically messed up, and I wondered if that was a bit of a corrective to show both sides of the parental coin in a dramatic way.

Exactly. This seemed like a good thing to remedy in Season 2. It was just by happenstance, really, that a lot of the stories we'd focused on had either been father/daughter relationships or occasionally mother/son relationships. There were some exceptions like when Jun and Hisao's mother was featured fairly prominently. It was here and there, but by the nature of the stories that we told, there was definitely a patriarchal vibe to the book. [Laughs] That was something that I wanted to fix, because it wasn't entirely intentional.

Irina's story gave us a really easy opportunity to make that change, and by the end of the arc with Jade's issue, this has always been a part of the long term plan. We've alluded to it and spent some time with it -- especially in #10 and #17 -- but now it felt like it was time to get back into the meat of it. It was better to do that sooner rather than later.

Irina's mother is more than just a horrific figure in her past. We learn that this is also Georgina's mother -- which I'm not sure means that she's Lara's mother as well. But she is very much connected to this story in that generational aspect. She stands with Abraham and whoever the Headmaster is as "the past" of this story, and then we get to Georgina and Lara's cohort and then to the kids. How do you view all those pieces fitting together, and where does Irina's mother fit in overall?

That's something that's just beginning to come into focus which will become a major part of the book moving forward. That is, there's this previous generation, but then the sisters Georgina and Lara are very much the middle children. You get that vibe in #20, where they're at the school, but the school seems fairly empty. There aren't any students there, yet, so they're in this shadowy middle ground. Obviously, we've got all these kids with the same birthday who come along to represent the current generation we focus on. But Irina's mother represents a piece of this that we'll be dealing with a little ways down the road. There will be connections between her and certainly some of the older members of the cast that we've met already.

In terms of the relation between Georgina and Irina, that was too good an opportunity to pass up. Based on the scenes they've had together, it really adds to both characters, and it gives us a lot to play with going forward.

And I'm sure eventually we'll meet their other sisters Regina, Tina and Lena.

[Laughs] Right?!? Wouldn't it be great if they all rhymed? No. That was entirely unintentional. It's not part of the masterplan.

Before we move on, we've also got to address Mr. N -- perhaps the most mysterious teacher in a long line of shadowy faculty. As the arc went along, the thing that caught my attention in terms of him was in issue #32 when Vanessa says of the teachers, "They're all the same." Is that really true? Are they even working to the same purposes even if their methods are different?

I think that's a long term mystery for us, and a big part of the fun of the faculty is trying to suss out when they're on the same page and when they're driving in different directions. We know for a fact that they have characteristically different approaches to dealing with the students, and at times we seem to sense that their aims may differ somewhat. But that's not entirely come into focus yet. The biggest questions hang around Hodge, obviously, and what side she's on.

With this new character of Mr. N -- he was a fun one to bring in because he's sort of a step removed from the rest of the faculty and the administration. I thought there was some good things to mine there in terms of seeing someone with more distance from the day-to-day operations of the Academy. It was great to give Irina her own objective and her own story because she's entirely too volatile and dangerous a character to put back with everyone else right now. Her entire purpose is to be a force of nature and shake things up, so having her move back into the dorms at this point was not an option. This gives us a bird's eye view of what's going on, and maybe it'll give us a greater understanding of certain aspects of the school. I think Mr. N's role is going to very much be a guide there.

Let's skip over #31 for a moment and look at that Vanessa issue in #32. Lara Hodge takes her to a place that she refers to as both an "instruction site" and a "shrine." In terms of the time travel element, we know many of these shrines exist on the campus, but the instruction site idea reminded me of this house Mr. N is keeping Irina in. There seem to be lots of other places at the school that aren't giant underground temples. How do you view the shape of the whole school? Is the whole place built around the shrines in some respect?

That's a great question. Do these things exist here because of the school, or does the school exist here because of these things? I think that's a train of thought where groups trying to put all this together might want to follow. Much to Joe's chagrin, these things seem to keep growing and being added to the mix. A definitive map of the Academy grounds pretty much eludes us at this point. [Laughter] To me, that's a huge part of the fun of the book. Things seem to turn a corner, and then all of the sudden -- meditation garden! It's crazy. It's fun to be at a place where we can keep dropping in new sites and locations.

As you said, there are some commonalities here with other places we've seen. And certainly Lara referring to it as an "instruction site" is illuminating in some respects.

So looking at #31, while Hunter returns to where the AV Club meets thinking of it as a source of frustration in his own past, this was kind of a "feel good" issue for once!

[Laughs] A bit! I think some of that is just the nature of Hunter-centric issues. Because he's such a nice kid and so well intentioned -- really just inherently decent -- he adds a sense of hope and optimism to every story that he's a major part of. Even when you're dealing with an issue that's pretty morbid -- big parts of this focus on Zoe's death and the deaths of other students -- when the camera is on Hunter, the story by its nature is slightly sunnier.

And it's also nice to see students who are not caught up in the big architecture of this conspiracy theory yet who still know this place is messed up and are trying to make a positive change in it. Considering two of the kids who were once in the AV Club were also Truants who are now dead, how do these kids fit into the bigger picture of the series?

We'll be spending a little bit of time on that in the upcoming arc, but [these kids] are sort of neither hot nor cold. They're in a state of searching where they're ahead of where the Glories are in terms of what they know and what they've figured out, but they're not exactly anywhere near where the Truants are. That was an interesting thing to help bridge that divide somewhat, and it was also a great opportunity to bring in some kids who don't have the agenda that the Truants do. These are kids with a sense of normalcy, and beyond that, it was a great opportunity to give Hunter some peers that he could connect to and relate with since he's always been the odd man out with the rest of the cast. Because we've been dealing with kids who are either, in the Truants' case, trained for and exposed to this conflict or, in the case of the Glories, kids who have had some kind of exposure to this stuff, Hunter has always been the normal one. This was a good opportunity to get him in his own circle to bond with, and it opens up a lot of story opportunities.

And I should say that I was nervous about introducing them here because we have so many new kids we've introduced. I've been a little worried that people wouldn't be interested in seeing another group this quickly, but the audience seemed to really connect with and like these kids from the start...except for the ones who were convinced that these are in fact the most evil students yet! [Laughter] I guess that says something about how deceitful I've been.

But Maggie, in her brief time in the book, was a character people really responded to, and then everyone was pissed that you killed her. This seems the other side of that, in a good way.

Yeah. Maggie was kind of a precursor to this group in the same way that Guillame was to the Truants. She was our window into this, and this is very much the world she comes from. It's something I've been wanting to get to for a while. This was just a matter of "When was the right time?"

Let's talk about "Freaky Friday-ing." I mean, when I read the pivotal scene of issue #33, I thought, "It's a Freaky Friday." And then in #34, they made an explicit reference to the greatest mother-daughter body swap franchise in history, so it's full on. But what does this kind of idea do to the series? Doesn't it leave open the possibility that any of the characters we've met might not be who they say? How can we trust our instincts on that?

Of course, there's always that thing out there. Since we've established that it can happen, you have to factor in that it could have happened before or that it could happen again in the future. Certainly, this puts a new piece on the board in terms of things that are possible in this world.

In terms of issue #33 in particular, I think people know there's been a bit of a ticking clock in the form of two identical characters who have traded names a couple of times. [Laughter] It was a certainty that eventually there'd just be one of them, and this has always been where these characters were meant to end up. The only question for us was about when and where to do it. It was always interesting for me because the Jun/Hisao story was one of the earliest ones in the series that was fully formed, and when I was writing their early issues, I knew the primary cast member was not the one we were spending the vast majority of our time with. It was interesting when we got to the point where it was time to make it happen. Even though I was totally ready for it, it was still really affecting to lose Hisao as a character and have him no longer be in the story. As fantastic a character as he became to me and as attached as I got, the story opportunities that Jun presented being that faculty loyalist and bringing the "honor student" into the mix was so exciting for me. There's so much to get to.

Let me ask two very pointed questions on this. We've got the original Hisao, who's dead, though his body lives as powered by his brother's spirit. But in this issue, we see him in the past being recruited for the Academy by Hodge, and he's given a picture of a woman to look out for. Now that he's dead, will we get an answer as to who that person is and whether he found them?

Yeah, we'll get an answer to that here in Season 2. We'll know who that was on the picture, and we'll know who was a party to the deal as well as what it all led to. We'll know the vast majority of that, I think, within the first half of Season 2, but certainly by the end of the season, you'll know it all.

Secondly, since Jun is the faculty loyalist, is there an opportunity now for him to go, "Oh, you want to know about the purple cloaks and the goat? Well, let me explain it to you."

No, I could never do that. [Laughter] There will be some. Just like you've seen with the Truants, there will be some revelations, but there are also rational, sensible-within-the-story reasons why that won't happen. And we'll deal with both of those. Now we're in that tricky part where kids who know a lot are in the same room as kids who don't know anything. And of course, the elephant in the room is "Why don't they all sit down and discuss everything they know?" Hunter touches on that in this arc and says, "In any long form mystery, this is what does everyone in." And what we see in response to that is what Jun says, which I think makes a lot of sense. It's that his character is not very interested in telling the kids these things for one because he doesn't feel they need to know it. Jun isn't the kind of person who thinks these kids are terribly equipped to handle all this well. What he thinks they need to do is just do what he tells them. That's his solution to everything, and he doesn't value the Glories input enough to want to get them up to speed on things. That's a different rationale than what the Truants have, and we'll also learn why they haven't sat down and told everyone everything. We'll get to that fairly soon as well, but at least in Jun's case, we get an idea of how this is all working in this arc.

On the other end of the big plot movements in this arc, we've got Vanessa. There are two versions of her on a path to save her young love and get back at Hodge. But the other important part of this story from the end of #30 that it's Casey as Danielle who recruited Irina into Abraham's crew. My big question with these little cliffhangers is whether both of those stories -- Vanessa's and Casey/Danielle's -- are on a path to be answered by the end of Season 2?

This is part of the fun of Season 2. It gets to be a little different from Season 1, which was so foundational. There was so much to introduce there in terms of our long game, but Season 2 has a lot of things being set up at its opening that will have payoffs by the end of it. That's one of the things I'm most proud of. The trajectory of this season is that when people read it from start to finish, they'll see a setup and payoff. The Vanessa story certainly is a part of that. And we obviously need to circle back around to the Clarkson stuff with Casey because that feels like a very big deal. There's a ticking clock in terms of how long we can stay away from that. What I'll say for now is that a lot of the things you see set up in the premier and into the "Demerits" arc here and "Honors" next will play out very naturally over the back half of Season 2.

On the "big questions" front that isn't plot related, I felt like this arc as a whole was about death -- what happens to the living in its wake and how they deal with it. That starts with Irina and her mother and ends with the kids discussing Jun. Did the series need those moments after the shock of Season 1's ending?

That's exactly it. We were at a point where we'd had so many huge things happen at the end of Season 1 and into the beginning of Season 2. These were massively traumatic events, and it felt like the natural place to put these kids was in a state of shock and of mourning. Now they're dealing with fallout and trying to process what's happened. Grieving is obviously a big part of that for them. For a lot of the kids, death has been a recurring thing in their lives. It differs from cast member to cast member, but the specter of it hangs on a lot of them. So to have an arc that focused on that and had a consistent thematic point to make was a good way to center all this.

And it shows where everyone is right now. The group is a mess and kind of a shambles right now. They're scattered and reeling. The word I would use to describe them most is "adrift." And that runs consistently through these five issues with no end in sight to that. [Laughs]

The arc also returns to the religious debate that happens to come up over and over. Here we focus on Jade's part of those ideas just as we did with her scenes with Ike in the cave a while back. It seems like you're working to let their beliefs on the whole be challenged and be a bit fluid.

Yeah. To me, Jade is really interesting to explore in terms of this emerging theology she has. To me, it's pretty spot on in terms of that time in life for somebody who's inclined to pin down their own belief system. Jade's mixing of intrinsic faith with the questions and doubts she has born from personal tragedy is fun to play with because it feels pretty real to me. This story she tells in issue #34 is all about that. It's all about reconciling the two opposing forces in her head, and what she comes out with is that she has a belief, but it's not a very rosy idea. She comes to the conclusion that there is something more, but it's maybe not quite the paradise she'd been promised in childhood. That's a big moment for her, and it's fun to explore that given that we have this glimpse of who she may become. To watch that young woman build and become somebody who resembles more closely the woman we encounter later is great.

Taking a closer look at the end of #34, we know that with Jun and Hisao's "desperation wish moment" meant that one's consciousness was transferred into the body of the other. But with whatever happens with Jade and her mother in the flashback, it's not the same thing since her mother's eyes snap open. Is there significance we can take from that? As much as I joked earlier, this phenomenon doesn't seem limited to "Freaky Fridaying."

Well, there's a couple things there. We did see a funeral in Jade's family, but we never saw who the funeral was for. So we can't take that at face value. And in terms of the similarities between the end of #33 and #34, you're absolutely right. On the surface, there are commonalities there. But we see that the end result can be very different. What happens to Jun and Hisao is very much a consciousness transfer/body swap thing, but with Jade and her mother, it seems to be more of a straightforward resurrection. We know Jade is Jade. She isn't her mother. I think that's something I can rule out. But again, there are good questions to ask in terms of why the process seems so similar. But it's by design that these were revealed next to each other, but that doesn't necessarily mean that exactly the same thing is in play.

Looking ahead, what can you say about "Honors" as opposed to the recovery story we've seen here?

In a lot of ways, it's a continuation. It's "Demerits" and "Honors" -- to the readers, you won't feel things are that different. We carry on with these character-centric stories. We focus on Fortunado first, then Ian and Akiko and finally we'll spend some time with Ike again. We'll have gotten back around with the entire cast by that point excluding Casey who's a bit removed from the natural order right now. By that time, we'll be nearing the midway point of Season 2, and it'll be time for some of the things we set up to start rolling downwards. But there are a few more big twists on the way and some major setup for what's to come.

Look for "Morning Glories" #36 this week, and stay tuned for more MORNING GLORY DAYS on CBR!

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