MORNING GLORY DAYS: Payback Plots & Tattle Tales

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!

We're dissecting "Morning Glories" #4 this week, and as a result, we're also flipping the collective bird at Ike, one of the book's six central characters, who just so happened to conclude the issue by selling out his friends and siding with the faculty. Spencer spoke with CBR about Ike's betrayal, Casey's current state of mind as she plans to rescue Jade just days after discovering her parents' mangled corpses, Hunter's inability to let go of "Lost" even in the face of certain doom, and much, much more.

CBR News: Welcome back for another round of Morning Glory Days, Nick! We're kicking things off with issue #4 of "Morning Glories," and...

Nick Spencer: And the first typo of the book! It's right here. Ike says: "The hour of release draws near." It should say: "The hour of our release draws near." It's our first typo in four issues. Now, I get an easy out here, because I can just say that Ike is reading this wrong. Ike has release on his mind probably because he's here with Casey. [Laughs] So maybe he just skips the "our." But four issues in, finally, we get a typo.

Generally speaking, how worried do you get over things like this when it comes to producing "Morning Glories?" Are typos a big deal or can you just play them off like you're doing here, just a slip of the tongue?

It depends, both on the importance of a moment and the frequency of them. If you're slipping up once every three or four issues, you're doing okay. The reality is that these are creator-owned comics and there aren't eight eyeballs looking at every given issue. But we've done a really great job of it so far, catching mostly everything, despite being on a very truncated timeline in terms of production schedule. But this one somehow slipped by.

On a book with so many secrets as "Morning Glories," typos must get scary at times.

Oh, sure, sure, sure. It could happen at a really inopportune moment and really mess something up. It's just up to you and up to your editor, and hopefully somebody catches it. Again, this one is pretty easy to explain because of the story, thankfully.

But it's also...in this issue, I made sort of a purposeful decision that issue #3 had a lot of high concept moments and was very much about big plot aspects. We sort of decided to pull back on that in the fourth issue and focus on the characters a little bit more, and this is one of the few moments in this issue that's a tip off of the higher concept - which is, in issue #3, we had all these moments where the phrase "the hour of our release draws near" keeps popping up. One instance is at the very last moment, where Casey is drawing "the hour of our release draws near" in her notebook, and we don't know how she's connected to that phrase, in the same way that the girl in 1490, or Megan in the basement, is connected to it. This is our first little hint on that subject, which is that she does say that this is something she's read once.

I've got to say, this last panel of Casey seems pretty suggestive.

I think that this is one of those pages, like on "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents," someone showed me one time that Iron Maiden had been featured in a girly magazine where they just changed the word balloon from an original "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" comic. If anybody's looking to do that with "Morning Glories," I feel like page two of this issue might be a good opportunity. [Laughs] Casey definitely looks like she has something a little bit devious on the mind there, but I promise, her intentions are pure - she's just looking to rescue her friend. But she does seem to get Hunter's hopes up. [Laughs]

Look, Casey is obviously a very pretty girl, and like a lot of pretty girls at that age, she's not unaware of the fact that her looks play a role in how guys think of her and respond to things she says. She's certainly not a Zoe in that regard, but Casey is also aware of it. Certainly in this scene, she's not ignorant to the fact that Hunter is very willing to help out.

This is classic Zoe, not wanting to get involved with something that doesn't directly benefit her. But honestly, she has a point here - the idea of going out on a limb for Jade, a girl that they've just met and a girl who very clearly attempted to kill herself. When the stakes are this high, rescuing Jade might not be the best idea.

I find myself sometimes believing that Zoe is the best equipped of the six in terms of handling this situation, particularly in the second arc, which I'm scripting now. You'll see more of that: Zoe, in some ways, is actually kind of primed to thrive in this environment. That's not to say that Zoe is uncaring, and I think that's an important thing that these pages deal with. It's so easy to just say that Zoe's the bitch, the opportunist, but there's a lot more than that. These couple of pages are a good tipoff to that: she might be talking a bigger game, but she's not inhuman or uncaring to Jade's situation. Casey's rationale here is not really that compelling, yet Zoe agrees to go along with it. I think that's an early tipoff into who Zoe really is and why she may not be as bad as she sometimes gets off.

You bring up the fact that Casey's rationale isn't that compelling, and it raises another point. Casey's parents were just brutally murdered, and she's certainly looking for payback. How much of this plan comes from the fact that she's genuinely worried about Jade, and how much of it is payback?

I think Casey certainly cares about Jade and wants to make sure that Jade is safe. There's a certain connection between the two of them that we've already established: Casey, as somebody who wants to protect others, wants to be a savior. Jade is sort of the perfect friend for her in that sense. That having been established, there is a lot here that has to do with Casey wanting to hit back at this school every bit as much as it's about Casey wanting to help Jade. I think those sort of motivations go hand in hand right now, but over time, there will be a lot of questions about the things that Casey does; are they about getting back at the faculty or are they about getting out of the school and helping her friends? That's something you're always going to see in this story.

By the way, it's nice to see Pamela again. My favorite. [Laughs] She's such a doll. I can already tease that we'll be seeing a lot more of Pamela in the second arc. People should still think of her as the seventh Glory.

This is the first time we've seen Jun since the ending of issue #2, where we saw him encounter what looked to be an identical figure - and I'm wondering if this is even Jun at all. What's up with this guy?

He seems to have other things on his mind. He seems to be a little upset and while I think that he cares about what's happened to Jade, he is very much torn: obviously he doesn't like what's happened, but at the same time, he feels that there are other things that demand his attention right now. He's just a bit torn on what to do here.

But I'll say that you'll get resolution to the cliffhanger of issue #2 by the end of the second arc. That's a big one. By the end of the second arc, you'll know what happened to Jun.

Ike isn't as hard a sell as Zoe, though we find out later that he has motives of his own. You mentioned that you sometimes think Zoe is the best equipped of the Glories to deal with what's going on at the academy. I'd put Jun right up there as well, but I wouldn't necessarily put Ike on that list: he's a self-preservationist, which isn't a bad trait, but the trait that doesn't quite serve him is that he's almost attracted to trouble in a way that Zoe hasn't quite expressed, at least in a little while.

Ike has one of the most complicated backstories of any of the Glories, which is one thing I'll cop to here. As we learn it, and we're a ways away from learning it, but when we do, we'll go back to these early issues and we'll start seeing some of the patterns of behavior that he falls into. Sometimes they'll be very helpful for him, and sometimes they'll be very harmful.

We talk about the "Lost" comparisons a lot. I've always been attracted to characters like Jack, Sawyer and Kate and these enormously complicated histories they have and these self-defeating patterns that people fall into. That's something we'll be examining with the Glories, and I don't know that any of them exemplify that to the degree that Ike does.

Ms. Daramount and Mr. Gribbs have been spying on Casey and Ike this whole time, though they can't hear a word they're saying.

There's something that I'm wondering if people have caught on, but it's certainly something that I keep in mind: surveillance at the academy isn't maybe as strong as you would think. They actually do have some room to maneuver. There aren't, for instance, cameras in the dorm rooms - it's not a completely "1984" Orwellian state. I would say that the reason for that is that the academy isn't necessarily interested in making sure that you never take them on. What they're interested in is that when you do take them on, you fail, and the effort you make is part of the process for them. They're not terribly upset by the fact that they can't hear Casey here: certainly Ms. Daramount loves the challenge. She likes playing the game. Gribbs, especially here, is a little more impatient. But Daramount, who's really in charge of this particular group of students, is much more content to let this develop on its own and deal with it in her own way - and as we find out by the end of the issue, she clearly has.

Big hint for the second arc here. We should be asking ourselves what Gribbs is talking about when he says, "Reminds me of..." He's cut off. Who are they discussing here? That's a part of arc two.

As for Gribbs himself, we'll get some quality time with him in the next issue. Going forward, he'll start playing a little bit more of an involved role in the Glories' tutelage at the academy. We're starting to let on here that this is something they've been at for a while, and maybe some of the dynamics have changed. Maybe some of the things that they've been up to are coming close to an end.

As the plan is set into motion, Casey and Hunter find an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better.

Yeah, and I think that this is our first hint really that Casey's head isn't in the best of places. She's sort of exhibiting classic post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms here, where she's shut off emotionally and she's focusing on tasks in front of her, rather than taking in and dealing with some of the things that she's been up against in these first few issues. Hunter's trying to talk to her like she's a normal person still, without knowing what's happened to her, and I think you can really see here that Casey isn't in a place where she can have a normal conversation, per se. She's not denying that [her parents] are gone, but she certainly doesn't seem to be registering it yet. She understands that they're dead, but she's not really thinking about it - she's pressing it back and focusing on the task at hand.

I also think it's an intriguing sequence that Casey knows how to make tear gas! But I will say - and I think I've been honest in these [interviews] about the things that if I could go back and do them differently, I might - I'll say that a mistake I made in this issue is that Zoe, being a chemistry major, while there might be plot reasons why this needs to be Casey [developing the tear gas], I should have involved Zoe more in this sequence. It would have given her more of a chance to show off her skill area. I think what you can assume is that a lot of the things you're not seeing on the page in terms of what they're doing, distilling the wine down to ethanol and things like that, Zoe plays a big role in that. She's doing a lot of the grunt work in that department.

What struck me about this sequence is that this is one of the very first times we've seen the Glories just hanging out, relatively pressure-free. You get a bit of that in issue #2, but there are flashbacks interspersed there - this is a solid chunk of pages where the characters are really just allowed to interact.

This is really the first time that I got to write four of them in a room together just talking, yeah. It was a blast. The thing about this arc is that it's happening over a very compressed period of time - they've been at the school for four days, and the course of the entire arc is five days. It's happening very quickly. I think sometimes readers haven't kept that in mind, that they're talking about how things would register as though weeks or months had gone on. It's understandable, because when you're reading these, you're reading them once a month and there's a natural tendency to attribute a lapse of time, but it really hasn't happened here. They've only been around each other for a few days. They haven't had a whole lot of time to interact or get to know each other. They've been locked together enough that they understand that they're in this together, but they really don't know each other terribly well yet. It was fun to finally see four of them together for the first time and really just have a conversation.

It's one thing to plot out what a character is going to go through, who they are and what their core beliefs are, where they're going to start and where they're going to finish. But going into the scripting process, did you surprise yourself at all with these pages in terms of learning something new or interesting about the characters as you wrote their dialogue and allowed them to converse with one another?

I remember having a lot of nerves about this sequence. Everything has been so hectic, so slowing it down a bit for a few minutes was a little scary. This happens in "Runaways" when they first get to the cave, where they finally just have a minute to breathe. It's really these scenes that create emotional attachment between the readers and the characters, so I paid a lot of attention to this sequence.

What I like is that I feel they're all coming from different places and they all have very different understandings of where they are and how things are going to go from here. You see that in Ike and Zoe's dialogue. For one thing, I think there's a tendency to divide these four down a line where Casey and Hunter are the nice ones and Ike and Zoe are the mean ones. But there's more to them than that. I think you see that when Ike and Zoe sort of bump into each other here, where Zoe's talking about when she gets out of here and Ike is immediately reflexively nihilistic about it; he thinks that this is it, this is done, and the best thing they can do is enjoy it while it lasts because they're probably dead. While there might be a tendency to say that these two are the foils and these two are the heroes, I think you even see in this exchange that it's not as simple as that. They all have varying shades.

Like here, clearly Casey broaches a very sensitive subject and we get a different moment from Zoe than anything we've seen before. I think any of us have had that moment where you inadvertently say something that really offends someone and you have no idea why. You just get a completely different face in response. I give Joe a lot of credit here, where you see this almost instant change in Zoe's character. It's certainly a tipoff to some things that are maybe troubling Zoe.

For what it's worth, I think about what Hunter is thinking about here way too often.

Who doesn't? [Laughs] I've never had any shame in the idea that Hunter is the guy that a lot of the reading audience, speaking in terms of broad demographics, can probably relate to the most. I think we've all had this thought in our head. He mentions "Lost" here and a "Blade Runner" screening, and I think that we all - especially if you're a "geek" or something like that - you attribute a huge amount of importance to these things in your life. You just do! I can remember the last season of "Lost," literally thinking once every couple of weeks, "Jesus Christ, please don't let me get hit by a bus tomorrow. I need to know how this ends!" This was a lot of fun for me to write, because there's a tendency to believe that if you were locked into a very important and dangerous situation, you would forget all of those things - but I don't really think that's true.

I think that's what Hunter's talking about here, the surprise that those things didn't fade in importance for him as real life started to intrude and get exciting. He still had all of this love [for his geek interests]. One of the things we've established in "Morning Glories" is that the academy has no internet. That must be driving Hunter crazy! [Laughs] Hunter must hate not being able to get on Ain't It Cool. That must be driving him insane!

But this is not a confession that anyone like Ike or Zoe would be anything but disgusted by. For a second, when I wrote their two responses, I thought, "Wow, everybody is going to hate them as soon as they say that." But that's what the characters say there - that is what their response would be, as shitty as it is and as hurtful as it might be to any of us who empathize with Hunter. But most people, if you tell them, "When we got into that car wreck, the first thing I thought was [about 'Lost']," if you tell most people that, they would be absolutely appalled. [Laughs] Ike and Zoe's response, I think, is perfectly logical and reasonable.

Not to mention the fact that all of them are very guarded in their own way, and Hunter all of the sudden comes out and pours his heart out - in a group of sixteen year olds, that's not going to go over so well!

I think even Casey's response, which is very nice, is very patronizing. It's manipulative on her part in certain ways. She's being nice, even if somewhere in the back of her head she thinks that it's an idiotic thing [for Hunter] to say. But when the water was coming up in [issue #2], Casey and Hunter did deal with things together as a team in a way that Ike and Zoe did not, and I think Casey does see value in that. She sees that Hunter is someone she can value and trust. I think you'll see as the story goes on that Casey made a lot of judgments in issue #2 based on how different people responded to that situation.

One of the things we're dealing with in issue #5 and as we go on is that Casey is a brilliantly gifted girl, not just in terms of physics and academics, but she's almost absurdly quick. We revealed a few pages earlier that Casey's dad was in the military before he was an artist, and I think that Casey has some of those military kid aspects, where military kids, I've always noticed, catch things a bit quicker and organize them in their brains a little faster. Casey is certainly like that.

Well, you're obviously not worried about whether or not people are going to leave this issue liking Ike, because Ike, man - he totally narced them out!

You know, one of the things we're always trying to do in this story is draw these sorts of parallels to recognizable situations from when you were a kid. In issue #2 you have detention, in issue #3 you have the nurse's office, and in issue #4, I thought it was fun that it ended up being a sequence that involved wine. I thought it was a fun parallel to those situations where you snuck off and somebody fucking told on you! Somebody snitched and you got busted! [Laughs] I think we all know similar situations to that, and it was fun to sort of play with that parallel.

So, Ike's a snitch. He's the one that decides to curry favor with the authority figures. In Ike's mind, I think this couldn't be an easier decision. For Ike, he doesn't view this as anything personal or purposefully hurting the rest of them. I think he just views this as the thing he needs to do not just to stay alive, but to excel. He's not just interested in surviving this: he would prefer to be living the same kind of privileged lifestyle that he has been. For him, this was an easy decision to make. When Casey came to him and laid out the entire plan and put it in front of him, he recognized what an enormous gift that she gave him and he took advantage of it.

One question you can ask about Ike is when did he decide to do this. I think you can make an argument that he knew back in issue #3 when he first started talking to Casey and first started giving her advice, that he was already looking for an upper hand. Or you might think that he decided that after the plan was laid out, and he didn't think that it would work. He voiced his hesitation about the plan and its chances for success. It could go either way. I don't think that's something we're ever going to define: either one is a perfectly valid choice, it just depends on how much you want to like Ike. If you want to have a really bad opinion of Ike, you'd say he probably knew all along. If you don't, he probably knew earlier in this issue.

You know, I think that all of [the Glories] have good reasons to either go it alone or band together. What we're seeing is that nice guys are finishing last right now - if you were to say how everyone's coping, Jade is by far doing the worst and you probably wouldn't think much of where Hunter is either. You'll look at people like Jun, Zoe and, really, Ike, and say that that is the system that works - they're concerned with themselves. Maybe not Zoe in this moment, but overall, you see how looking out for number one seems to be very beneficial.

It's one of those questions that we'll keep coming back to over the course of this. I don't think any of them have their minds made up completely about what the best approach is, and I think we'll see a lot of back and forth. But that's just part of the journey of this little group: I think that Casey, Hunter and Zoe are pretty fucked at the end of this. They appear to be in a very bad place.

That about does it for "Morning Glories" #4, so what's on tap for issue #5? Where do things go from here?

Well, five is the conclusion of this arc and it's extra-sized at 32 pages, about eight pages longer than usual. Everything comes to a head there: as you can see from this last page, our heroes are in a very unfortunate dilemma right now. The next issue is all about them dealing with that. There are some big questions that I really wanted to answer, not so much in terms of the high concept mystery stuff, but in terms of these character trajectories and what their dynamic at the school is going to be. I just saw the final PDF of the issue and I'm very proud of the issue. It's very action-packed. A lot happens. There are some very big moments that we've been building to since the first issue. So I think people are going to be pretty blown away by what we've got coming.

"Morning Glories" #4, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma, is currently on sale. The fifth issue hits stands on December 22, 2010.

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

Black Panther Leads Avengers Spinoff with the Agents of Wakanda

More in Comics