MORNING GLORY DAYS: Time Traveling Daddy Issues

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, the third arc of the series - "Physical Education" - takes a turn for the strange as we catch up with issue #16 and where Casey and Ms. Hodge have been since taking a time travel trip through the mysterious cave located on the Academy's grounds. While Zoe slashes her way to Hunter's heart in the present, Ike and Jade wait out what's to come in the cave and Jun does...whatever it is Jun is doing, the time traveling teacher-student combo have a lot on their plates.

Below, Spencer reveals how time travel in his series may work differently than in previous pop culture sci-fi stories, what seeing the world through the eyes of Casey's father may do, why Ms. Hodge is playing God and where she stared doing so and more. Read on!

CBR News: We're up to issue #16 of the series, which contains a few big turns from where we'll be moving from here, but one thing I wanted to start talking about was format. This is a pretty hefty issue in terms of page count at $2.99. Will this continue as the regular length for the series?

Nick Spencer: This issue is 32 pages, and next month is 34. It's gotten to a point now where people have noticed over the last few issues, and we hear about it all the time. I'll say on the record that that number of pages at that specific price point may not be sustainable over the long term, but I think even if that ends up not being the case, this is still the best value in comics. We live in an era of 20-page $3.99 books. And we just keep cranking these guys out. I think there has been two 34-pagers in this arc. No issue have been under 30 in this arc, and none will.

And the most important thing about that is that all credit goes to Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo, our colorist. It is insane that I can ask them to do that number of pages in a month and still have the book ship close to a monthly schedule. I think we're going to ship 12 to 13 issues this year. So yeah, it's a testament to the fact that Joe is the hardest working guy in comics. It's like I've got my own Mark Bagley. He's always so positive about it. I e-mail him when the scripts are done, and I'm apologizing for "going over" the standard, and he cares as much about the story being good as I do, and that gives me an enormous amount of freedom to tell the best story I can without worrying about page count.

We get back to Casey's journey into the past this time around after a few issues away, and we open with a pretty intense torture scene. The standout from these first pages is that as the scene rolls out, it feels more like we're following the action through her father's eyes more so than hers. How did you pace the opening, and who did you want the readers to connect with?

It was exactly that. It was a thing where I thought it would be a fun way to whip people around - to go immediately at Casey in a very painful situation and then have the jarring turn where on the other side of the glass we find her father. We've seen them together a number of times, and we know they have a very good relationship. We go to him in that room and see that, while certainly not eager to stop this and with some reservations, he isn't doing what he'd do if he fully understood the situation. It's a nice, unsettling moment to start with.

And the two of them definitely share the focus this issue. This issue is very much about that relationship that we've been talking about since the first issue.

It was really the first big shock of the whole book.

Yeah. That relationship has always been pretty critical. So to get to spend some time with it was cool.

On page five, we get the red flag line "You know where we are." No we don't!

[Laughs] There's a bunch of crazy hints here. I know some very astute readers have already picked up on reference to the Chinese and connections that has to past issues. I think it's a pretty important questions - where they are at that point and whether it has any connection to the larger story. That's a good question to be asking right now.

We see the application of some...let's just call them "powers" in this issue. First, Ms. Hodge shows them off and then reveals to Casey that she has a certain amount of control over people in this place and time. Whatever this power of suggestion is, can we assume that it comes as a result of the time travel process?

Well, I think you could certainly say that Lara has never demonstrated this kind of ability prior to that, so the question of whether what she's able to do here is contextual also applies to Casey. If that's the case, then which place is different? Is it where they are then at the military base, or is it the Academy? If one is the exception to the rule, which is it?

For many years, there were some basic assumptions about time travel in science fiction stories. If you went back into the past and changed something, it had to impact the future in a kind of linear way. You know, Bill and Ted steal dad's keys, and they're waiting by the sign...

That is a deep reference right there. [Laughter]

I'm well-versed in my Bill and Ted! But anyway, I think recently we've been seeing some changes to those basic assumptions. I know the "Star Trek" reboot looked at the idea of alternate realities and time travel from a different angle, and obviously "Lost" did a lot on that front. Do you have a specific theory for yourself on how time travel works? Can you go back into the past and change things definitively?

What I would say is a couple of things: one is that yes, there's familiar territory here. People who read this issue and know their "Back to the Future" and their "Bill & Ted" and their "Lost" will see some familiar ideas. If Lara is to believed, she makes it very clear to Casey that you can change whatever you want. In addition to that, you can see in this issue with the looping that involves Lara that maybe the standard conception of a time loop doesn't quite apply. I think an important moment to pay attention to here is Casey alluding to the Butterfly Effect, and Lara is immediately dismissive of it. Put a star next to that moment for reference going forward.

At the same time, there are things at the end of this issue that make you think differently. There's the question of where Lara goes next as well as whether Casey's appearance at the base and Dan's reaction to it will be cause and effect. Does that, in fact, mean that Dan swings into action to make sure Casey doesn't go to the Academy? That's a pretty standard time travel convention.

But the second part of all this is that I've very much viewed this series - and this is the biggest issue where this has been made clear, although issues like #10 do it as well - where I'm very aware of the fact that the audience is a pretty sophisticated one in terms of the pop culture interpretations of time travel. One of the first things I wanted to do with this book was say, "Okay, let's presume that that's stuff is your four-year degree in pop culture. What does the Masters program look like? What's a PhD look like?" Now that we've been exposed to 20, 30, 40 years of these sorts of popular conceptions of time travel and paradoxes that come with it - and seeing as this is a comic, I think the audience is probably very savvy in terms of that stuff...

Those nerds are very well read.

Those nerds sure do know their Philip K. Dick! So that's what's cool for me. Can we use those ideas and other common sci-fi tropes to maybe push this a little farther? Or will it become to complex and convoluted and crazy and not work? That's always something in my mind as I approach this.

And I'm sure the next set of mysteries to learn about Casey involve what's in her duffle bag and what her mission is.

More importantly, Casey can no longer be carded. [Laughter] She's got a big adventure in front of her. When I sent the script over to Joe for this issue, he freaked out because it certainly appears that Casey is off the reservation and maybe off of the book for a while. And that could very well be the case. We're on the third arc, and I don't want people to get comfortable. Don't just assume because someone's been in the front of the cast that that will always be the case. We may not see her again for a while.

And the other part of this is the working concept being "Pretend you're God" both practically and thematically.

Yeah! That's an important speech. Some of the most fun stuff to write is the conversations the various faculty have with Casey and how it peels back what the adults think of these kids. That's a very important conversation, and I think that the biggest question people should be asking that I haven't seen too much of yet is this: our first appearance with Lara was her being greeted by the guards when she comes back to the Academy. We've seen that happen again, but where does that circle start? While we're talking pop culture allusions, Lara is pretty much "the compass" at this point, so there's a lot to be revealed yet there.

And looking forward to issue #17, are we going to get to wrapping this story up with a final say on what Woodrun is and how this match will be completed?

This arc is going to go through issue #19, so we've still got three more issues to go. Our next issue, since we've now spent a couple issues with Casey and a couple with Zoe and Hunter, will focus all our time on Ike and Jade. It's our quietest issue to date in some ways. It's a really fun "two people in a room" story, and I was excited to do one of those. Those two are a lot of fun to write together, and I'm really excited to get back to the two of them since we haven't seen them in a while.

"Morning Glories" #17 goes on sale this month from Image Comics and Shadowline.

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