Warning: Major spoilers for "Morning Glories" #7 lurk ahead.
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.
"Morning Glories" #7 marked the start of an all-new arc on the book, and as fans have come to expect, it was laden with twists and turns within the story and with the format of the comic. For this next six issues, Spencer and company will be using each installment to narrow the focus of the book on one of the core cast members starting with power dater Zoe. From her origins as a wayward prodigy in the slums of India through her days as an innocent high school cheerleader who discovered more than she bargained for after hours, the character's history is opened up wide in this month's issue. Meanwhile in the present goings on at Morning Glory Academy, Zoe attempts to join the cheer squad only to find something within herself that no one saw coming.
We spoke with Spencer about the revelations of "Morning Glories" #7, touching on all that is revealed about the complicated girl at its heart including how her past has changed her and what her present says about those changes. Plus, the writer reveals one of the key visual clues to unlocking the mysteries of Morning Glory Academy!
CBR News: The cover of this week's issue is SO green and loud! In a way it reminds me of Zoe's personality – totally over the top and brash. Is part of the goal on this arc to give a mission statement for each character right on down to the covers?
Nick Spencer: I remember that I said I really wanted a shot of Zoe cheerleading. It's a fun part of the character that we're going to be exploring over the course of the whole first season. I said, "Let's get her with some pom poms!" But I do think each of the images that we'll be using on the covers of #7 to #11, which is the second arc, are the attempts at defining images for these characters – or at least defining for this moment in their lives. I really loved it. Rodin and Tim did a really awesome job on this one.
People do expect that we'll be learning secrets about the characters pasts as this series goes along, but the opening to the issue with Zoe's "secret origin" in India is certainly a 180 from anything we've seen of her before. How are you working to break down expectations for what her role is in the series?
It's a funny thing. We play such a long game on this book. I still haven't quite firmed up how long that'll be; lately I'm thinking 100 issues, but I've been saying 75 to 100 from the beginning. When you're doing a long form story like that, you're playing a long game with so many different elements. One of the interesting things in terms of criticisms of the first arc that would be a kind of knee-jerk response is "These characters are archetypes. We know these already. There's the snotty cheerleader and the good girl and all these things." And for six issues I've been hearing these things knowing well what we were going to be doing in the second arc and beyond. Obviously, nobody's been sitting around going "Hey, let's throw some cookie-cutter characters into this crazy situation." [Laughter]
So this was our first chance to find out a little bit more about one of these kids. And I've been sitting there listening to people online talk about all this stuff going "We're getting there! Be patient! Give me a little while!" This was really the first chance to do that, and we'll be doing it over the course of the arc. Some of the issues will be surprises. Others will be additional details you may not have guessed. For Zoe, starting with her early childhood in India was important because she gives off the vibe of a very upper class, elitist, posh spoiled girl. And as you can see here, that's really not where she comes from originally.
The other element here is that when we met the kids in issue #1, we got the sense that they thought of the school and of themselves as relatively normal, but what we see in Zoe being taken out of India is that she knows very well that there's something special about her in an almost unnatural way. Is that self awareness something we'll be learning more about too?
Yeah. Obviously, there seems to be more to Zoe's story and maybe how it informs her place at the academy. That's certainly what we're driving towards here. There's a lot more to who she is, and it may not be what you expect from a first read of these pages. What we're seeing here from Zoe at this age is an important part of the story going forward.
After last month's detour into a very different part of the timeline, we're back this month to the core, linear story of the kids adapting to living in this crazy dangerous school. And really, with the cheerleading squad, we do very much get the idea that the high school tropes of this series will be out in full force as we move along. How much will that teenage stuff play a part of the characters lives and the setting moving forward?
For me, the first arc – especially the first five issues – is something we viewed as the pilot or "Morning Glories The Movie." It all happened in a very compressed time frame over a couple of days. What you can generally infer here is that there's been about a week that's passed from the events of issue #5, and Casey now after her confrontation with Mr. Gribbs has realized that she has to settle in to some extent at the school because if she doesn't her friends could be in real danger. Now they've all in their own way come to terms with where they are and with the fact that they're not getting away any time soon. And at some point in that, you have to adjust to a new life. A big part of this arc is them getting settled into their places in the school.
Their first attempt to confront the faculty is behind them now, and in some ways they were victorious. They certainly got Jade out of the nurse's office. But really, the balance of power hasn't shifted, and now they're in a place where they have to go to class in the morning. That's not to say they're not still looking for ways to escape or ways to confront the faculty. Some of them were carrying their own agendas coming in, as some people might suspect with Zoe in this issue. But regardless, they are where they are, and they're in for the long haul.
The thing that stands out for Zoe from the flashbacks most is the fact that her change from meek smart girl to mega bitch is a real recent change – just within the last year. We see a very traumatic event that serves as the agent of change in her personality but not the moment where she goes from one to the other. Out of all the places in her personal timeline, why did you want to show the scene with Zoe, her friend and their teacher in this issue?
I think this was a good place to pick up with Zoe. Once we'd gotten that information about how she'd come to the States from India, how she'd gotten her name and her encounter with Abraham, from there the next part of Zoe's life I felt it was right to talk about was this very jarring, life-changing experience she goes through. Again, it's about everybody on day one when we did those teasers and the two-page vignettes in issue #1, and now it's time to go back and say it's maybe not that simple. There's something she appears to be on the surface, but there's more to her. Here we see a year ago Zoe certainly didn't seem to be quite as boy crazy as she appears to be when we first met her in #1. She seems to have a very different attitude, and this experience, what happens in this flashback is a story we're going to continue to tell throughout the first season. This is just the beginning of that particular story in her life.
At this point, I'm reading this book just going "Where's the twist at?" Are you trying to anticipate that expectation and work a twist – be it "here's the appearance of a rape...or not" or whatever – into the series at every turn?
Yeah. It's a book that's very much built on page turns – making sure that readers never get comfortable or get settled. Tossing them in one crazy direction or another is a huge part of what this is. It works for a lot of people, and obviously for some people it'll be too frustrating, and they'll get dizzy. But it's like a roller coaster. Some people really love roller coasters, and some people never want to get off them. In every issue of this book – some more than others with this one being the most surprise-heavy we've done – going forward that's a huge goal for me. I love the frustration and excitement and confusion I get from readers after they hit that last page. There's nothing that makes me happier than going on Twitter or on message boards after an issue comes out and seeing the letters "WTF." [Laughs] Any time I see "WTF" I know I did my job on this book. That's exactly how you should be feeling right now.
Speaking of "WTF," what's up with the goat?
[Laughs] Right? You know, we've seen goats before in this book. So I don't know. Recurring motifs! We got loads of them!
So once we get to the point where she is confronted by the cheerleading squad, the word that pops into my head is "prophetic." Every moment in this interaction and this issue makes you go "Now what?" How hard are you working to make each issue a stand alone story even though you're teasing this bigger pieces to be revealed later?
What I wanted from this arc was for a chance to stop pushing that main story. What is the school? What do the teachers want? What is the cylinder? Why are they there? I wanted to take a break from all that for a minute and look at these kids...to get to know them. What I really asked myself in writing each of these issues was how we could make the reader feel like they're getting to know this kid and yet at the end of it they feel like they need to know more? This is not the ending of anyone's story. It's just the beginning of them. That's the key balance. I wanted to make the reader feel like "I know who that kid is and a little bit more about them – have more of an emotional connection to them – and at the same time, while I knew a little more about the question of who is Zoe than I did, now I have all these new questions about Zoe. I want to hurry back to her story and find more." It was all about answering questions and peaking curiosity.
Once we get to the reveal of the cheerleaders spying on her for the school, the thing that stood out is that in the reality of "Morning Glories" things don't necessarily work like they do in a show like "Lost" where almost all we know about what's going on is what the main characters know. There are plenty of elements in play here that only we see as the reader. How hard is it to balance of who knows what in terms of things like the name David?
I think for me, I'm almost as interested in the faculty's story as I am in the kids story. That's just something we haven't gotten to spend a lot of time on yet. In the same way that these kids are not being revealed to not be the cookie cutter archetypes you felt they were, that'll be equally true of the faculty. These little scenes we keep seeing of Daramount without one of the Glories or Gribbs and Daramount or the Nurse and Ms. Dagney – all of these scenes contain hints of their story. I think when we get to it, people will be very excited by it. And again, things are not as simple as they appeared to be in the first issues. It's just about taking time to get there and help the story be ready.
Zoe's turn to murder the head cheerleader is a big moment but also a big risk for you. I think the question hangs out there that if you make one of your lead characters do something like this, can you get your audience to continue to root for them? Is that something you've worried about?
This was a huge issue for me. I knew how it was going to end, and I was very concerned about whether this would be an irrevocable break between Zoe and the audience. And I'd say a couple of things. This first thing is that obviously, I think everyone knows that now is the time to be asking questions rather than making assumptions. But if you were to just take everything on face value, I think you'd say what Zoe did here – while very violent and harsh – isn't something that is cut and dry, black and white villainy. They are in a life or death situation at this school. We've already seen what they stakes are. And Amanda is not on the side of the angels when she meets her fate. And that's something the readers can debate – whether or not Zoe had an appropriate response. I was really curious to see what the response is, and I think at the end of it more readers liked Zoe than they did before. I didn't find a whole lot of backlash of "How dare you make her a murderer?" It all boils down again to the fact that we saw in issue #5 Gribbs choke a kid to death in front of Casey. We've seen a lot of things that tell us what the people in this school are capable. I think there's a big debate to be had here over what degree of horrible Zoe's action is.
And one of the fun things about what this does is that from now on when you see Zoe around the kids, she's not going to be acting any differently. But every time you see her now, you're going to think "Oh shit...is she going to pull out a knife and stab somebody?" And the next time she's in an argument, you might be thinking "Don't argue with her!" It's part of the fun that now you have no idea what to expect from her, and there's more about her you don't know yet. Again, this is a time for questions.
One question I did have about this splash is that the view we see is wobbly because it's through Amanda's eyes, but the specific "double vision" aspect we see around Zoe reminds me of how we see David appear in the school. Intentional?
Hm. [Pauses] That's a good observation. [Laughs] I'll say this: throughout this book, we do have certain recurring motifs, and if you look through the first seven issues carefully, one of the things that you'll see is a very careful usage of when you see through a character's eyes. This is by far not the first time we've pulled that effect on the page – that slightly blurry, eyes opening and closing, immediate perception or closing perception effect. An astute reader would be wise to pay attention to when and where we do that.
Hunter is the focus of the next issue, and he's the character readers feel like they know better than anyone. What can that idea hold for the next story?
What I can promise you is that Hunter's not going to stab anyone at the end of #8. [Laughter] It's not that each of these issues is going to have to end with "Holy shit, that's a completely different person than I thought!" I'll say that you know who Hunter is. There are some things you don't know about him that we'll be talking about in the next issue, but in terms of who he is and what kind of a person he is at this point in his life, he is who he appears to be. I'm always a little loathe to predict these things because I've found I'm not the best at guessing how people react to the issues, but having read the finished product on #8, I think it will be our most crowd-pleasing issue in a lot of ways. I think there's a lot of charm and somewhat moving things in that story that I think people will respond to. I enjoy writing Hunter and Joe really enjoys drawing him. I think it's also time for us as we do these character-focused issues to start answering some of the questions we dropped in the first arc. One of the very, very big questions that people have had since the earliest issues of the book is going to be answered definitively in #8. So there is satisfaction coming. For the people getting a bit impatient, the next issue will really settle something.
"Morning Glories" #7, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma, is currently on sale. The eighth issue hits stands later this month.