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.
Last month's "Morning Glories" #9 dug into one of the wilder developments in the series to date – the fact that Morning Glory Jun was secretly a twin, and that Jun's brother Hisao is a dedicated follower of the faculty at Morning Glory Academy! Since the start of the series, Jun's motivations and even whereabouts have remained secret from the readers and his fellow students, but with this issue, the door's bust wide open on his past and present alike.
Below, Spencer describes why now was the time to learn the violent story of how the brothers became separated as well as the secret hints their lives at the Academy will reveal about the future of the series. Look also for the textual clues that will give a deeper understanding of "Morning Glories" as a whole and a hint to how issue #10 will drive some readers up the wall as it blows out the long-running mysteries of the book in an all new way. Read on!
CBR News: We talk so often about archetypes in this series and how each kid both fits a mold and breaks out of it in some ways, but Jun is a character that's a bit harder to pin down. The closest trope I can think to compare him to is "the man of mystery" but how do you view him in relation to the other characters?
Nick Spencer: We purposefully held him back quite a bit, and he's been the quite one – the mysterious one. We know that he's more capable than the other kids and he seems to have some skills and abilities that the rest haven't necessarily demonstrated yet. We've known from the first issue that he knew something about the school that the rest didn't, so that was really the only things we wanted to establish before this issue – other than the big twist at the end of #2. We've been purposefully keeping all of this on the back burner until now. I think before now, you may have not had the best handle on him, but even after this, there's a lot more to be revealed about Jun and where he's been for the last few years, what he's been doing and why he's at the Academy now.
And I have to admit, this is the first issue of the book where while reading it I had to stop and go, "Wait...how does this link up?" and then dive into the back issues to put the pieces together.
You're going to do that a lot going forward. [Laughter]
Some things you have very concretely planned out, but are you discovering that as you go there are even more places where things are threading together based on what you've published so far?
Absolutely. I think by the end of this arc, people are going to have a beginning idea of how intricately plotted and outlined some of this stuff is. This issue is the tip off of that, and the next issue will be a lot more of that. Some things you thought were small scenes in previous issues you're going to find out are very important. We're going to be spending a lot of time with the second arc revealing things about the first arc you may not have noticed on an initial read. The same will be true of the third arc in relation to the second. It's a series that's going to require you to keep a longbox handy a lot of the time. You'll be rewarded for going back and rereading those and putting them in the timeline.
With the opening scene, we get confirmation of who the Jun we saw last month was, but from there on out it's a pretty straightforward flashback in a book where we don't often see things in a linear manner. What did you want to establish most about Jun and Hisao, and why take such a head-on look at their home life rather than shuffle things around?
I think that I didn't want to get too clever on it, first of all. But on top of that, I think what's really important in this story is that encounter between Daramount, Gribbs and their mother and what happens to the boys. I don't think it would have been well served to try and add a third time layer to the story. It works better to keep it relatively simpler and take it back to that conflict between them that we saw at the end of issue #2. That works as a bridge to spend a lot of time in their lives when they were 11. I didn't think much about doing it that way. I think that one of the things that is fun about these kinds of arcs is that if you look at #7 and 8, they're structurally very similar, and the readers go into the next issue thinking, "Oh...it's going to be another one of those." It's fun to switch it up and keep them guessing. So I felt these were the two time periods we needed to see right now. Obviously, there's going to be more moving forward, and you'll have a lot of questions about the two of them now, but that's something we have time to come to later. Right now, we'd just left #8 with the reveal that his brother is at the school, so the best thing to do at this point was give a more complete explanation of that line. That's the most utility you can fit in this issue.
The other really stand out detail from the flashback is their mother saying – very purposefully in its own panel, I'd wager – that the school will mean "a better future" for the boys. This is a phrase we've heard the school associate with its goals, but this is one of the first times when we've seen it on the other side of the coin with the kids and their parents. How does that idea play both sides of the conflict?
That line – "for a better future" – is something that has been a prominent part of the story since page one of issue #1. It's something we're going to come back to over and over, and I think that in large part people associate it with the school because the posters are up everywhere, but you might find over time that there's a bigger meaning and purpose to it. And there might be opposing views and interpretations of what that means. It's a loaded phrase that we use to justify a lot of good things and bad things, and it's a central part of what the book is all about.
Looking at the present in the story, we've seen the idea that every kid reacts to the craziness of the Academy in their own way. Hisao as a character...and now I'm wondering if I should really call him Hisao, but I guess I'll stick with their modern names as opposed to their given names.
Yeah, we should talk about that. [Laughter] I feel like for a lot of fans of the book, they're now struggling probably with what exactly to call these two kids. I sympathize because I struggled with it myself. But I would say – and this is a bit of a cheat because I should force them to deal with it in the story – that "Jun" as we've been calling him Jun even though in reality he's Hisao...we're going to continue to call him Jun. And Hisao, who is really Jun, is going to continue to be referred to as Hisao. It's simply a matter of the fact that that's what everybody has been calling them for the past five years. It's their name in the current setting, so for the most part it will remain as is. Just trying to save the interwebs some headaches. I don't want to see any "Jun/Hisaos" out there or especially any "Huns" or anything like that. Let's make it easier on ourselves and keep calling them by the names we met them as.
Fantastic. But as I was saying, some kids rebel against the school, and some kids buy into it in a sinister way where they're forced to go along. Hisao doesn't seem to be like either of those, he's bought into the school hook, line and sinker. Do you think that has more to do with the kids and their experience or more to do with the school and what they have planned for each student?
One of the things to keep in mind about this point in the story is that so far we've kept our eyes on our six Glories in the main cast. We've started to see their interactions with the rest of the student body, but as time goes on we'll get to know those kids better and other students better and better. We're going to get to know what it's like to be at the school for years as opposed to a matter of weeks. We're going to see what the school does in order to affect compliance, and we'll see why some kids take to it faster than others. There are reasons for all of that.
I do think the child's predisposition itself plays a role in how they adjust to their surroundings, and we've started to see that already in our own kids. But there are reasons why some kids are fighting and some kids aren't.
A story beat that hits hard that's not part of the mystery but still leaved a big impact on the story is the death of their mother. That image is kind of unforgettable.
Joe really nailed that. He's such a nice guy, you know? [Laughter] I don't know if he really enjoys drawing the brutal depictions of violence that I ask him to do from time-to-time, but God bless him, he always comes through with something that gives you the shivers.
Is part of the challenge of a book where there is so much shocking stuff to find a way to make these moments feel scary and not just desensitize the audience right out the gate?
Yeah. You worry about that. You worry that the readers are going to get a little numb to it and start to expect it – to not be phased by it. I think the secret is that even in the little time you have with these characters, you find ways to make them care. Joe does an amazing job of visual characterization. Then it's my job in the balloons to see it through. Hopefully you see some level of attachment to Mari before this happens to her. I think so long as that's the case, it's still as upsetting and shocking and jarring. This is a violent world the characters live in. Bad things are happening all the time. It's always a challenge to make sure we're not cavalier about it and to make sure that a guy's brain isn't exploding just because it can explode. So it's a challenge, but it's one we try to keep an eye on.
Fast forwarding a bit, everything else in the book plays into the moment where we learn the two boys have flipped places. That gave the scene closure, but it also opened up so many questions about what we'd seen. Yet even though we started talking about how Jun was the most mysterious Glory, would it be fair to say that with the loss of his brother who he's been trying to get back ever since we may know more on what he's all about than any character in the book?
Yeah. I mean, you know his motivation now. You don't know everything about him, but you do know a big part of his motivation. That's not to say that you know all of his motivation. One thing to keep in mind – not to drop too direct of a hint – is that Jun's brother Hisao confronts him and not the other way around. Jun is doing something else there. So unless you want to think they're keeping Hisao down in a locked basement, it may not be all of Jun's focus to find him. But I do think the motivation of trying to rescue his brother is a huge part of who Jun is, and their story is going to be a bigger part of the puzzle. This is going to be a conflict that defines Jun as a character throughout the entirety of the series.
We get another hint of this kind of ritual that the staff is involved in. Is that a regular occurrence, or something special that's happening since the arrival of our kids?
I will say that our cast's arrival certainly has a major part to do with the ceremony that Gribbs is a part of. That's a good observation that the timing is not accidental. As far as what the ceremony is, that's something we won't answer for some time. But I will say you'll see a little bit more of something related to that in the next issue. Just a little bit.
The staff has been bringing not just our kids together but group after group of kids together based on their birth. This month, we learned that there are some very specific guidelines to that birth rule somehow thanks to the revelations about when each of the twins were born. Is there an assumption we can make that the staff has had to change their tactics as they've gone on, or has the perfect group of students not been assembled because of factors like the twins' switch?
Well, I think one of the key questions to ask – and I was surprised that no one asked this on the Twitters – is that the school meets these two boys: Jun and Hisao. They determine the one named Hisao is the one they want while Jun is the one they don't want, right? However, there is now a kid who has been accepted and enrolled at the school with the name Jun. So one thing everybody should be asking is "Why is the kid they rejected there now?" That's an important question to be asking that may not have been evidence at first glance. It's a freebie!
At the end, we get introduced again to the main we can now refer to saying "Father Abraham has many sons, many sons has father Abraham..."
And of course, I'm kind of joking with that, but there is a kind of Biblical current that's run through parts of the series. The Bible can have an impact on a story like this in two ways: it can be a general literary reference as the Bible has influenced a metric ton of literature over time, or it can work its way in in a way that speaks more directly to ideas of religion or faith. What side does "Morning Glories" fall on?
That's a very good question. The more you've read your Torah, the more rewarding some parts of this story will be. And the choice of name and iconography and allegory is entirely purposeful. In some cases, it's fairly direct. So that's something to keep a close eye on and to keep in your head as you go forward.
When you interviewed Paul Cornell for CBR, you asked him about his own faith. I was wondering what your own background on that front was if you don't mind my asking.
I grew up in a very religious home, and it's a big source of fascination and interest to me. It's something that will find its way into a lot of my work, and particularly you've already seen a little bit of that in casual usage. I used a bit from the Torah in "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" with "Why did God harden the Pharaoh's heart?" But there's a lot coming in my work – and "Morning Glories" is the strongest example of this – that will draw on that stuff a lot and call to it a lot. How literally and directly you take it is something that's going to be up to you, but I do think it adds a layer of enjoyment of the story.
Next month, we focus on Jade – a character who I think has got to have earned some sympathy from readers after everything she's been put through at the school...
Really? I think everybody hates her! [Laughs] But I love Jade!
Wow! Well, either way, even though she's taken her time at the Academy the hardest, it looks like next month will be even harder on her, yeah?
Next issue will be the most divisive issue yet. I could almost draw a line between the issues that I thought were going to make everyone happy and that everyone was going to enjoy and the ones where people would be annoyed and upset. You look at issue #6, and a lot of people were expressing frustration. It got a lot of good notes too, but certainly after #6, I made my peace with the fact that on occasion with this book there will be issues that will take a longer time for people to appreciate. And you've got to consider that an investment in what's coming and have faith that when the payoff comes they'll be glad they read it. But #10 is twice as divisive as #6, I'd argue. I'm eagerly anticipating their outrage and irritation at what's to come. But I really love it. I'm really proud of it, and it will have huge, huge payoffs down the road.
We're at #10, which is not the end of an arc, but it means we're a tenth of the way along the masterplan. It's one that looks forward and backward a lot. When it's all said and done, #10 will be an issue that people can go back to and say, "Wow...they really knew what they were doing here." Whether they like it or not is something different. But hey...we definitely didn't make it up as we went along.
"Morning Glories" #10 will be on sale in June from Image Comics.