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, we're back with a two-for-one deal! Below, Spencer dives into issues #12 and 13 of the series where the third arc kicks off with a brand new cast member (Guidance Counselor Ms. Hodge), a new piece of the Academy's makeup (the bizarre schoolwide game known as Woodrun) and a new sci-fi heavy story linking one of the Glories to her unseen past (absent from the previous arc's solo rounds Casey).
With issue #14 shipping to comic shops today (See an exclusive preview here), Spencer explains how having a kind member of the staff expands not just the characters of the series but its mysteries as well, why Casey took a time out from the flashback portions of the second arc, what the mix of hard sci-fi and mythological fantasy means for the series as whole and how gym class is especially dangerous in a world like this one. Read on!
CBR News: In issue #12, we launch a new story and get a new character into the mix. The stand out thing for me here is how we start with the very normal and quickly run towards the insane science fiction, which is almost a microcosm for the whole series. Do you strive to start stories out with both halves of the coin?
Nick Spencer: Yeah. That's kind of a good point. I think that one of the things that makes this book tick is that we don't overdose on the sci-fi aspects. We don't throw it in your face all the time. That's rare in comics. Especially when you're working in this medium, there's a tendency for some folks that because you can do anything on the page, you might as well. The idea is that because it's a visual medium, you should always deliver the most spectacular visual. On this book, so much of it is really talking head scenes and two or three people in a room. So it's definitely something I'm going for. To me, it's a lot more fun and has a lot more impact if you do exactly what you just said: start off with the ordinary and then pull back the curtain a bit.
We're always tracking things that can stand out as really graspable facts as to the particulars of the world and how it works. This scene is pretty straightforward in its storytelling, but it still doesn't have a big arrow saying "It's wormholes!" or some such. What's the most important detail for people to take away here?
It's really funny reading the online responses and how many people immediately said, "Oh, the school is underground." And then other people would say, "Oh, she's been sucked into a portal." Everybody seems to have a different opinion on what happened there, which is great. But this is your first look on a way to get to the school. In the first issue, all the kids get in a limo, are knocked unconscious and wake up when they arrive. So this is really the first time we've seen an arrival to the school, but if you read it carefully, there's still a lot there to figure out. This might not be all there is to it. It's a scene worth paying attention to down the road.
Let's talk Ms. Hodge. We've been "place setting" a lot of characters in these opening arcs for the book from the teachers to Abraham to the kids and their families. Is Ms. Hodge one of the last major piece of the cast puzzle, or are there a few players out there to come?
No, there's still a lot of characters to be introduced that I consider to be...if not core cast then certainly major members of the supporting cast. There are a lot of new faces to be introduced, and we'll start to see some of them in the third arc and then some more in the fourth. She is a very important player, and she's somebody who's going to have a major impact on the story. I think that's pretty clear from this issue. But she's not the last one.
Aside from her growing specific role in the lives of the kids, did you just need a nice member of the faculty for balance?
I don't know. What was really interesting to me about the response has been how many people seemed to take to her immediately. It's always tricky when you're introducing a new character, and we've obviously just been through five "spotlight" issues that covered the background and lives of our main cast members. So I was a little nervous in going from that to introducing somebody new and giving her the spotlight. In my first conception of this issue, she didn't play that big of a role. She would make her first appearance, but my original intention was to focus more on the Glories themselves again. But as I got into writing it, she made a big impression on me. So I decided to stick with her and make the entire issue about her.
I think that the response to her is very strong and overwhelmingly positive, and I think that speaks to the fact that we've established a lot of empathy for the main cast. We're just feeling from the Glories really that there might be someone on this campus that isn't a homicidal maniac. That was kind of nice. Everyone let out a sigh of relief that there might be one person there who might have a little more to them. So she's an interesting piece to throw into the mix because she's clearly very different from Ms. Daramount or Mr. Gribbs or Nurse Nine. She clearly has a very different outlook and approach. And whether or not that means she has the best of intentions is a separate issue. But at the very least, she's not wickedly smiling at the idea of torturing one of our kids. So if nothing else, she's an interesting voice in the mix.
Dividing her role here into two halves, we've got here connecting with the school and her connecting with the kids. We've spoken before about who is on whose side, and who we can believe. On the school front, we have her dealing with Nurse Nine and talking about the school mascot...in that sense we know she's every bit a member of the staff as anyone else and therefor somehow complicit in the school's broader plans. But then we see her with Daramount in a scene that shows that no matter what we know about the Headmaster, the staff isn't always uniformly executing the same ideas.
So what does that mean for the staff? Are they maybe asked to use whatever methods they choose to get the Headmaster's desired results?
I think a big part of the fun for me in this issue was that I've really fallen in love with the relationship between Ms. Daramount and Ms. Hodge. They clearly have a history, and there's pretty obviously a closeness there, even if it's not on the best of terms. I think that what's fun to do now is that we've so far only seen the faculty in their work personas. We've seen them behaving as teachers. This was a quick glimpse to see what they're like behind the scenes and what they're like when students aren't around. What you start to realize is that they may not be as in agreement on what to do as you may think. In fact, we've been seeding this for the entirety of the year. But I think that this is the issue that really becomes apparent. But as early as the first issue, you see some disagreement between Daramount and Gribbs and then again in the second issue and in the fourth between Nurse Nine and Ms. There is clearly something motivating the faculty and clearly something they're very concerned about with a lot of worry and anxiety. You see here an instance where that blows up. I think you can tell by now that they're not in complete agreement on the best way to get what they want.
On the other side, we see how all the kids are doing through Hodge's eyes. Some stonewall her, but others we get a lot of new info from. With Zoe, you've put the gun on the mantlepiece, as it were. How can we take the "You're not a killer, Zoe" idea? We know she at least had opportunity to be a killer, but Hodge seems to be very confident in her take on everyone. How much can we trust her confidence?
Well, she certainly thinks she's got the right take on them, and whether or not that's entirely accurate is what we'll have to wait and see on. I think for Laura at this point, what's most important is making a strong connection with these kids. These conversations are about that as much as they are making sure she knows all about them. Her primary concern is beginning those relationships. The way she goes about that with each one is an interesting tack.
In this series of scenes, I viewed it very much as an opportunity to take all the threads we learned about in #7 through #11 and remind people that they're all part of the same story. While they all have individual character arcs, this is all a part of a bigger tale. #7 through 11 was successful in getting to know these kids better, but by the time we got to #12, I was eager to get them all together again and get the story moving again. It was a valuable thing to do the second arc, but I wanted to at least remind you that this all happens within the same context.
We end on a note with Casey of whether or not she can ever see her parents again. For all the weirdness we've had, the idea that they could come back from the dead somehow is an evolutionary leap in sci-fi craziness. Just as we talked about more characters to be seen, are we a ways off from where the unreality aspects of the series have been pushed to their limit?
Well, what I would say is that things are going to get a lot crazier in the third arc. Some of the things that happen there push us more into the overt sci-fi direction. But I also don't want to lose that character-first element to the series or its grounded nature. I don't want to lose all restraint...at least not for a little while. To me, it's so much better if you build and build and build towards crazy, let a little bit out and then build again. You'll definitely see some stuff in the third arc that will be at the same level of overt sci-fi as David [the living computer from "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents"] is. But at the end of the day, I think we'll always manage to come back to that feet on the ground place. As long as we keep that balance, we'll be okay.
Let's look at how all that rolls on into issue #13. We never got a solo Casey issue in the second arc. We know that she's generally distrusting of the entire school – more so than the others by far – so to what extent does that lack of background on her at this point tie to where her character is going?
Casey's interesting because she's not just distrustful of the school. She's extremely nervous about trusting anyone. For example, she still hasn't told any of the other Glories about what happened to her parents. And she was generally untrusting of Zoe when they were trying to break Jade out of the nurse's office. Casey sets a high bar for who she trusts. She plays it close to the vest, and she's very careful about who she says what to. Why she decides what she does next is a big part of what drives the third arc forward. Casey is a big part of the next story in that respect, so I decided it was better in the second arc to focus on the other kids. She's got a big story coming her way here.
And in after all the trauma and drama the other kids in the cast went through in their solo issues, the glimmer we see of Casey and her parents starting this arc shows us that they had a relatively strong relationship – if one that was also quite unique. Was that an important element not just for her but for the whole series?
Yeah. I think that it's one of the things that makes Casey unique in the group certainly – that none of the other kids seemed to have had the best upbringing even though the severity of their situations changes. I like the relationship between Casey and her parents. I like the idea of at least one of these kids having a nice, function home where they were loved and cared for. So of course, I killed her parents in the first issue. [Laughter] But I do think that it's a funny thing where you can have what's considered a normal upbringing be the thing that sets her apart in a group.
We see the other side of Casey's non-date with Hunter. What's it say about her reaction to him that she's taken the role of being the "leader" of the Glories so seriously?
I think Casey has had a bit of reality check. The situation is maybe not the best one for a burgeoning relationship. I think that's her maturity speaking. I also tend to think that it's funny how many people got attached to that potential romance subplot. Because for me, I always felt it was doomed to fail. Given who Hunter is and who Casey is, I said the other day that if she immediately said yes and everything worked out and they were a great couple, it'd be the best science fiction I've ever written. [Laughter] Casey is supposed to be probably one of the prettiest, smartest and most popular girls at her old school. At Hunter's old school, well...we all know how that probably worked out for him. We don't need to see it to know it. She's exactly the kind of girl a guy like Hunter would have a huge crush on, but at the end of the day, that's not how things work out. She's a nice and sweet enough person that she entertained the idea because he seems like a nice guy, but she was always a bit half-hearted about it. She was just overcome by the sweetness of the gesture when he worked up the nerve to ask her. But I don't know that she was immediately thinking this was a potential boyfriend.
And then we get Hunter going off and delivering the kind of line I think every guy who's been rejected has dreamed of delivering to anyone, man or woman. And Zoe is the perfect person to hear it.
[Laughs] It's truly fantastic timing! I think that there's something to me that rings true about this. It is the moment where Hunter would explode. And of course he would go too far and overshoot it. I think that while Zoe to an extent had it coming, he clearly takes it too far. While Ike or Zoe would have a clever, one-line put down, Hunter would rant about his dislike. But how many times have you seen good coming from something like that?
Ike returns here. We've been wondering his status since the cliffhanger with Abraham from a few issues back. I'm sure we'll see what happened there eventually, but the question I had is "Is Ike being punished for whatever happened?"
I won't comment directly on that, but I will say that certainly where we left Ike in issue #11 and where he stands with the school in terms of the benefits...that seems to have dried up. Whether that's a punishment or not, we can talk about later.
We see the start of Woodrun here. What is that? Is this you as a comic book reading guy injecting your own personal sense of being a teenager and going "Oh man, fuck sports"?
[Laughs] Well, the arc is called "P.E.," and only a comic writer is equipped to talk about the horrors of gym class. I think this medium is particularly suited both in terms of creative talent and readership to relate to exactly what special nightmare that is.
But Woodrun...Jesus. I just kind of want my Quidditch, you know? [Laughter] There's big money in Quidditch, so I feel like if I can break some ground here, there'll be licensing potential! But seriously, you'll find out more about Woodrun in future issues.
We get a pairing of Casey, Ike and Jade on a team. What's the fun of putting these three together at this specific moment in time? Were there other options for who would star in this part of this arc, or did you know it had to be these three?
No, there were definitely some questions about how you'd split the kids up here. But I didn't have to worry about it for too long because this was definitely the grouping that made sense. In the last arc, we focused on individual stories, and I wanted to get back to the group dynamic. But I still wanted to do it in a way that everybody would have a chance to shine in. So I set on this idea of putting them into two smaller groups. Putting Casey and Ike and Jade together struck me as a pretty great opportunity if only for Casey's seething hatred of Ike while he's obviously in a different position now. They're fun to write together still. Casey's big failing in this issue is that once again, her quick temper has gotten in her way again. She was on her way to finding Hunter, which was clearly important, and Ike stopped her for a second. Rather than letting him go, she wanted to confront him for a second, and that second cost her.
While we've set Casey up as a leadership figure and as the most mature one in some ways, she's also still 16. One of the ways you see that is that she's still very quick to pull the trigger. She has that righteous indignation and youthful arrogance that I think a lot of people have at her age. This is certainly a moment that trips her up.
When we get to the underground cavern, it's a mix of theoretical physics sci-fi stuff and ancient occult iconography. What can we take from the juxtaposition of those ideas again and again? Whenever the "Ah ha" moment comes for how the school works, I assume the futuristic and the modern will be at play there. Is it hard to find a way to work both of those in while the story moves along.
Not necessarily. When you know the behind the scenes stuff, the link ups are pretty easy to find. I haven't struggled too much with it. It's a tricky balance at times because you don't want to do too much of one or the other. You don't want to favor one over the other. But I personally like the places where modern science fiction meets the mythic fantasy. Their commonalities are something that resonate with me. We've been telling science fiction stories longer than we've had science in a lot of ways. There's something nice about remembering that fact, and this is an example of that...and a pretty overt one at that. So it's nice to make those worlds meet since they're not that different at all.
Speaking of worlds meeting, we've talked a lot about how modern kids in a crazy situation like this would respond to some of the craziness in a snarky, media-aware fashion. To that effect, we get some "Star Wars" humor here, but Ms. Hodge also carries that attitude with lines like "God has a sense of humor" and "Would a little stability kill you?" Does she play on the kids levels in that sense?
Hodge can even work as a stand-in for me sometimes because she's the person who often knows more than everyone else around her. So when you have a character that knows the ending or at least thinks they know they ending, their dynamic with everyone is a lot of fun because they can break the fourth wall. That's part of what makes her an interesting character to write.
Jade seems the most confident of the kids in this wild situation where her early appearances made it seem like she'd always be the wallflower of the group. Has she matured faster than anyone in regards to the school because of all you put her through?
I think there's a couple of things going on here. One of them is that Jade has had something happen to here that we explored a bit in #10 and some before and after that. That seems to have had a profound effect on her temperament. She does seem to have simmered down a bit and is more in control. But there's also a part of this in that Casey saved her life. Casey has taken care of Jade basically from the moment of their arrival. I think Jade is a good enough person that regardless of her own fears or worries, she wants to return that favor. So when she hears what Laura has planned and Casey is, in her way, a little condescending to Jade – and has been from day one in some ways, acting like someone equipped to take care of Jade than viewing her as an equal – all of that means that Jade can surprise her a bit here. I think clearly this is something different from Jade. It speaks to her character and to the fact that she wants to do something for a person who has done so much for her.
We have all these flashes of history and time travel and whatever we want to call this. Some we've seen before like the knife in the back. Are all of them scenes we will see along the course of the series, or are some more general notes like "Hey, a bathhouse"?
No, they're all things that will be referenced in the series. None of them are images that I just put in to have a cool image. Every one of them has a story to tell behind them. That doesn't mean they're all at the same level of importance. It doesn't mean the order of them signifies anything in and of itself. But at the end of the series, you'll be able to look at each of these things and know what they're referencing.
Finally, after last issue's talk of whether or not Casey can save here parents, we end on her dad. At this point, I don't think anyone will balk at time travel as a concept in the book. What does this signify about the future of the arc? Is this arc about Casey's parents and the other side of the tragedy that opened the book?
What I will say about this arc is that I recognize that in the second arc we developed a pretty strong reputation for ending on a big twist moment and then not following up on it. What I can say is that that's not always the way the series will go. You've seen to some extent how the ending of #12 led to the end of #13, but that doesn't mean every issue will feed off the end of the previous from here on out. We're mixing it up a bit, but in this arc we will certainly be following up on where Casey is now, what's happened to her and why.
Beyond that, the exciting thing for me about this arc was to get back to moving the story forward in really tangible ways. I think the third and fourth arc really accomplish that. You'll see the story moving forward quickly. You'll see the rough direction of the book. We're still early on here, but the movement will be apparent.
And what can we expect from #14?
Well, we've established that the other Glories are on a Woodrun of their own. So it might be fun to check in with them.
"Morning Glories" #14 is on sale tomorrow from Image Comics.