SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for "Morning Glories" #20 and 21 lay ahead.
The Image Comics ongoing series "Morning Glories" by Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo continues to be one of the most involved, demanding sci-fi comics on the market. And this past month a new arc for the series kicked off focusing an a whole new batch of Truant students.
That's why we're back today with a new installment of MORNING GLORY DAYS -- our ongoing discussion of the ins and outs of "Morning Glories" with Spencer himself. Who's behind it all? What kids can be trusted? What the heck is up with that goat? This is the place to find all those answers and more.
This month, we're back with a double-shot column delving into the twists from the sister rivalry solo story in #19 and the start of the "Truants" arc with #20. In the former, Morning Glory Academy staff members Georgina and Lara – both "daughters" of the school's mysterious Headmaster – faced off and grew close over the course of a critical flashback issue. In the latter, the origin story of the commando students undercover at the Academy at the behest of the man called Abraham kicked into high gear. Below, Spencer explains the murderous twist that redefined Lara Hodge's role in the book, how the truants will complete a story started in issue #1, what you'll know by the end of "Season 1" of the comic and more!
CBR News: Issue #20 of the series steps out of the main Woodrun narrative we've been following through the last arc and instead gives us a snapshot of two of the teachers lives: sisters Georgina and Lara. All of the school staff play a role, but I get the impression that these two have a stronger part of the story than almost any other adult. In a way, is this issue a kind fulcrum point for where the book is going?
Nick Spencer: It is. There's a lot of stuff involving the faculty – particularly Lara, Georgina and the Headmaster – that will come to a head much, much later in the book. This is a lot like issue #6 or 10 – one of those issues where I wanted to jump us far, far ahead in terms of subject matter and focus. I wanted to give us a little glimpse of what's coming. A lot of this issue is groundwork. It's to give us a small window into a part of this world that we haven't spent a great deal of time in. This relationship between these two is one of the most important ones in the book. And it was exciting for me to get to spend that time here. This was one of those ideas in the drawer I was excited to get to.
It's weird to say, but it also almost felt like a breather.
It is! It's not really a part of the fourth arc. It's more a prelude to the fourth arc that tells its own tale as opposed to being a chapter in the larger story. Obviously it connects, and we deal with those other things. So it doesn't entirely stand alone, but I don't view it as part of the "Truants" arc.
Things start with Lara's birth, and from this scene on, the whole issue revolves around the girls relationship to their unseen father. Parental relationships are huge in this book from the core kids to Abraham's many young operatives on down the line. Do you view the sisters of this issue to have a significantly different kind of connection to their "father" since they know some of the darker parts of the Academy's world, or do parent/child relationships all kind of fall into the same territory eventually?
I think that's been one of the really fun things that this book has gotten to explore. Because we deal with a primarily younger cast and because your parents are a huge part of your life when you're younger, we've gotten to explore all kinds of family dynamics and parent/child relationships and sibling relationships. Hopefully, I think we've done a pretty decent job at showing how the differences in those family dynamics shape the person in question. That's something we all deal with in our lives, but it's been magnified here as we spend all this time with it. It's definitely been fun to take someone like Casey, who came from a pretty happy home, and somebody like Hunter, who had a close relationship to one of his parents, all the way through to Lara's situation. I think you see in the characters how this makes them who they are, and it's a big part of what makes the cast unique.
Let's talk about the people underground. The "escapee" from whatever society exists beneath or around the school looks as though he's almost come from a "Mad Max" style apocalyptic atmosphere. Have we seen a glimpse into these people's lives before this?
I would say, being coy, that we have seen it in a manner of speaking. But we haven't seen it directly. Again, so much of this issue is about opening a door to stuff we haven't gotten anywhere near yet in the rest of the book. It's very much an issue that serves the long game. At the same time, there are references to this and seeding of this interspersed all through the last few arcs. So the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no.
While there are a lot of small threads running through this issue, really the big hook for the story is little Lara's turn at the end where she kills Vanessa in the cave. We've assumed up to this point that Lara is "the cool teacher" in the school who nominally seems on our kids' side. With this, I'm not sure we can say that anymore, but I'm also not sure we can say she's 100% in lock step with the faculty. What can we presume, if anything, about where this character stands now?
Well, it's "Morning Glories" so you should never assume too much. Probably, coming to a firm conclusion on almost anything has successfully gotten our readers in trouble a few times, which is nice. [Laughs] PArticularly with someone like Lara, the shifting motivations are a big part of who this character is. When she first popped up back in issue #12, the readership were really excited to meet her, and they loved the idea of these long-suffering kids getting someone who was on their side. I knew back then that it wouldn't be too long before we'd show this side of her, and I was actually pretty nervous about it – just not sure if the readers would be a little defensive for the kids in that sense. I think part of the reason this story works is that we haven't spent a lot of time with Vanessa at all. So having it happen to her as opposed to maybe Jade might have served us well. But people took it in stride, which I was happy about. They were both surprised and excited by this big turn from her.
Obviously, this starts to raise a bunch of questions since we're dealing with something that took place years and years ago. I don't think the jury is quite in on Lara. I think you could craft arguments either way right now in terms of whose "side" she's on.
Well, when she's offered a chance to go see her mother, I got the feeling that she really wanted that even if she made her own choice to not go along with Vanessa. Who's to say she doesn't use that technology for that purpose at another point in the timeline?
Right. And that's the fun of a story like this. When you go this far back, there's a lot of years in between to play with, and things could have changed in that time. They could have changed and then changed back again. The entire point of this issue is to sew those seeds of uncertainty in terms of where Lara is coming from. By the same token, if I seem like I'm giving too much credit to the idea that this isn't all that there is – she as a very young girl savagely beat a teenager to death with a rock. Obviously, there are some issues there that aren't the healthiest or happiest. This is someone who's been raised in a pretty terrifying and sadistic place. And there are other things from when she's an even younger girl dealing with Ted, the man that grabs Georgina. If she's precognitive at that point then she may also be precognitive enough to know how that ends up for him. It's a fairly complex story.
The last important piece of this issue is that we see Lara and Georgina's relationship in a better light. In past issues, the focus has always been on their competitive streaks, but here we see how they also care about each other. The framing sequence for the issue is in the presence, and they seem close by the end of it. Will they be operating together in the future?
Well, I'm an only child, and one of the things that's fascinating to me while writing this book is relationships between siblings. I think this is really complicated because they are rivals and are competing for their father's affection, and they have to do so not only within a family dynamic but also in the roles dictated by this place that they're in. So they have a lot of good reasons to butt heads, and I think like a lot of siblings, they do so on a regular basis. At the same time, these are people who have grown up together, and not just that, but because of the unique circumstances of their lives, they're really the only people who understand each other. They really are different from everyone else in this story. They'll always have this connection. They are family. So in a moment like this where Georgina is in the shape that she's in and things for the faculty looking pretty dire, that's the kind of moment where they'd put the knives away.
And particularly with Lara, what we've shown in this issue is that Georgina is in a pretty sympathetic position. She's been shown up a lot, which we haven't seen from her perspective a lot of times, but we certainly will. Lara has always gotten the more glamorous and special end of things. She's gotten to be the baby and has gotten a lot of favoritism. At the same time, father does choose Georgina in the end, and she works very hard and with devotion to the cause. It's a lot of fun to write these two together, and in terms of where they go next, it's a huge part of how this whole Woodrun/"Truants" mega arc comes to a head.
Finally, we get this line at the end of the issue: "I just needed to get them away from her." My inclination is that "her" is Casey. Am I right, am I wrong, or are you not going to answer me?
[Laughs] Well, I can't quite answer. But we have a number of options. Is she talking about Casey being yanked away from Ike and Jade? Is it getting Jade away from someone? Is it someone we're not seeing on the page? We've been known to do that before because we're dicks like that. It's something that, again, we're building to the end. There's some other ground to cover first in #21, but I think this will become a central part of the story as things blow up.
The #1 question I have for #21 (which has SO much new stuff in it) comes with the idea that when we "re-meet" the world through the eyes of these kids assembled by Abraham, we see that the beats students have gone through at the school – the birthdays, the dead parents, etc. – is repeated over time. While reveal that part of the Academy's nature here, and why do it with this group of kids? In other words, why was it important to see these kids go through this now?
One of the things I was actually a little nervous about when I settled on the structure of this issue was that obviously we're meant to echo what we saw in issue #1. It's meant to sort of replay them from different eyes and show how they can end up differently with a different set of kids from the Glories. And the one thing I worried about was that with all the theorizing readers do with the book, people would take the cyclical nature of what they're seeing here too seriously. They'd think that every group of kids come in and these exact same things happen in this order. That wasn't really the intention. The intention was more light-hearted than that. I just thought it would be funny to go back and show these moments with these slightly more dangerous and in the know kids. Some of them we played for straight laughs, and some are more serious.
To me, the purpose of this is to show you how the truants come from a different place and respond differently to the circumstances of the Academy.
When the series as a whole launched, you had these images of the main cast with a one-line description of the characters and who they were in relation to the group. Did you have a similar one-sentence take on the truants?
Yeah. We didn't end up doing it, but we had toyed with the idea of doing the exact same kinds of teasers – the "Most Likely" teasers from the beginning of "Morning Glories." The thing I'm most excited about in this issue and the set up for these characters is that I do think they're as strongly defined as our original six. As we spend some more time with them, that will become even more apparent. None of them are redshirts. None of them are placeholders. They all have their own back stories, and they all have their own motivations and personalities and quirks.
It was fun to really sit down and make decisions on these characters because their appearance has always been in the cards for the book, but there were a few of them that were less defined than others, and there were some final calls to be made on who they all would be. We made those over the last three or four months, and it's harrowing to an extent just because in a character-driven book like this where the original cast all have their fan bases, it can be nerve-wracking to introduce a bunch new people. You worry that they're going to be seen as replacements, that they're going to be not as warmly accepted or that they'll be an atmosphere of "Get back to the main cast!" The biggest relief with this issue coming out was the way the fandom took to the new cast members so quickly. Now I hear all this enthusiasm for Ian, Irina and Akiko, and that's a great place to be. It tells me we did our job with the issue.
As we met the kids as a group at Abraham's compound, he said, "Not all of will be coming back," and my first response was, "Well, Vanessa." [Spencer Laughs] But there is an interesting hook for this doomed girl in that she has her real mother alongside here through this training. Why make that choice?
She is already one of my favorites, and I'm really excited about her story. There's something really, really cool about having the ending already laid out and then going back to tell it. Vanessa is interesting because in terms of her personality, I've been saying that Vanessa and Irina are a lot like Casey and Zoe if Zoe had asserted herself more and taken control of the situation and Casey had been a little more submissive. Really, the dynamic between the two is a question of percentages. In a lot of ways, the "Truants" story comes with this idea of "What if the balance had been shifted in the other direction?" That is a big part of what fascinates me about Vanessa – she has that intrinsic goodness and care for others, but Irina is such a strong personality that she cedes that leadership role.
The other fascinating thing about Vanessa is, of course, her mother. We saw her mother back in issue #18 for a minute. So we know that she has a role at Abraham's camp, and we know that having that parent along at the camp makes her unique. We've got a big back story here, and obviously there's a lot of forward story too. There's lots to come because we met Vanessa, Akiko and even Brendan a little bit all the way back in issue #1. So there's some story there in terms of what led to that first scene with them and the fallout from that.
Well, in terms of that timeline, we know that a lot happens between when these kids arrived and when our kids arrive at the Academy. Some of those gaps have been filled in, but what story are you looking to tell in this arc? The story of the truants at the Academy? The conclusion of the Woodrun story? Something else entirely?
This arc is just slightly more linear than the last one in that we will spend these next few issues – #21, 22 and 23 – with one following fairly close after the other. This is about the truants and what they've done and how it's impacted the Academy as well as why they've done it. The flashback story will cover not only their arrival but also what became of them at the Academy. By the time we get to #25 and the big season finale, we should have a very good idea of what's happened and how all this connects. A lot of this stuff may seem like disparate parts going all the way back to issue #12, but we'll suddenly see how one thing led to another and the cause and effect that led us here. I think by #25, while you certainly won't have all the answers, all the moving parts that seem disconnected will meet. That will push us right into the start of Season 2 in #26 which is all big, big stuff.
As for the present and the kids in the woods, there aren't a lot of mysteries except for the fact that we know the truants are on a mission within the Woodrun game. They're heading to break up this ceremony. The standout detail for me there was that when we flashed back to when Vanessa met Lara, and of course it made me wonder if Lara has made the connection to who this is, if she notices who Vanessa notices as other members of her team. With details like that, do these kids not quite have the masterplan they think they're undertaking?
A big question to ask, I think, is "Who has the upper hand?" We're starting to get hints, but we'll get really into that in #22 and 23. We'll get a firm idea of what the truant's plan is, what moves they're making and how they've done it all. Once we know that, I think the big question will be how the school responds. Again, a lot of things that seemed to pop up at random throughout the third arc especially are going to crash head on by the end of the fourth arc.
So now we've got two groups of kids: one who were thrown into this school totally unawares and one group who came in with training and a plan and some knowledge of what's going on. In light of al that, why are our group of Glories the main characters of this series?
That's a good question. What I would say is that by the end of this arc, many things – and I know I keep saying this – but many things that seem unrelated will definitively not be so. And by the end of this, we'll have a better idea of why our kids are our kids – why the cast is Casey, Hunter, Ike, Jade and Jun rather than Vanessa, Akiko, Ian, Irina and Fortunato. That's a good question to be asking. What's the link between these groups and what do they have in common? How does one impact the other? I would say that #24 and 25 are big deal issues in that regard.
We decided on this "season by season" structure early on, and I've really grown grateful for it because I'm very aware of the fact that the third arc in particular had so many crazy moments. It's suddenly gone dark out, and the kids get separates, and Casey's gone back in time. There are all these crazy moments we just left and moved on to the next one. This arc is so much about connecting all those things back to one another and showing the interrelatedness.
Anything else to say about what comes in #22?
#22 is our craziest issue since #10. It has some really "off the weirdness charts" moments, and it'll be fun because #21 was one of those issues where people felt like they were getting more answers than questions – a bit about the kids and Abraham's camp – but #22 will be the total opposite. It will be one of those issues where people are going, "Why is there a lab underground with a laser firing?" And I love those issues. This one has our craziest scene to date, and I'm excited for it to get out there because I'm really proud of it. There's something coming in #22 that I think will have some people really frothing at the mouth. There's a sequence we decided to do where you're really just going to think that we're fucking with you. [Laughs]
Stay tuned for more MORNING GLORY DAYS on CBR!