The cliffhanger endings to your favorite TV shows may be a few months off yet, but in comics one season finale is on the verge of blowing Image Comics "Morning Glories" wide open.
With their most recent issues, writer Nick Spencer and artist Joe Eisma have started to turn mystery to revelation to a greater extent than before in the long-running sci-fi/spiritual/mystery/teen drama. From the machinations of Truants spiritual leader Abraham to the grisly details of the sacrifice demanded by the Morning Glory Academy's resident ghost monster David, the action is lining up as the book moves towards the conclusion of its first "Season" of stories in the incoming #25.
And with that, CBR's ongoing look behind the scenes of the series – AKA MORNING GLORY DAYS – kicks it into high gear. This month, Spencer explains why the finale had to break into two parts as he details the drama of issue #24. The last "character spotlight" issue of the season, the issue not only gives some big background on perpetual bad boy Ike. It also starts to tie the threads of Woodrun, the Truants, Abraham and the time shifts closer together. Below, the writer explains how he approached wrapping up the major mysteries in a satisfying fashion and why a good season finale asks more questions than it answers.
CBR News: Nick, here we are at part one of the season finale. How did you conceive of this story in general? Like most season finales on TV, we do seem to touch base with most of the major plotlines that we've been exploring across the first 23 issues – the mysterious time shifts at the school, Abraham and his connection to the kids, what makes the kids special and so on. What was your #1 goal or the most important things you wanted to address to make this feel like a season's end?
Nick Spencer: I think when we set these season markers, there are pluses and minuses to doing that. But one of the pluses is that you feel the clock ticking a bit. You want to provide a high impact moment that helps fill in some blanks and put some things in focus in the most exciting way possible. You want the end of a season to feel like things are coming to a crescendo. So there are a lot of callbacks going on through #24, and we'll see more in #25. And they aren't all answering questions, per se, so much as they're putting things in order and filling some blanks. That was really my big goal.
While it is a season's end, the reality is that it is a first season, and we've got a long, long way to go. I know for a fact that there are a lot of people out there who when we laid this marker out and said "#25 is the end of Season One," a lot of those people who were along for the ride and enjoying the mystery started pinning their hopes on this season end as a moment where they could tell if it is in fact going somewhere. They wanted to feel like there is a plan, and I've been pretty conscious of that going through #24 and 25. I've been thinking about that in terms of the start of Season Two as well.
This issue really focuses on Abraham and Ike's relationship now that we really know they're father and son, and I'll admit I felt kind of stupid that I never made that Biblical reference until you actually called him "Isaac" in this issue. [Laughter] But why zero in on this relationship? Abraham is obviously a big figure for all the kids, maybe none more so than Ike. But was there a factor of the relationship that was indicative of where you wanted things to end?
I've said before that the Abraham and Ike stuff is one of the things that's grown as I got into working on the book. When I initially conceived of the book, it was an ingredient. It was a part. But it's come to demand more and more focus as we've gone on, and Abraham's become a much more integral part of the book. It's certainly grown a lot. The very nature of what we've been doing from issue #10 onward has become about this. If you really look at it from that point on, Abraham being in that cell has been the throughline that all of the story follows. From the reveal of Ike's relationship to him in issue #11 to the Woodrun stuff that gives the Truants their chance to make a play all the way through the chaos that ensued from that...all of that happens because Abraham's in that cell. So it felt like this was certainly the thing to build the house on in #24 and 25. This was the thing we could center on because almost every group of kids involved in the book at this moment are reacting to Abraham's position.
We see this transition in the opening pages from Ike as a baby to David. If this were a TV show, a change like that would make you assume "This is the same character years later." We've got hints that David has been around for a long, long time, and he and Ike exist concurrently, so I don't think it's safe to assume one becomes the other. But we do see David called Abraham's "flesh and blood." Since we know for sure that the organizations and ideas that drive this mystery go back hundreds and hundreds of years, can we also assume that the bloodline of this family stretches that far back?
That's a great question. I think the answer involves the idea that what we've shown in the book so far reveals a conception of time in the story as a very fluid thing. It's a very unconventional thing. The bloodline here – the family aspect of the relationships here – is critical. That's a big part of the larger story. That's a bit of a dodge answer, but you can't go too wrong by looking at the relationships there, sure.
We see a bit of Gribbs' history with Abraham here or Gribbs' history in general. Is this all there is to know about him, or is there more to the story of what made him flip on his former employer?
Well, to skip ahead...Gribbs may not have much more in front of him. [Laughter] So the only other option for him would be to look at the past. Obviously, we've intonated that there is an existing relationship between Abraham and Gribbs, and one fo the payoff moments of this issue is clarifying that a bit and putting that in the timeline. There's certainly more of that to come, and there's more of Gribbs to come. Whether or not any of that is in the forward progression of the story is another question. But certainly in terms of his past, we'll see a lot more of him. He's got a cool story I can't wait to get to. Nine does as well. As I get into the planning and plotting of Season Two, it hasn't escaped me that both of them are a little overdue for some camera time.
Let's talk about Ike setting fires. That's a behavior that's classically associated with dissociative behavior, but it also drives home this "nature versus nurture" dimension to the character. What does it say that Ike seems from a very young age to be both extremely bright but also carrying these destructive urges?
That's a good question on a couple of front. First up, fire seems to be a recurring motif in Ike's life. We've used a little bit of elemental symbolism throughout the book. We've snuck it in here and there. Whether or not that's of importance or if it's an aesthetic thing, we haven't said. But it's there for people who dig that kind of stuff at least.
In terms of the nature versus nurture question, that is really important to Ike's story. If it's nature that makes him this way, what does that say about the bloodline we've been discussing? Maybe this is more cause for suspicion in that regard.
Though Ike does have a real human moment with Jade later on when Gribbs calls him out on giving in to protect her life, and it turns out Gribbs is right. Is that more a revelation of Ike's true self, or is it a moment of change in him that he's for the first time connecting with another person on that level?
Well, he ends the issue with a gun to her head. [Laughs] So we certainly haven't brought in a jury on Ike. I think one of the legitimate questions to ask about him is in that moment where he's watch Gribbs start to hurt her, is that a moment of compassion or a moment of Ike being Machiavellian? Does he see the value of a piece on the board and not want to see it wasted?
Look, he's such a fun character to write because you can never really pin him down. He's a constant source of disappointment. But it seems to me in terms of the audience response to him that he always pulls them back in. The one thing that bothers me to some extent is that he sometimes gets let off the hook to easily by a lot of the readership because they like him too much to hold it against him. I kind of noticed in the responses to this issue how much more of a focus there was on the sympathetic aspect of Ike's story in terms of his upbringing and how much less a focus there was on the turn at the end. People are looking for reasons to excuse him, which just tells me I'm going to have to make him do something way more horrible. [Laughs]
We see a lot of Abraham's early motivations and where he goes to connect wit the kids, but what we never see is Abraham's rebellion against those who run the Academy. We do get him bristling with Dagney and then we get his supposed murder at Ike's hands, but when in the larger narrative do you want to tackle when Abraham became the man who fights against the powers that be?
Right now, that seems like it's pretty firmly Season Two stuff. Right around the second half of Season Two, we'll see that. There's a life expectancy for how long you can keep certain mysteries going. Some of these – Abraham's story and to some extent David's – I have to start thinking about how to give them a more full presentation. It was a tricky thing. The season change was really helpful in terms of me sitting down and saying, "What have we accomplished? What could we have done better? And where can we improve?" Generally, I've been really happy, but there are things I realize are coming due. A lot of this is going to come to a head in the second half of Season Two. There's going to be some big stuff in the next issue, and #26 also has some big bombshells. But right now, the Abraham and Ike story is a fundamental part of Seasons One and Two in particular, which isn't to say that you'll know everything by the end of Season Two. But you'll know a lot more. People will love to hear that, I'm sure. [Laughs]
A while ago when you and I were talking, we had a discussion about this double vision motif that shows up...particularly when people are murdered. Abraham sees Ike like that during the patricide, and at first glance it appears that that's just because he's drunk. But I get the feeling it's important that Abraham sees Ike that way in that moment. Am I right?
Yeah. We're clearly having a lot of fun with the blurry, double vision panels. They're dropped in enough at important moments that people should realize they are story related. In what sense I feel is an open question. But clearly we're doing it purposefully at this point.
The issue ends with the line, "I think it's time I finally got that explanation." We hear often in fiction about the author having a surrogate in the story. Is Ike the audience's surrogate here?
[Laughs] Yeah, I do this a lot. Probably too much. I get what kind of a story we're telling, and I like to have some fun with it. This is a book that has a very close relationship with its audience. I'm very aware that some people are about to blow a gasket from unanswered questions, and we like to have a little fun with that. I think that, obviously, various characters have gotten to stand in here. Hunter's done it a pretty fair amount with the Truants, and Ike and Jade in the cave issue were doing it a lot.
One of the biggest inspirations that we've talked about a lot here is the Kevin Williamson brand of '90s horror. I always appreciated the meta-nods that he would put in, and I've been watching "The Following" where he's still doing it, and it's awesome! I think it's fun for the audience. That's a Shakespeare trick – to turn and tell and inside joke to the audience – and it still works. So Ike is having some fun. He's got some questions, and next issue he'll get what Abraham thinks passes for an answer.
Let's talk about #25. Like I said, this month's issue has lots of subtle nods to everything we've followed this season, but will the next issue be a true season finale in which we literally check in with where all the Glories are at?
It's a more all-inclusive approach than this issue was. I felt like one of the reasons this became a two-part thing was that I wanted to be true to both kinds of stories we tell. To me, there are two kinds of "Morning Glories" issues. There are the ones that spotlight a character and tell their story throughout, or there are the issues that bounce around way more and move action in various disconnected parts to see how it all links up. #25 is more the latter. It's a doozy. It's 48 pages so it's got a lot to it.
In terms of how I approached it, I wanted people who have stuck around this long to be able to take a part of it and say, "Okay, this isn't all haphazard. There is a timeline here and a way all these different things fit together." The first half of the issue is all about that. It's really all about crystalizing a bunch of disparate things we've seen. For the most intense fans of the book – the ones who study everything closely – they might feel like they knew a lot of this already. But I wanted to keep in mind the broad readership. We needed to say all this stuff. We needed to say, "This action calls to this action" on down the line. The second half of the issue is much more about the things that we've seen through the third and fourth arc coming to a head and how those impact the others. It's really about the dominoes falling. It's not an issue where anybody sits down and says, "Here's what's been going on."
In other words, Neo doesn't walk through into a room with a guy sitting in front of a bunch of TV screens.
[Laughs] Exactly! That is one of those funny storytelling things. I heard Damon Lindelof very recently use that as an example of "That thing you think you want, but which no one has ever wanted." That's never how you want to do it. So #25 is not going to be that. The other big component here is that to me the best season enders always ended on a cliffhanger. They made you want to hurry up and get to the next season. That's very much in play here. We didn't want you to go, "Well, I guess I can quit reading the book now!" Hopefully, the response will be "When's the next one coming?" Things go pretty nuts towards the end. We get some of our craziest visuals, and we drop some new, crazy things on you at the end. When it was all said and done, I sat down to read it, and I felt pretty happy with how it came out. It's a tricky formula to pull off, but I hope it's a pretty rewarding 48 pages.
Come back in April for an in-depth look at "Morning Glories" #25!