In "Morning Glories"#21, Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma deliver an issue so action-packed and dense with character development that it's like reading a first issue. The story picks up where "P.E." left off at the end of issue #19, and it is focused almost exclusively on six newer characters, "The Truants" -- Guillaume, Vanessa, Akiko, Ian, Irina and Fortunato -- who are two years senior to the original cast of students.
I say "newer," because none of the six Truants make their first appearance in "Morning Glories" #21. Fortunato appeared in a background cameo in "Morning Glories" #18, while Ian and Irina made their first appearances in "Morning Glories" #19, although given Spencer and Eisma's subtlety, it is entirely possible they appeared even earlier in cameos that I missed. Vanessa and Akiko go all the way back the act of rebellion at the beginning of "Morning Glories" #1. These characters have been planned from Day 1, and it's satisfying to see the convergence of story threads and characters as Spencer's long game picks up more speed.
"Morning Glories" #21 is also immensely rewarding for devoted readers because it has a thousand little references to previous events in the series' 20-issue-rich mythology, including a cleverly executed flashback to the Truants' arrivals at Morning Glory Academy. The sequence with the dorm room assignments is hilarious and also shows off the consistent internal logic of the world that Spencer has built. Familiar faces turn up, too -- remember Brendan from the first issue?
In the core cast of "Morning Glories," Spencer and Eisma have maintained, and now expanded upon, an admirable level of geographic, racial and LGBT diversity. It's a realistic touch, and more importantly, none of this inclusiveness feels like tokenism, because all the characters feel real and compelling in their own right. With the exception of Guillaume, "The Truants" are all strangers to the reader, yet Spencer and Eisma are so skilled at characterization that they feel almost as well-fleshed-out as the original six after this one issue. Spencer does a great job of balancing screen time for his characters, and his dialogue is as sharp as ever. Akiko and Ian's back-and-forth camaraderie is particularly strong. "Morning Glories" #21 also ramps up the drama for Hisao and Guillaume's budding relationship in a way that is both natural and unexpected.
Eisma's art has an equal hand in quickly defining the Truants' personalities. Ian, in particular, benefits from Eisma's ability to convey his weary ironic attitude through body language and facial expressions. It's been a pleasure to follow Eisma's rapid development as an artist and his direct responses to criticism of his work on "Morning Glories." In early reviews, he was faulted for sparse backgrounds and for his characters looking too much like each other, and some wondered if his art was a good match for Spencer's complex scripts. Now, it is impossible to imagine any other artist drawing this book. In "Morning Glories" #21, his superb grasp of dramatic pacing and his choice of camera angles and transitions show Spencer's plot twists to maximum advantage.
In comparison to early issues, Eisma's page and panel compositions are more graceful, facial expressions are more nuanced and backgrounds are more lush. His line is finer and more detailed. Alex Sollazzo's colors have also gradually become softer and subtler over the course of the series, and it's a good change, suiting the mystery and darkness of Morning Glory Academy.
Spencer and Eisma's "Morning Glories" #21 successfully doubles the size of the core cast while driving up suspense for "The Ceremony" next issue. The Truants won't be a disappointment to continuing "Morning Glories" fans. The only disappointment is how long the wait between issues will feel.