Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artist: Joe Eisma ~ Colours: Alex Sollazzo ~ Publisher: Image Comics ~ Year: 2010
The Low-Down: A sharp and witty cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Prisoner (with a running mystery that equals Lost for sheer pulp unfathomability), this high school saga is overcoming a few art-related issues and shaping up to be a compulsively entertaining read.
What’s it About?: Six accomplished teenage students are offered the chance of a lifetime – a scholarship at the prestigious Morning Glory Academy. It’s an institution that’s searching for excellence, but its location is a secret, escape is impossible, and its methods include torture, mind-games and murder. Secrets are waiting to be discovered in the depths of the Academy, as the six newcomers find themselves locked in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse with their teachers. But what does the phrase “The hour of our release draws near” have to do with all this?
The Story: It’s always easy to be suspicious of hype, especially in the world of comics. When a title becomes a sell-out smash hit, it often has more to do with marketing and how ‘important’ or how much of an ‘event’ the relevant comic is than whether or not it’s any good. So, when new series Morning Glories sold out two separate printings of its first issue, it’d be easy to be cynical –if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s also a well-crafted, entertaining and intriguing story that’s heading in some extremely promising directions.
We’re unashamedly in Teen Drama territory here, with a group of disparate characters being brought together to face an as-yet-unspecified threat (and also overcome various issues in their past). While there are plenty of echoes of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes here (especially with the ‘High School that hides dark secrets’ setup) what’s more interesting is the way that up-and-coming writer Nick Spencer has structured this as a battle of wills between our teenage heroes and the teachers who are trying to manipulate, interrogate and control them. In short, it’s Buffy meets Sixties cult classic TV series The Prisoner, with an accompanying dose of the characterisation, structure and mad pulp stylings of Lost.
The overarching mystery is certainly going in directions that could be described as ‘unexpected’ (especially when it becomes clear that fifteenth century Spain is somehow connected), and Spencer delivers a number of effective shocks that build up the sense of intrigue, while also pulling off some very nicely played and engaging character moments. In the first chapter, there’s one of the best examples of the ‘meet-cute’ scene, between lead characters Casey and Hunter, that I’ve seen in a long time, and Spencer keeps the pace up while giving the characters depth and believability. He also isn’t afraid to throw violence into the equation – the stakes are high, and certain sequences feature major levels of blood, but the story binds all the mysteries together, pacing the whole saga as a compulsive teen thriller.
There’s a long game at work here – seeds are being laid for a long-running mystery, especially in the sixth chapter collected here, which plays as a Lost-style ‘inbetweener’ episode that shows us a very different perspective on events and throws in some major surprises. Aside from a couple of creaky lines, Spencer’s dialogue is top-notch, the characters are engaging, and the mystery is absorbing. In short, it’s the kind of comic project that has “Soon to be optioned as a Movie or TV Series” written all over it, and given its already impressive success, Morning Glories looks likely to continue being an intriguing and engaging comic book read.
The Art: Unfortunately, if there’s one area where Morning Glories hasn’t completely won me over, it’s the art. Joe Eisma’s work is sometimes very impressive, but his very line-heavy, sometimes angular approach to character’s faces means that certain panels work better than others, and doesn’t always seem to blend well with Alex Sollazo’s colour work. At times, Eisma’s able to make the dialogue scenes incredibly expressive, but he also has occasional difficulties making his female characters look different from each other, while his habit of drawing people with slightly toothy grins and staring eyes gets a little off-putting at times. It’s a shame, because he’s also extremely good at creating atmosphere, pulling off some effective compositions and grisly moments of violence (especially the sequences featuring the mysterious ‘cylinder’ in the basement of the school). It’s one of those frustrating comics where the cover art (from Rodin Esquejo) is sometimes more eyecatching than the interior work, but it’s very likely that Eisma’s style and approach will evolve as the story goes on, so hopefully these are just initial teething troubles that’ll sort themselves out soon.
The Verdict: There are a few moments where the series is still finding its feet, but the central mysteries of Morning Glories will pull you in, and the strong characterisation makes this a ride that’s well worth taking.