Morning Glories, Vol. 1
written by Nick Spencer
illustrated by Joe Eisma
Drawing inspiration from The Prisoner and Lost by way of Joss Whedon, this first volume of Morning Glories, a new ongoing series from writer Nick Spencer and artist Joe Eisma, has the hallmarks of a soon-to-be-classic. By combining an escalating series of mysteries, science, horror, and dead-on characterizations, this is a truly exciting opening volley.
Six students are accepted into the Morning Glories academy, a prestigious institution well known for its academic excellence. Once situated at the school, they quickly learn that they have been cut off from society and their lives erased. Prisoners within the academy, they are surrounded by brainwashed students, murderous teachers, a violent apparition, and an odd object in the basement that seems to be defying physics. Each of these six possesses remarkable intelligence, but even their quick thinking may not help them escape the dangers lurking in every corner of the prep school.
Spencer crams a lot of mysteries into this first volume, sustaining the narrative momentum by peppering every action sequence with question upon question. Although it is short on answers—presumably those will come later as the series progresses—Morning Glories is heavily stocked with surprises that constantly raise the stakes, providing one plot wrinkle after another. Not content to settle in with just the here-and-now struggles of life at the academy, Spencer further confounds things by taking a few temporal detours into the far past and an unspecified point in the future. There are a lot of hair-raising plot twists and very interesting, imaginative questions being posed as the students struggle to understand the strange place they have unwittingly enrolled in.
While there is a lot of heavy lifting in terms of plot, which asks readers to stick it out for the long haul, where Spencer truly excels is his characterizations of the teenage students. Like Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, Spencer is able to create a likeable cast of well-rounded, pop-culture-influenced kids. Each has a unique personality, and their dialogue and exchanges are true to the ear and, often, wickedly entertaining. He quickly establishes two characters, Ike, an anarchist, and boy-crazed, attitudinally maladjusted Zoe, as the ones to watch out for. Casey, who quickly establishes herself as the de facto leader of the group, is smart and quick-witted, but also possess an incredible reserve of inner strength, particularly given the horrifying personal disasters she suffers through.
Joe Eisma helps Spencer define these characters, giving each of them their own distinct look to ensure that readers won't accidentally mix up who's who. His panel work is clean and nicely detailed, and he gives appropriate space and weight to the book's biggest shocks and moments of violence. He crafts several memorable pieces of art that are both horrifying and compelling. His visuals suitably match Spencer's twisting narrative, allowing the reader to be drawn into the story at all levels as he creates surprising, gut-wrenching moments that are impossible to turn away from.
Although Morning Glories is inspired by several major works of pop culture, Spencer's story never feels like it's a retread. There are undeniable parallels to other popular series like Lost, right down to flashbacks and flash-forwards, but, to his credit, Spencer seems to at least acknowledge these influences as his characters name-drop a few of them as they come to terms with their ordeals. His cast possesses a nice sense of self-awareness, drawing analogies to A Clockwork Orange, letting readers know that neither these characters nor their creators live in a vacuum. If anything, Spencer is drawing on a feeling of familiarity that comic and pop-culture aficionados share in order to craft a series that is instantly welcome, but still feels fresh thanks to the original setting and cast he's playing with.
Although it's too soon to call it, if Spencer is able to sustain the excellence on display in this first volume, Morning Glories may soon be looked upon as fondly as Image Comics’ better-known series The Walking Dead. By layering the mysteries and conspiracies that surround the Morning Glories academy along with a strong and enjoyable cast of characters, Spencer gives us a work that constantly fires on all cylinders. There are a tremendous amount of questions levied in this first book, and as a series, Morning Glories asks for a lot of commitment from readers. After finishing this opening volume, it will surely be a commitment that is freely given.
There is a sense of weight and momentum about this story, one that constantly asks “What comes next?” and by book's end readers will be left wanting more. It's a heady, compelling start that fuses quantum mechanics with historical mysteries and dashes of violent horror. The end result is a compulsive and addictive story that sinks its claws deep into the reader, and one of the year's best and most original works.