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I don’t know how the people reading this series as a monthly do it.
Since its debut, Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s thriller about the mysterious/evil Morning Glory Academy and six of its recently-enrolled students has been characterized by two things: fun character moments and twisty-turny, timey-wimey, cliff-hangy plotting, of the sort that asks one to pay close attention and have good memory. It’s the sort of thing that I would probably find exhausting as a monthly exercise—particularly given the book’s tendency to leave cliffhangers unresolved for months at a time—but is just marvy in collected editions, where one can get a good amount of plot in one more digestible sitting. And marvy the book is, taking Gossip Girl, The Prisoner, and some olives, and mixing them into a fun, soapy, rated “M” for Mature* cocktail of murder, mini-skirts, and general misbehavin’.
The first volume of the series set up the characters and the main conflict of new students (Casey, Ike, Hunter, Jun, Zoe, and Jade–“the Glories”, as the back-cover blurb calls them) vs. the school. “All Will be Free”, the second arc, placed that conflict on the back burner to develop individual arcs for each protagonist and establish that the weirdness seen so far is in no way limited to the school. In this third volume, the student body of M.G.A. is ordered outdoors for a character building exercise ominously called “Woodrun”. Not only does this serve as an excuse to divide our main characters into sub-groups we haven’t seen before, it allows the plot to kick into higher gear as the children are separated from the faculty, one character escapes, another gets a love interest, and more people die. Also, time travel is a thing now.
One of the things I’ve learned to accept while watching television is that mytharc-heavy stories like Lost or Revenge have a particularly short shelf-life before diminishing returns set in. Unless the work is allowed to end when the creators want it to, the probability that it will eventually collapse under the weight of its unanswered questions approaches one, making being a fan a fraught proposition. They make for fun flings, but in the end they are rarely worth the commitment they require.
A year and a half into its run, Morning Glories has so far avoided that fate. Part of it is, I guess, because there’s still a good ratio of questions answered vs. questions raised, and the universe of the series still seems well-contained enough that new mysteries don’t feel like distractions. That said, I’ll admit that by this point in the series, a bit of plot twist fatigue has set in: it wasn’t until doing some searches for this review that I realized that the writers probably expected me to be a whole lot more shocked by the volume’s second-to-last twist than I actually was.
Even so, if the point comes ever comes where I realize that all the mystery is for naught, I still feel like I could enjoy Morning Glories, thanks to its characters, who continue to shine. This volume in particular does a lot to flesh out Jade, who up to this moment had been little more than “the suicidal, gothy one”, as she opens up and proves to be actually quite interesting. On the opposite end of the scale, Hunter, who’s been aggressively pushed as the most normal one in the bunch (read: he’s a socially awkward—yet strictly within the bounds of what is generally considered attractive–geek), displays a rather ugly side to himself in this volume, as he slut-shames classmate Zoe. While the incident isn’t cut-and-dried—this occurs just after Zoe herself insults him, and she later stops him from apologizing, making it impossible to know just what it is he later feels remorse for—it’s the sort of thing that makes me worried about potential problematic outcomes. While Nick Spencer has proven himself a capable writer, past experience with other stories has taught me not to be optimistic when it comes to geeky, socially awkward characters in fiction. Meanwhile, Zoe herself continues to kick ass as she takes advantage of circumstances like a boss, Ike’s shtick as someone who wants to convince the world that he is nothing more than a heel and cad continues to wear thin, and Jun’s arc continues being pleasantly surprising.
That said, the most fascinating character so far continues to be series protagonist Casey Blevins—not necessarily because of anything she does—although she does do plenty here–but because the way people speak about her adds some welcome shades of gray to the character. It’s interesting to see different characters have wildly diverging takes on her actions, and the fact that the ambiguity is actually evident, and has been both noticed and noted makes me hopeful for both the character and the book’s larger moral argument: I find it discouraging when stories gloss over people’s immoral behavior because they’re meant to be the “heroes”, so the fact that this doesn’t appear to be the case here is promising.
Art continues to be by regular artist Joe Eisma, who continues to bring in solid work. While his bag of storytelling tricks isn’t terribly deep—the man does not like playing with panels—he continues to be exactly what the book needs, particularly when it comes to giving dozens of uniformed teenagers individual identities. I am still not a fan of the Rodin Esquejo covers, however; while better than they have been, continue to feel overly airbrushed and false.
While the first two volumes of Morning Glories had plenty of weirdness to draw the eye and stimulate the muscles that make one want to create flowcharts mapping every single event, “P.E.” is when the series takes a turn from the “consistently weird” to “really? So that’s how you’re going to play?” And heck, I’m willing to play by its rules, and see where it takes me.
Even if I have to wait half a year between volumes.
* I’m not kidding here: that’s the book’s actual rating, for language, explicit sexual references, and strategically-paced blood and gore. There’s also, for some reason, lots of scenes where people vomit.
While the barrage of plot twists have begun losing their emotional punch, the central mysteries and the character interactions still make this a very engrossing book. 4 out of 5.
Characters escape, characters find love, characters die. The status quo at the end of the book is very different from what it is at the beginning. So yes.
The first two volumes: simply put, this is not a series in which to wade into casually, and this volume does not provide the courtesy of a recap page (although in fairness, I suspect that is because any effective recap page would be too unwieldy to do its job properly).
Rachel Rising, which also does “oh my gosh why does weird stuff keep happening what’s going to happen next?” really well. The first two arcs are now available in trade paperback form.