Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chronic Review: Morning Glories # 1!

Morning Glories # 1
Image Comics

Script: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Joe Eisma
44 pages for $3.99

I will admit that I approached this book with some trepidation. I wanted to believe in it. Nick Spencer certainly seemed to believe in it, and has been pitching this book as the "next big thing" since April, with all the manic enthusiasm of a born again Christian. Here's a bit from an early CBR interview:

"Any comic creator with less than a year in the industry and working in a market that's fighting its way through a pretty turbulent "transitional" phase would have to be nuts to call his next book a career-definer and pretty much bet the farm on it becoming an instant hit. Well, ladies and sort-of-gentlemen, allow me introduce myself: I am that nutjob. After this interview, I am gonna smack at cars with an umbrella and maybe dangle a baby out of my window."

Mark Millar thinks that's over the top. So either there had to be something special happening here, or Nick Spencer was just a really committed huckster.

Like I said, I really wanted to believe in him, and the first issue of Shuddertown convinced me that he absolutely has chops. The problem, I think, was that I had heard this kind of story before when Joe Casey was selling The Intimates with equal zeal back in 2005. It was supposed to redefine superhero comics, or at least teen books. I read the first few issues of Intimates, and while there was nothing broken about it, neither was it particularly compelling. So when I heard Spencer's pitch, I really fought it. I've heard this song before. It can't be that good.

I'm here to tell you - believe the hype. Morning Glories is exceptionally good. Like, just put it on the Eisner ballot for Best New Series right now good.

Spencer likes to call the book "Runaways meets Lost", and I can see that. If one must boil it down, I prefer to think of it as "David Lynch does The New Mutants." I'm going to go very light on plot points, because I want you to enjoy the surprises, of which there are many. Whatever you think this book is's not.

So what can I say about it without spoiling all the fun? Morning Glories is very strange, quite dark, often creepy, sometimes hilarious and almost always refreshingly novel. This comic crackles beneath the surface with ideas that pop. Certain books exude a kind of energy signature, where you can almost feel the creator's muse across the page. Hickman's Fantastic Four. Simone's Secret Six. Glories radiates like that.

I will say that Spencer writes the book in a way that will drive certain reader's up the goddamn wall. If you're expecting to be spoon fed from a giant exposition heap with a couple character introductions tossed in, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Spencer drops you into a transitional period at Morning Glories Academy, where some students are on the way out and a new crop are coming in. You get nebulous super powers, subliminal messages, impossible coincidences, and the best sense of escalating conspiratorial dread this side of Rosemary's Baby. You're plopped straight into the thick of the action and expected to use your brain a little to fill in the pieces - to which I say hallelujah. But some prefer a little more handholding. You won't be getting it.

The key to running a story that way is for the writer to establish him/herself as a competent conductor. Some stories trade on confusion masquerading as drama. Morning Glories is not confusing - it is an obviously intricate plot with its foundations in characters with depth, confounded expectations, and real mystery.

The mistake that so many of these Lost retreads make is that they think withholding answers is entertainment. It's not. There is no mystery without investment. What Nick Spencer remembered to do was have the characters do and say interesting and clever things.

Listen, there are types in this book that we've seen before. Ike is the haughty, debauched debutante of the group. The key is, can you make it fresh? So you get two pages of dinner conversation between Ike and his mother like this:

Spencer knows these characters, and he made them all sharp. There's an "emo" girl, of course. There just has to be. We've seen that before. But what you get in this comic is access to her journal, and it is horrible. It's horrible in exactly the way that a teenaged emo girl would produce. It's the most wonderful, horrible journal entries I've ever read.

There's a "meet cute" in the book, and 7,000 romantic comedies have driven this into the ground to the point where it's difficult to feel anything about them any more. So Spencer turns the whole concept upside down when Casey and Hunter conk heads together, producing flying papers and sparks. He knocks the characterization into the cheap seats over and over again.

And that's the only way these mystery plots can survive. First, they need to be populated with characters interesting enough to warrant the suspense. And you need to have some faith in the conductor. The reason why Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison (who gets a nod in the comic) are able to get away with outlandish twists and hanging threads is that we know that no matter how weird things get...there's method to the madness that will pay off down the road. The twists will make sense and the threads will unhang. This story feels like it has a skilled conductor with a plan, and it's positively intoxicating.

I could go on about all the easter eggs layered into this thing, of which I've maybe twigged onto only a small part, I'd wager. How about the red head crying about her birthday in perfect homage to Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles? And it's not in your face or jarring. It locks into the story perfectly. If you're not a John Hughes fan, you don't even notice and go on to the next panel. And if you do, it's an extra smile. There's several extra smiles in Morning Glories.

This comic is ripe with the unexpected and deep - good for multiple readings. I've already read it twice, and with all the easter eggs lying around, I expect it won't be the last time I reference this issue. But I'm done ruining your fun with buzz-killing analysis and reveals - just go out and read the Next Big Thing for yourself, already!

- Ryan


Irish Mike said...

Your reviews just keep getting stronger, Ryan. You have some gem phrasing in here. Great piece - I'm off to read the comic.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Eh, I wrote it when I was tired and did a bit too much "showing off" instead of communicating, I would say. But the important thing is that the comic kicks seven shades of ass. I bet you'll enjoy it....

citizenmilton said...

Hey, keep up this showing off, especially when it leads to sentences such as:

"Certain books exude a kind of energy signature, where you can almost feel the creator's muse across the page. Hickman's Fantastic Four. Simone's Secret Six. Glories radiates like that."

Well. Put.

And yeah - put "Glories" on that Eisner ballot now, I agree. (And, if there's any justice, put Hickman's FF on the continuing series ballot too).

Aleksandre said...

You are hittling big time Ryan First your review is on Bleeding Cool Now this one is on CBR

Chronic Insomnia said...

I know - it's crazy, isn't it? I'm not getting a big head about it, though, for two reasons: A) My head was already enormous and B) When you break it on down, Biz Markie has a bigger cultural footprint than I do.

Aleksandre said...

Biz Markie has a bigger cultural footprint than most people in comics

Aleksandre said...

Biz Markie has a bigger cultural footprint than most people in comics