Go Back To School With Image’s Morning Glories

Ben’s Grim Corner

morningloriesHere we are again, folks. Another year over, another year begun, happening in perfect sequence like the endless, continuous ticks of an old clock. As the holiday season winds to an end, the cycle begins anew: prices return to their regular over-pricedness (rather than the extreme over-pricedness of November and December); the politicians return to their respective trenches to continue the battle for governmental supremacy; mothers and fathers put away the decorations and get back to the daily grind; the smiles run from our faces, the scarves wrap tighter around our necks, the wind brings a greater chill. We fondly repeat the words “out with the old and in with the new”, but let’s face it – there’s not much difference between the two, is there?

And while we, the so-called adults of the world, shrug indifferently at the resumption of our daily routines, it’s our children that feel the sting.

That’s right – it’s time to go back to school.

I’ll pause for a moment to let the echoes of your screams fade.

All better? Wonderful.

I never personally understood the dread associated with scholarly pursuit, to be honest. For me, school wasn’t much different than home, partly because I spent my time there doing the same thing I did at home – namely, reading up a storm – and partly because a large piece of my home life resided at my school. You see, I faced a high school career that most teenagers only had nightmares about. While my peers would awake from theirs with a sigh of relief, I would return to mine five days a week, looking over my shoulder every moment, terrified of the possibility that, at any time, she would turn the corner and smile her knowing smile at me, pierce the facade of my pubescent bravado with her hawkish eyes and return me to the state of a drooling infant.

You see, my mother was a teacher … who taught at my school.

When people learn this about me, there are two possible reactions that occur with uncanny certainty, the most common being, “Holy shit, dude! How bad did that suck?”, and the second being hysterical laughter, usually paired with some pointing in my direction.

The reality, however, was not quite what would be expected. That’s not to say that it wasn’t stressful beyond belief – I was very fond of telling my more troublesome friends, when my involvement was suggested in some sort of foolish endeavour, that my mom would know I was in trouble before I did – and that was also, more often than not, exactly the case.

It also had some pretty sweet perks, though. For instance, I was the only kid who could ever successfully perform the role of class clown with minimal difficulty. While the other thirty or so kids in my class were a faceless herd that changed from year to year, I was “Mrs. Dobson’s Son”, a title I wore with budding pride as I sat in my backyard with my French and biology teachers, listening to them bitch about their respective department heads while they knocked back glasses of red wine. When “some kid” makes a crack about the French word for seal, it’s disruptive; but when Mrs. Dobson’s Son does it, it’s tolerated.

It also made me nearly impossible to bully, since everyone was keeping a close eye on me – and everyone also believed that fucking with me could give them an “F”. Obviously, that would never happen – my mom was a firm believer in her children cleaning up their own messes – but I certainly wasn’t about to break the illusion for them.

Perks aside, school was not something I truly enjoyed. It was too much like being at home (or in jail, depending on the class). It was also profoundly under-stimulating, especially to a kid with a brain like a sponge, the attention span of a toddler, and a pile of imaginary worlds stacked next to my bed. The structured, unblinking banality of the modern education system was a miserable place for someone who spent most of his time thinking about swinging swords and shooting lasers. In those days, I wished for something more from school, something challenging. I wanted a school where boundaries shifted and rules changed, where the lines between bully and bullied were undefined, where smarts got you more than just a good score on your test.

It turns out, more than a decade later, I’ve found just the school for me.

I’m talking about Morning Glory Academy, the setting of Nick Spencer (Ultimate X-Men, Iron Man 2.0) and Joe Eisma’s Morning Glories.

Morning Glory Academy is the best prep school in the world. It also houses an ancient monastery – complete with monks in full regalia – detention rooms that drown or burn students alive, a fully-armed security force … and the ability to travel through time?!

I told you it was my kind of school.

So, this is usually the part where I give you a quick synopsis of the story, but in this case, I’m leaving it aside. Why, you ask? Because now, thirty-five issues in, I’m no closer to knowing what’s really happening than I was in issue one.

Normally, this would frustrate me beyond belief – I’m rarely interested in a neverending mystery – but Spencer keeps doling out small bites of truth between huge meals of deception and secrecy. Honestly, the only storyline I can think of that has as many twists and surprises as this and still succeeds at holding my attention would be LOST, and that piece of serialized gold was written by an entire team of writers. The fact that Spencer can keep all the details of Morning Glories together on his own is a testament to his masterful skill as a storyteller.

Case in point: page one of the first issue makes absolutely no sense – to the point that it completely escapes your notice – until issue twenty-nine, where the full sequence of events is revealed. The full details of even that particular moment are still, as yet, undiscovered, but somehow Spencer’s trail of breadcrumbs are just frequent and tasty enough to keep you following him all the way to the end.

Another aspect of the writing that makes this comic work is the staggering amount and diversity of knowledge used in its execution: the plot moves forward at a stunning pace at all times, but scattered within it are small moments of philosophical and spiritual insight that, while inconsequential at the time, reveal themselves to be important pieces of the puzzle that is Morning Glory Academy. While you become emotionally bound to the students that find themselves at the centre of the school’s darkest mysteries, you will find yourself learning the same lessons, challenging your own firmly-held beliefs in the face of Spencer’s cleverly-delivered dialectics on free will, the afterlife, community, and the nature of time.

And just when you finish cursing at the inanimate object in your hands for ending so abruptly just before the climax, you discover the final section of the comic, a piece called Notes From Study Hall, a spot where comic aficionado Metthew Meylikhov gets a chance to freely speculate on what’s really going on in Spencer’s oversized brain. It’s clever, well-worded, and keeps the gears turning a long time after you’ve closed the book. I’m sure you’ll find yourself putting pieces together in your mind as you fold laundry or wait in traffic, flipping through Meylikhov’s theories as you try and find the answers to your own questions.

As I told y’all in Image’s Think Tank Makes You Smarter, I’m especially fond of comics that teach and entertain at the same time. The special thing about Morning Glories is that while you read, no matter what age you are or how certain your beliefs happen to be, you mentally return to the state of studenthood for the span of time between page one and the end. When I was in high school myself, I took a philosophy class that, while terribly taught and barely considered a class (a lot of my classmates spent their time rolling joints and playing PSP), exposed me to Socrates, a self-professed fool who attributed his success as a great thinker to simply believing that he had no idea what he was talking about. Socrates chose to maintain the student’s state of mind: open to new ideas, fluid in consideration, and free of preconceptions.

It’s a state I’ve tried to maintain for myself since the days I studied Socrates for the first time, and I believe it’s served me well. I feel that, by choosing the student as his primary character type, Spencer is able to deliver complex concepts and mind-altering plotlines without coming off as preachy. I’ve found myself shifting between wonder and frustration as I read this comic, but beneath it is a pervading feeling of nostalgia, for this combination of wonder and chagrin is the very state of mind I held within me in my adolescence – both while I made jokes at my teachers’ expense and while I shoveled dinner into my mouth, listening to the profound insights of those who had chosen to spend their lives imparting knowledge to the rest of us.

And that’s ultimately what this comic is about. On the surface, it appears to be teenagers struggling to make sense of the mysterious place they’ve been chosen to reside in, sifting through their teachers’ bullshit to find some semblance of understanding, some piece of truth to hang onto. But at its core, this is a story about knowledge: what it is, how it can be manipulated, and how profound the difference is between what is believed and what is real.

Welcome to Morning Glories, children.

Until next week,

-Benjammin’

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About zahrahthustrah

I am all that I am and could be nothing else. Trust me, I've tried.

Posted on January 5, 2014, in Image Comics, Morning Glories and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Morning glories is the only comic book I have literally dropped because a plot twist shocked me so much.

    • zahrahthustrah

      Nice! I had my own moment like that, but not with this comic. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you which one soon…

      A clue for the super-geeks out there: the comic I’m talking about features a character who’s already been mentioned in a previous article. That’s all I’ll say. I haven’t got much up here yet, so it shouldn’t be too hard to guess if you stray from Marvel and DC’s path from time to time.

      Please, post your guess in the comments section, but I won’t be telling you the answer just yet ;).

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