Off The Shelf: Morning Glories Volume 1

What could have been a lame horror movie about an evil prep school turns out to be a deeply intense thriller.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Morning Glories Volume 1

Morning Glories Volume 1 has been sitting in my apartment waiting for me to read it for quite some time now. I'd picked it up because I'd heard good things about the series from Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma, but I'd put off reading it because I rarely find high school kids interesting, and a lazy flip through the pages made it seem like some kind of lame version of The Faculty, which I didn't actually bother seeing, either. Although maybe I should, since it's a Robert Rodriguez movie featuring Jon Stewart kicking a bunch of kids' asses.

Anyway, it sat there on my end table, occasionally yelling at me with a "Hey, I'm probably better than you think I am!" tone of voice, and now that I've finally read it, I have to agree it was right. Morning Glories is kind of a pulse-pounder.

We open with a science class that turns into a high-end pseudo-bombing, which turns out to just be a cover for something of a jailbreak for others. It doesn't end well, thanks to some interference from a creepy ghost thing, and we learn right off the bat that Morning Glory Academy is full of evil teachers with mysterious plans. That makes the standard 'getting to know the backstories of the main cast members' montage that much more fraught with tension, as we know the kind of hell into which they don't know they are gleefully walking. Rest assured, I use 'gleefully' with its more traditional meaning. Nobody breaks into song here.

There's Casey, the overachieving blonde girl who is excited to be there. There's Ike, the rich-kid malcontent sociopath who delights in subverting any kind of authority and who may or may not have killed his own father. There's Zoe, the flighty, crushingly selfish cheerleader who is stringing along five separate boyfriends with no actual concern for them. There's Hunter, the good egg with the distant father who makes Star Wars references and rightfully gets shit for it. There's Jade, the emotionally imbalanced bad prose writer who stalks teachers and is overdramatic. Then there's Jun, a kid from Tokyo who seems to be fully aware of the dangers he's about to face, and has an agenda of his own.

On their first day at Morning Glory, their rude awakening is fairly quick. From murdered goats in the orientation film to the eerie discovery that it happens to be the sixteenth birthday of each one of them, to Jade's discovery that her father suddenly doesn't even remember who she is, no time is wasted in ratcheting up the conflict. It's even worse for Casey, who finds that they dragged her parents to the academy and killed them. Actually, she doesn't even find that – she's shown that by her overly-peppy nutjob roommate Pamela.

What follows is an intense thriller about resisting authority – an authority who has seen and quelled every kind of rebellion and, in fact, seems to be trying to coerce them into bucking against their constraints specifically so they can break them. Their motivations beyond pure evil are unclear, although they speak a lot about a greater good being served, and there's some strange whirling dervish sort of thing that obviously Means Something, but we don't know what – at least not in this first volume. Although the clue may have something to do with Bell's theorem in quantum mechanics that "reality must be non-local."  Whatever that means.

The art from Joe Eisma is fairly compelling stuff, aside from some occasional face issues, and serves Spencer's story well with the sheer malevolence in the eyes of the faculty. The lead nasty, the stern librarian-esque Miss Daramount, initially puts one in the mind of thinking 'oh, of course she'll take her hair down and have some sexy side,' but as time passes and she just seems more and more cruel and sadistic, you just can't wait to see her dead. The ostensibly 'nicer' guy, Mister Gribbs, is all about the higher cause, which is apparently wondrous and beautiful and nothing he's allowed to talk about yet. However, he is also a monster, as we see during his "inspiring" monologue, wherein we also learn that Casey's even smarter than we thought.

Morning Glories Volume 1 is a huge bunch of mystery that remains unsolved by the end, but it's also quick in establishing its tension and it doesn't give you any easy relief from it. It's very arresting reading, and I look forward to grabbing the second trade collection to see what happens next.