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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Morning Glories Volume 1

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Joe Eisner
Colours: Alex Sollazzo
Letters: Johnny Lowe
Design: Tim Daniel
Publisher: Image

What’s it about?
Come walk with us into the halls of Morning Glory Academy.  We join six new students about to start at this impressive private school for the rich and talented.  However things seem a little odd.  The book’s opening chapter begins with a booby trapped exploding blackboard and ends the scene with a mysterious transparent hand feeding off a student’s head…

Oh yeah, Morning Glory is not your usual school.  The teachers have an agenda, the other students seem to be in on the plot and the six new attendees are soon fighting for their lives.

If anyone has ever read The Demon Headmaster book or seen the TV series, this is like a grown up, more adult horror version.

What’s good about it?
It takes a fairly clichéd concept – evil school authority figures out to destroy teenagers lives – and develops something, if not unique, it’s certainly imaginative and solid.

The characters are fairly obvious, three boys, three girls - readers will recognise their archetypes from countless horror films - but again, Spencer brings something new to the mix and makes you care about them.  Casey in particular is a favourite character.  She becomes the unofficial leader of the group and demonstrates her intelligence and resilience.

Historically, in a group of boys, how often do we get to see the girl be the hero?  Girls as heroes is a more common concept now across all media (largely due to the success of Buffy the vampire Slayer franchise), but it didn’t used to be.  For every wonderful heroine there are many more women who are overlooked in the comics and film world.  As such, it’s a pleasure to read about a new series with women at the core of the book.  Casey really is great - she organises, she plans she thinks and she learns.  The others may be as bright as she is, but they do not apply themselves like she does, they are not as ruthless and they certainly aren’t as determined as she is.

All characters (including the teachers and other students) are characterised well – none of them remain ciphers or one dimensional.  Everyone gets a spotlight and everyone gets developed.

It’s also scary, and creepy, and violent.  This book is not for the faint hearted, or the children.  There’s some horrible scenes of blood and teeth and hanging, so if you don’t like violence or gore, you may want to give this book a miss.

The book is well paced and well plotted.  It reads easily and quickly but without being dull.  The suspense is built up nicely with this book having a definitive ending, as well as clearly being part of an ongoing series.  Groundwork for future events is laid with numerous hints and glimpses of darker dealings.  By the end of the book readers will be left curious and thirsty for more.

What’s bad about it?
Well, the six teenagers who are our focus are a little on the clichéd side.  There’s the bright one from a stable family background (Casey), the manipulative two timer (Zoe), the gothic one who’s parents don’t understand her (Jade), the psychopathic one (Ike), the mostly normal one (Hunter), the brawny one with a mysterious past (Fukuyama).
These are common archetypes that we’ve seen in countless horror films, books and TV programmes set in schools.  Spencer doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with them, but he does give them depth, thereby moving them on from being just another empty shell.  All in all, the writing and the characters were enough to make me love this book in spite of some of the problems with the art, which we shall discuss next.

What’s the art like?
The penciller (Joe Eisma) is very good.  He has a good sense of movement and layout, the panels are arranged well and the story moves along in a fluid manner.  Eisner is not afraid to present scenes from different perspectives, which means that you may turn a page and find a rather unsettling view of something.  This is good, it keeps the story fresh and challenges the reader.
Everybody’s faces look different – Eisma was tasked with drawing different ethnicities, and he actually manages it.  Bad artists will draw people with exactly the same facial structure and expect colourists to colour some of them brown and some of them white.  This does not make your cast ethnically diverse, it just makes for a poor artist.  Eisma gives each character distinctive body language and distinctive faces that fits in with their ethnicity, and also differentiates them from each other.  The children look like children and the adults look like adults.

So far so good, the Eisma is a great penciller and inker.  My only criticism of his pencils is that the girls skirts could stand to be a little longer and maybe less tight.  It wouldn’t have hurt to draw them with more length and would move away from the skeevy connotations of sexy schoolgirl.

My other criticism lies in the colouring.  I believe it’s been done on a computer and, well, it just looks a little flat.  There’s no depth, no meat to it.  This is such a shame as with better colours the art (and indeed the whole book) would become so much better.  Having said that, the only scan I've chosen that reflects this is the cover, shown at the top of this post.  The other panels, like the one below, have more emotion and feeling to them.
As it stands, like the clichéd character roles, the colouring is not enough to put me off the book, but it does dent an otherwise wildly enjoyable read.

Other information
Price: £7.50
ISBN: 1607063077

Morning Glories will have a second trade published, but I am not sure when.  If you like this book Nick Spencer has also written Iron Man 2.0 Volume 1, Forgetless, Existence 2.0/3.0 (with Joe Eisma on pencils again) and Shuddertown.
Having not read these books I cannot give advice on which one to buy.

Joe Eisma has delivered art on We the People and Serpo.

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