Sunday, August 7, 2011

Morning Glories (graphic novel, vol. 1) words by Nick Spencer, art by Joe Eisma, covers by Rodin Esquejo

I never know which of the many people involved in the creation of a graphic novel to list. These three names were listed on the cover and the spine, but there's also Alex Sollazzo (colors), Johnny Lowe (letters), Tim Daniel (design), and Jim Valentino (publisher/reprint editor).

Please note that the artist who did the covers and the artist who drew the actual comic are two different people - they have very different art styles, so don't assume that the cover image I included on the left is what the comic looks like.

Synopsis:

Morning Glory Academy, one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, has gained 6 new students.
  • Ike - He's from a wealthy family and has been kicked out of seven schools. He's slick, arrogant, and highly intelligent, and he thinks he's God's gift to women. He has no respect for rules or authority. Actually, he has no respect for other people, period. He's quite possibly a sociopath.
  • Casey - Highly intelligent, with her best subject being physics. She comes from a very loving family and has wanted to go to Morning Glory Academy for years.
  • Zoe - She's an adoptee. Prior to going to Morning Glory Academy, she had multiple boyfriends, none of whom knew about each other. From the look of things, she dated them mostly because they gave her gifts and fawned over her.
  • Hunter - He has a good relationship with his stepbrother, but that's it. His father barely seemed to notice when he left for Morning Glory Academy.
  • Jade - Very, very emo. She baffles and kind of freaks out her family, but they put up with it.
  • Jun - From Tokyo. He knows how to fight.
Nearly from the start of the volume, it's clear that something's not right with Morning Glory Academy. Miss Daramount, the faculty liaison, seems particularly interested in Casey, doing her best to break her and force her to do as she's told. After Miss Daramount nearly drowns all the students in an attempt to get Casey to answer a question about Bell's Theorem, one of the new students is taken away. Casey becomes determined to get her back, but she can only do that with the help and cooperation of the other new students.

Review:

Reading this was, for me, like watching the first season of Lost. It's weird, freaky, and often horrifying, and I'm still not sure what's going on, but I'm totally willing to see where the series is going to go.

Admittedly, I wasn't sure how I felt about this graphic novel at first. In much of the manga I read, characters' expressions are really important. While the colors in Morning Glories are pretty, I thought characters' expressions had a tendency to look stiff or otherwise a bit off. It was also a little hard for me to tell some of the characters apart. For instance, there were multiple girls with black hair that I had to look over a few times, just to make sure they weren't the same girls, or possibly related to the same girls, who appeared in other parts of the volume. Considering that there are at least a couple characters who I think legitimately have doubles (maybe??), I would have appreciated it if all the characters had been easier to tell apart.

The story and setup were so interesting that any issues I had with the artwork seemed minimal. The volume starts off with a scene in a hospital that I still don't understand – nobody's faces are shown, and I have no idea who the “she” being referred to is – and goes right into scenes with characters who, other than Miss Daramount, have yet to show up again. Three pages into a seemingly normal classroom scene (albeit with at least one genius student and a very strict teacher), and readers are treated to an explosion and an escape scene. One of the escapees is gruesomely killed by some guy who can put his hand inside people.

If things had continued this way, I don't think I would have liked Morning Glories very much. It takes more than a freaky, prison-like school with lots of action and possibly paranormal goings on to make something interesting. I was thankful when the story began focusing on the newest crop of students. There were still weird, freaky things going on, but at least one thing, the characters, stayed relatively stable.

Those characters were, for the most part, interesting, or they at least showed the potential to be interesting. Presumably all six new students are geniuses, although only Casey really had a chance to shine in this arena. I don't see myself ever empathizing with Ike, but I imagine he'll be a fascinating character to watch as he tries to survive in a place where it doesn't matter how clever and ruthless he is if he doesn't fit the Academy's mysterious criteria. Jun, Zoe, and Jade may all have some kind of connection to the Academy. Really, the only character who is so far not very interesting is Hunter. It makes me wonder what Spencer plans to do with him. I hope he's not just there to be a possible love interest for Casey.

There are so many strange and/or horrific things going on in this volume that I'm not even sure what to say about it all. The teachers obviously want something from the students and expect to unlock some kind of potential in them. The moment they decide that potential isn't there, they have no problems with killing the students. Whatever it is the teachers are trying to accomplish, it appears to have something to do with a giant spinning object inside the school. Which is maybe connected to some girls who were kept prisoner back in 1490.

It's all confusing and exciting. Whether this series will be a good one or a complete flop will depend entirely on how things shape up in future volumes, but right now things are looking good.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes: 
  • Lost (live action TV series) - A bunch of people survive a plane crash and end up stranded on a mysterious island where things are not as they seem. It's gradually revealed that the various survivors crossed paths prior to the crash. This one might be a good one for those looking for more strange, mysterious happenings in a relatively enclosed area.
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - A disease called Medusa is killing humanity - a person infected with Medusa eventually turns into stone, or something like it, and shatters to bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa kills them. This is another dark, strange, action-filled series with interesting characters. I've written about the first four volumes.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Ichijo Mashiro prefers to think of himself as a boy, but physically he is neither a boy nor a girl. He is told he must take a special class in order to graduate from his elite school. The special class involves entering a dream world in which everyone's physical form looks like something they've been trying to hide about themselves. In most cases, this makes it nearly impossible to tell what the students look like in the waking world, but Ichijo learns to his horror that in the special class he is just himself, in girl form. Those who'd like another freaky and somewhat disturbing series set in a school might want to try this. I've written about the first nine volumes.
  • Red Garden (anime TV series) - Four girls who seem to have almost nothing in common all wake up one morning, unable to remember what happened the previous night. They later learn that they have all died and been reanimated. If they want to continue to exist, they must fight monsters that look like vicious, crazed people. Those who'd like another mysterious horror story starring a bunch of characters who probably wouldn't spend time with each other under different circumstances might want to try this. In addition, this series is also set at least partially at an elite school.

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