The difficulty in reviewing single issues of something like Morning Glories is the fact that this juggling act is nowhere near complete. In issue nine, Nick Spencer continues to toss more balls in the air, making an already complex tale of intrigue and deception even more difficult to balance. We have known for some time that Jun had a brother and that finding his brother was his foremost reason for entering Morning Glory Academy. But now we find out the truth of not just that fraternal relationship but of Jun’s very identity as well.
With his trademark flair for misdirection, Spencer’s big reveal in this issue isn’t what you think it is. There’s the fairly obvious twist that we’re supposed to focus on and then there’s the throwaway line that Spencer distracts from like a magician telling a joke while he hides the rabbit. If you’ve read the issue you likely know what I’m talking about, and it’s the kind of thing that could completely ruin the plans of whoever is behind Morning Glory Academy.
Though we’re only nine issues in, Spencer has crafted such a perversely convoluted narrative that fans of the series likely already feel completely immersed, like we’re several “seasons” down the line. Because issue nine is in essence a vehicle for one potentially huge payoff and a bit of character development, it doesn’t stand out the way some prior issues have. But it’s not really meant to.
Yes, it can occasionally be painful to have information doled out in such small servings and in some ways Spencer’s boundless ambition is a double edged sword. The writer has a gift for making truly addictive stories that ask for complete submission — you’re either wholly devoted to Morning Glories or you’re not, there isn’t much of a middle ground. But it’s tough not to doubt your faith since, unlike a Brian K. Vaughan or Grant Morrison, Spencer has no completed or near-completed long-term series to his name. Of course, there was a point when neither of those titans of sequential storytelling did, either.
It’s a true testament to Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo, then, that this current character driven arc has nonetheless remained exciting. Where last issue was a showcase for Eisma’s mastery of the personal, with entire pages devoted to character expressions, issue nine displays his ever growing knack skill at visual storytelling. Juxtaposing siblings play fighting and real fighting across two different timeframes, Eisma is able to express things in body posture that even the best writers would struggle to express in words. Combined with Sollazzo’s subtle palette swaps, Eisma is the main force keeping this story clear.
If you’re a naysayer who thinks this story would have been better suited for television, this issue, perhaps more than most, offers a pretty handy visual representation of why you’re wrong. Eisma really seizes the medium of comics here, directly contrasting panels and even entire pages. Character posture in flashback mirrors character posture in the present, facial expressions themselves lead back into memories — it’s a testament to the value of comic structure.
Outside of the natural confines of its place in the larger picture, there are still a few things that prohibit issue nine from standing out as one of the series’ best, excellent art notwithstanding. Issue nine requires a lot of faith from readers — faith that the hidden reveal will have that huge payoff, faith that the plot itself will soon get back on track and this detour was worth it in the grand scheme of things.
Those of us on the Spencer train likely won’t get off unless we see an entire derail, but more casual fans might be a little wary of stop-and-go pacing this arc has utilized. That’s a fair criticism, especially given how short Spencer’s track record is, but this is the kind of story that has to be told this way. What I’m more concerned about is the sudden, deus ex machina-like appearance of a man in white… or, off-white I should say. But that’s a discussion for another issue.