In this new column, I’ll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column.
Today, I am proud to present a review by Victoria Gu, the very first Oxford Student featured on our site! Victoria is a chronically sleep-deprived freshman intending to double major in Biology and Psychology and pursue a career in medicine. She originally hails from Seattle, WA where she spends her breaks indulging in overpriced hipster eats, cooking old Chinese home recipes, and camping beneath the stars. From a young age, she grew fond of both the technical and creative, learning appreciation for the life sciences from her maternal grandfather and appreciation of the arts and Chinese calligraphy from her paternal grandfather. Her reading tastes take on a similar duality, dabbling in the practicality of contemporary nonfiction and the quaintness of classics.
Morning Glories (Vol. 1) by Nick Spencer (author) & Joe Eisma (artist)
Morning Glories (Vol. 1) is an edgy take on the typical private school drama complete with a new-age Breakfast Club type dynamic and an ominous overtone. Its rebellious spirit will likely attract a younger audience more so than an older one who would have trouble identifying with the angsty, and considerably immature, main characters. Young readers drawn to the teen-turned-adult storyline of Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars will also enjoy the series.
We begin with the arrival of six brilliant young minds at the gates of illustrious private school, Morning Glory Academy, and we follow them as they quickly uncover the less than glamorous secrets of the school and embark on a quest for survival. It initially appears as though the students are only unified by talents that granted them enrollment at the institution. However, Spencer gradually reveals their individual connections to one another, and, more importantly, to Morning Glory’s less than scholarly intentions. Spencer shifts from scene to scene in a fast-paced manner possibly meant to confuse readers and contribute to the stressful undertones of the plot. Despite the at times predictable nature of the story, I enjoyed the action-movie feel of the comic and series of plot-altering revelations.
The group is led primarily by Casey, a confident young woman who fiercely defies school authority, which establishes her as a person of interest in the eyes of the administrators. She has a strong sense of moral responsibility and displays a level of empathy and protectiveness absent in the other characters. Opposite Casey is her roommate, Zoe, whose self-centered and unrestrained nature isolates her from the other students. By portraying Zoe, a student illustrated to be of Asian descent, as the brash and shallow mean girl, Spencer rejects the homogenous white casts of traditional comics as well as the typical nerdish label typically given to Asian characters. However, he borrows the traditional privileged and schemy bad-boy archetype for Ike who, like Zoe, attempts to project a facade of confidence and savviness while hiding internal distress. Contrasting Ike is Hunter who satisfies the story’s need for an innocent and nerdy persona to complement the stronger personalities. Though Ike lacks the outspokenness of his peers, he, like most of the characters apart from Casey, comes from a broken home, which appears to create a subconscious bond between the students. The remaining two students, Jun and Jade, have puzzling stories and their own ties to the academy but ultimately play less prominent roles in this volume. Though several teachers appear to be the villains of the story, it is revealed that they are only the foot soldiers of larger figures leading the academy. Like an onion, the story begins with a flaky exterior and progresses as layers are peeled back to expose stinging truths.
Personally, I believe Joe Eisma’s art is the star of the show. It compensates for some of the story’s logical disruptions and does a spectacular job of conveying the gritty determination of the characters to overcome. My favorite scene, sadly enough, is Casey being tortured by the evil Miss Daramount. Eisma shows her fatigued body being twisted by blasts of electricity, but somehow simultaneously shows her strength and will to resist the academy.
Eisma’s illustration of the characters appears largely contemporary, perhaps a hybrid of American-style superhero graphics with Japanese manga. In Japan, manga art is highly praised for allowing artists to create distinct characters and define specific traits. For example, features of the characters are exaggerated and complement their dramatic personalities. Eisma pays great attention to the characters’ bone structure and build, giving arrogant and self-serving Ike a chiseled jawline and defined musculature, while visually communicating Hunter’s shyness with softer features and a more feminine appearance. In turn, Casey and Zoe are shapely and eye catching, and they instantly convey confidence.
At times, the overall storyline seems to become weak because of Spencer’s attempts to intensify the suspense by withholding essential plot information. It can be difficult to grasp the actions of the teens and school administrators, leaving readers more puzzled than absorbed and reliant on illustrations to aid their confusion. The teenagers are clearly multifaceted and meant to keep readers on their toes, but they lack in-depth development, which would prevent some readers from forming emotional connections.
Morning Glories is enjoyable to binge read alongside cocoa and a warm bed but fails to offer any message of great value, thereby warranting the series a rating of three-and-a-half stars. However, despite the few weaknesses I mentioned, volume one of Morning Glories does well its job of keeping readers enticed enough to want to continue the series — as the story ends, we are left with a mix of alluringly bold characters and looming threats. Some moderate confusion, mild horror, and character infatuation is enough to find loyal readers looking for a light, but suspenseful, read. However, Morning Glories may lose potential readers seeking a more thought-provoking read. Still, the series has the ability to attract readers of all ages, ranging from teenagers searching for a parallel of their own experiences to adults taking solace in the whimsy of younger years.
I like this review, Victoria. You make a good point about this narrative being kind of predictable (like your point about the typical villain structure of the higher-ups and the typical themes of a school drama), but also less predictable in the sense that the author is trying to pull away from some stereotypes (like the super academic Asian trope). Sounds like morning glories get away with weak plot points with the fantastic illustration. I try to avoid remembering the whimsy of my younger years, but I may give this one a go for sheer entertainment value, like you suggest.
Nice review. I especially liked your concise yet substantive detailing of character. I unfortunately often find a similar mismatch in my graphic reading where the art is stronger and than the narrative. As someone who tends to prefer thought provoking, I’ll probably give this one a pass. Great job!
Thoughtful review, thanks. I tend to have different moods for reading, sometimes preferring thematically dense work and sometimes wanting something light. I’ll save this book for one of those lighter times.
This is a neat column. I look forward to hearing more from Victoria and your other students!
Thank you, Celene!
This is wonderful, Victoria! I loved reading your review and hope to read more from you someday. Thanks for contributing to our site!