Hello and welcome back to MGA Study Hall, where all things Morning Glories are analyzed, dissected and poured over with the hope that we can figure out just what is going on!
Today’s issue is issue #39, which focuses on Casey once more, returns to the series to the more plot-styled issues early on and features a big return, of sorts.
Join me as I discuss the issue, its story and the possible hidden secrets that we may or may not be picking up on. I should note: this column contains massive spoilers for the issue. Enormous. Colossal, even. The issue is out today, so make sure to read it first before you read our thoughts. It helps to give the issue a few read throughs before coming to us, but consider this your warning about impending spoilers.
As always, our very lovely/supremely awesome column header was designed by the graphic designer for the actual book, Tim Daniel! For more of Tim’s work, please visit his site Hidden Robot and be sure to check out Tim’s books “Curse” and “Skinned“!
One more thing before we begin, as I’d like to continue to throw out this short plug:
For more details, click the image above. As for myself, I’ve got theorizing to do. Let’s kick it off.
And, true story: Joe and I were chatting about other posters he could homage in a similar style, so who knows — maybe you will seven more soon?
At the beginning of the issue, Clarkson sits with the young baby David and tells him a story, which we arrive in the middle of. In it, a girl is locked up for an unknown reason for a long time, begging for release, until one day she is visited by someone she does not know. The girl asks if the stranger has come to set her free, which he has not. He only says “No, only you—“ … and then Clarkson is cut off by the arrival of her younger self (whom, I should note, she no longer realizes is her, thanks to the Cylinder-related event of #29).
I’d imagine that the next word in the story would be “can” — as in “only you can set yourself free.” The book puts a lot of emphasis overall in the kids taking control of their own lives, even if everything is cyclical and they are potentially bound by fate or other things predetermined. However, even if they weren’t, the story itself makes for a good parable, and certainly something that we can glean our own inherent meaning and ethics from.
More to the point, though, the story seems similar to one that Clarkson tells Casey back in issue #27, which is one of her favorites. That story was about a woman locked up during the Inquisition, tortured and experimented upon by “captors who seem to alternately hate them and worship them” – which seems obviously analogous to the Academy, but also in direct relation to the opening sequence of #3, which introduced us to the phrase “the hour of our release draws near.”Continued below
However, given the phrase’s reference with the Academy and my assumption of the missing word, the idea being presented here is of someone setting themselves free, assumedly from gaining additional knowledge, perspective or faith – which would explain why Casey/Clarkson was fond of it. The truth will set you free, as they say.
It’s an idea that has often echoed through the book. Casey has been told by Hodge that she needs to take charge of her own destiny, and the latter half of this issue and its relation to Casey’s new goal (to run for class president) as access to the Headmaster seems to be in direct relation to this. But that doesn’t change who Casey currently is: a prisoner locked up with no release in sight, visited by someone who can only help by telling her to seek her own enlightenment (which could be Hodge).
While we don’t know more about the connection between the two stories and how Clarkson knows about it (she claims she got it from a book, but you never know), the story does seem to have some kind of direct importance to Clarkson as it has now been mentioned twice — once to someone who can understand what she is saying, and once to someone who can not. This, to me, makes it seem like the opening to issue #3 and what this story is referencing has some kind of specific reference to Clarkson, Casey, or even David.
While we’ll discuss more about what Casey has done to herself later (for you backmatter readers, you already know some of where I’m going with this), but the opening interaction between Clarkson and Casey strikes me as an intriguing one.
When Casey says that it’s because of Clarkson that she got into the Academy, the implication here seems a bit more dire. At a surface read it’s certainly the notion that through being a good teacher Clarkson was able to get Casey into a great prep school; that her teachings inspired a great student that has gone on to achieve success. But, well, we know there’s more to it than that; Clarkson has been pushing Casey towards this, and she hasn’t been alone as the issue reveals. That, and the mere fact that Clarkson is Casey makes this more troublesome (though we’ll talk more about this later).
There’s certainly a point in time where Casey has a bit of divergence from her understanding of her own timeline. We know for a fact that Casey, as she is in the school right now, does not remember the Clarkson years. Those memories were taken away when she touched the Cylinder; she doesn’t know she did all of these things to herself, and that’s a rather prime example of dramatic irony, my friends.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that by this point our understanding of Clarkson is that she does not remember what who she was. She is simply Clarkson at this point, as was implied after issue #28’s crash inherently led to the moment where Casey returned to the Academy and #29 implied that Clarkson’s memories had been rewritten. That final look of surprise, though, something with perhaps even an element guilt as Casey embraces her is a curious one; does Clarkson even know what the Academy is? Has that been completely wiped from her mind? She remembers the story so clearly there is some remnant of her past self, but for all intents and purposes she doesn’t know she’s an older Casey — so to what extent is Clarkson actually still a double-agent, I wonder?
“Rise and Shine, Morning Glories!”
So, we start off the main plot of the story with a look at where all our main characters are and some clever dialogue from the person making the morning announcements that illuminates aspects of what’s been going on with each and every one of them. Lets go over them.
- Hunter, waking up in bed. We recently learned that Hunter can travel in his dreams towards a shared space in which he can hang out with his new friends in the AV Club. Also, he’s wearing a “Not Penny’s Boat” shirt, a reference to LOST, and he has a poster for the Sloan album “Navy Blues.” Continued below
- Ike, nursing his bruises that Gribbs gave to him last issue. The dialogue references how today is gonna be way better than “dumb old yesterday,” and “who needs him, right?!!”, which is a not so subtle reference to the general ostracizing that Ike has experienced recently.
- Jade, applying make-up once more. While this is not a direct reference to any story (more so a general nod to her personality), the dialogue references about how today offers the possibility of tomorrow, which seems in reference to the role that Future Jade plays in the storyline.
- Jun, who is in the body of Hisao who introduced himself as Jun when the real Jun was taken by the Academy under the impression that he is Hisao but has recently literally switched bodies when Jun was dying and Hisao sacrificed his life and body and somehow managed to switch the two (good lord, what a sentence that is), is exercising. The biggest thing about the panel does seem to be Jun’s face, which continues his trademark scowl and general surliness, though the dialogue does reference things for athletes to do while he’s in the exercise room.
- However, Jun’s panel seems more to do with the following panel with Guillaume, who appears with the message of needing to choose your teammates wisely — a not so subtle nod to the fact that Guillaume backed the wrong horse, ie Irina’s revolution. Also, Guillaume his wet and naked. That seems of note.
- Vanessa, staring out into the distance. Vanessa’s last story dealt with Vanessa having the opportunity to go back in time and say goodbye to Brendan, while the dialogue references the return of of a science fair. The apple tree in front of her seems deliberate as well.
- Ian, with all of his books knocked down. Ian’s never really been shown to be a clutz, but he has been shown as someone who has been beat down by others. The dialogue does refer to challenges, though, and that seems rather apt for Ian.
- A shot of Akiko, still in her hospital bed, though not as cute and funny as that one Babies strip. The dialogue makes reference to how some people may still be recovering but they don’t want to miss out on all the fun upcoming activities, because Nick is mean. At least she’s not dead like I thought she was?
- A shot of Fortunato, without the use of his eyes after Daramount crushed them with her thumbs. The dialogue makes reference to wanting to make the most of your time at the school, and that seems to potentially have resonance for Fortunato, who is ostensibly planning for what he will do next.
- The AV Club is shown, and the dialogue notes that nobody likes a party pooper. The AV Club? Party poopers? No!
- A shot of Daramount back at the blackboard, ready to teach again, while the dialogue makes note that the Academy (for which Daramount is the obvious stand-in) wants the best in its student, “nothing more than all you have to give.” Which is, you know, a lot.
- A shot of Gribbs with a bandage and a ticket, apparently in an airport and getting ready to go on a flight. The dialogue makes note of the Academy “searching the world far and wide” for its students, and when we last saw Gribbs he was trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Abraham from Ike via the use of his fists. I’d say it’s pretty obvious who Gribbs is going after.
- Oliver Simon, in some kind of nicely furnished room, with a look of terror in his eyes. Oliver Simon was brought to the school assumedly under a state of duress, and the dialogue makes a note of the Academy being “the place where you always belonged.” Since we do not know too much about Simon other than he is Ian’s “father” and that he has interacted with Clarkson and Miss Richmond, we do not know his true connection to the Academy yet; this panel seems to be alluding to something there.
- We see the aforementioned Miss Richmond, staring out at Vanessa, an echo of Vanessa’s panel two pages ago. The dialogue makes reference to being at the Academy as something of the highest honor, and given that we know that Richmond worked for Abraham at his school you do have to wonder what her role at the Academy is. If the Academy allowed in her daughter, surely they’re aware of Richmond’s involvement with Abraham? Continued below
So that’s that, then.
Oh, and the person making morning announcements?
Everyone’s favorite Pamela. That’s a bit more sinister than I imagine most people wanted, though her reference to reunions sure does seem to hint not only at the later events of this issue between Casey and her rival Isabel, but perhaps even a) the cast reuniting in a big way and b) Pamela herself having some sort of motives and plans in action.
One could hope.
Hodge’s Second Office
When we first met Hodge in issue #12, we saw what her office looks like. It was quite nice; some hippy posters, some good vibes and an all around feeling that Hodge was the champion of our people. After more and more interaction with her my opinion certainly soured to the point where I’m adamantly convinced she’s a villain and a threat — but hey, that’s just me. You can read issue #20 however you want!
So, as it turns out, she’s got a secondary office down in the basement. Not only does this bring back the recurring aspect of the series in a) people usually heading down stairs and b) a massive, creepy subbasement that’s practically TARDIS-like in its infinite rooms and secret corners, but it also confirms that there is somewhere else where Hodge hangs her coat (literally, too). And this, to me, is further problematic towards who she is. If she had nothing to hide, she wouldn’t need an office that no one else knows about.
Unless, of course, she was kicked out of her previous office. That’s a potential event, though it is not one this issue sees fit to address.
This scene teaches us a bit, though. For one, it confirms that Casey does not remember her time away from campus (which we all pretty much knew, but it’s nice to have some confirmation of this), and two, that Casey is further special in that she can read Hodge’s secret psychic papers. You may remember that when Hodge was introduced, she showed a blank piece of paper that — to her — was full of information; yet it was not anything that we could see, since we didn’t have the power to. Casey apparently has that power, and Hodge finds this problematic to say the least.
It is also worth noting that this technique is something that the AV Club mentioned that they wanted to do as well — to create a school newspaper that could be passed around that only the students could read. This could mean that there are varying degrees of psychic paper, or even ways that it can be harnessed so that only special people can see certain things, which in turn reflects back to Casey being able to see Hodge’s secret papers. Why would she be able to? I’m not sure, but Hodge does give this a steady “Hm” and then suggests they go see Nurse Nine — which, really, is like the equivalent of saying, “Hey, Casey, how about I smash you in the face with a brick.”
Sorry, Vanessa fans.
One of the major reveals of this particular issue is in relation to Casey’s role within the school. We get confirmation of the Cylinder’s effect on her memory (in that it erased it), and we learn a lot more towards what she’s supposed to be doing next.
What’s more, though, is that Hodge’s explanation for everything in this book is that Casey essentially set herself up (per Hodge’s direction) to both come back to and initially arrive at the Academy. Despite going back to the “wrong” time (Hodge says they went too far), Casey was still able to become Clarkson without tipping off her younger self, allowing her to push herself towards the Academy.
We’ve discussed a loop/cycle nature in book before (#31), and that is certainly conducive to popular theories of time travel – that everything is stuck within a rigid set of occurrences. “Morning Glories” posited that time travel is a loop, but one that is breakable (#22); this is why, when sent back in time, Casey could ostensibly do whatever it is she wanted and manipulate the time stream for a bit. This is certainly a facet of the series that we have talked about in the past, but it seems worth bringing up that everything that is currently happening to Casey is based on things she has herself done to herself. That’s a very convoluted phrase to type out and feels a bit strange to read back, but it’s true.Continued below
Yet this issue seems to slightly contradict that, or at least offer a nod to the role fate may play, because while Casey can do whatever she wants, time ultimately “course corrects” back into the loop for specific, important moments. It’s why she doesn’t remember anything anymore, and it is her self-imposed doom.
You will note, when Hodge gets Casey to help her, she mentions “I can be very persuasive when I want to be,” which seems to be some of that old fashioned mind control at work here.
Also: people going UP stairs? That can’t be a good sign.
So, About Casey’s Parents
Casey’s primary motivation throughout everything that she has done — while, sure, trying to save herself and others — has been about saving her parents. Obviously a huge part of the book deals with parental issues and the relationship between a parent and child, and that has certainly been an important dynamic for Casey. For example, her relationship with her father is explored in great detail in issue #16, when the current Casey interacts with a younger version of her father when she time travels back to the wrong place.
And in this issue, Casey takes Hodge to task on this. She did a certain array of tasks, so did it work? Did she save her parents? We saw in issue #16 that Casey’s actions affected her parents somewhat, and we’ve seen that Casey as Clarkson has interacted with her parents and even manipulated her mother (#27). But when Hodge responds with what happened, nothing she says at all relates to her parents; she simply confirms the loop and says the plan went wrong, though Casey doesn’t seem to react too much to that. There are bigger things going on, which we address in the next session.
So while Casey is not aware of every single piece that makes up the bigger puzzle, it’s important to note that by the end of the issue she now understands that everything – her going back in time, Clarkson, her interactions with Isabel – has been manipulated by Hodge and, to a frightening extent, herself in collusion. And what’s worse is that she has no idea what has become of her parents, which was the whole reason she agreed to doing all of this.
But, well, here’s the thing. If you remember, in issue #21 Irina is given the same treatment as Casey; the Academy ostensibly knows she will be trouble so they show her her dead parents hung up. Irina laughs at this, noting that these are not her parents, and we later learn this is true; we meet her mother, and it turns out the Headmaster is her father. The question I pose, though, is that the Academy may have only fake killed somebody in order to send Irina a message; the dead bodies that are shown are not her parents in the literal sense, sure, but they also don’t have to be her foster family either (we do see her foster family, and it is the people hung up later).
So in a book that has so many cloak and dagger moves already, it’s quite possible that nothing ever happened to Casey’s parents. Hodge offers Casey help, that she could “bring them back.” But we know Hodge is a liar. Maybe there’s no one to bring back?
This issue re-introduces and puts a heavy emphasis on Isabel, a character we met briefly in #26, the prelude to the current “season.” Back when we first met her (and Clarkson, for that matter), Isabel insinuated that Casey had only placed well in school due to cheating during a science fair – something that is mentioned quite a bit in a rather passive aggressive scene in this issue as well.
It’s also about to happen at Morning Glory Academy, as mentioned earlier in the issue. Certainly not a coincidence.
Of course, as we learn, Isabel is a student (perhaps THE student) of the Academy. Ostensibly just a normal rival in the public education system Casey came from, we learn that she was actually a plant from Hodge in order to specifically antagonize Casey and push her to the school, the same goal that Clarkson had. Isabel essentially seems like a failsafe in that regard; Hodge remarks that Isabel was gone for two years, and we meet Isabel as Casey enters the 9th grade, putting their rivalry in 8th grade as a direct result of Hodge’s machinations.Continued below
With this we’re given someone who is clearly Casey’s main antagonist; Daramount, Hodge and Irina all somewhat take that role from time to time due to different goals, but it’s clear that Isabel and Casey are literally going to go head to head in the upcoming arc. That’s an interesting and fairly unseen dynamic in this series. So much of the conflict is done through shadow games and maneuvers, yet this is going to be a very open conflict given the nature of the election.
What’s intriguing about Isabel to me though is how facetious she is for the duration that we know her. As she appears in this issue, she spends the majority of the issue lying to Casey’s face in the past, only to reveal herself at the end in what we may lightly refer to as her “true self.” Isabel is a master manipulator, and while she clearly was tasked with motivating Casey to go to the school, what’s interesting now is that she’ll stay a rival. If they’re both at the school then Isabel doesn’t necessarily need to challenge Casey anymore; she completed that aspect of her mission already. Isabel claims she is moving on with nothing but love in her heart.
So why the antagonizing birthday card? Why all the posturing? Does she actually hate Casey like she claims?
Isabel, by the way, is a name of Hebrew origin that means “God is my oath.” (Casey, for comparison, is an Irish Gaelic name meaning brave, or vigilant.) Additionally, when we met Isabel she mentioned an extended summer European vacation between 8th and 9th grade. Given what we saw Casey do in her thirteen years abroad (#26-30, 35-37), what did Isabel do in a few months?
Oh, and one more thing:
As somewhat mentioned with the birthday card before, Isabel knows how to use the psychic paper. Casey showed that she could read Hodge’s papers earlier, so this is perhaps a direct tie to that in some way (in terms of how likely or unlikely it is that Hodge taught Isabel how to write with psychic paper — I’d say likely) and, if nothing else, somewhat confirms the earlier theory that psychic paper can be utilized in different ways by different people for different people and for different goals.
This is going to be good.
Coming Up Next in “Morning Glories”
So if anyone’s mission statement has ever been more clear, I’m not sure of it.
While I’m sure we’re going to see many things coming up from “Morning Glories” in the upcoming arc, it’s clear that a big aspect of it will be Casey attempting to defeat her rival and gain the trust of the student body so that she can access the Headmaster and we can find out who that guy is. Hodge’s explanation of things to Casey is a bit out of order, but she does use some interesting word choices: she asks Casey if she wants to play some kind of “game” to destroy the school as oppose to go along with Hodge’s plan, and Casey then later throws that back in Hodge’s face by refusing to play Hodge’s games. It’s one of those great moments where characters seem to be aware that everyone is trying to manipulate everyone, and rather than lie down and take it they’re going to throw that knowledge that they know what the other person is up to right out in the open.
What’s interesting, by the way, is that Hodge wins by essentially throwing down the gauntlet: Hodge straight up calls Casey a cheater, and I’m inclined to believe her. In all the bickering between Casey and Isabel it’s probably fair for you to want to side with Casey, to believe she didn’t cheat and didn’t use a leg-up to get where she’s going. But at the end of the book, the last line of the issue is Hodge flat-out telling Casey that this time she may not have to cheat in order to defeat Isabel — and considering how much Hodge has manipulated everything so far, that is at least something you can trust in.
So in the battle of Isabel vs Casey, who will win? And not only that, but the bigger question to ask is: who is going to take what side? Casey is a leader and a natural born one at that, but don’t forget that Casey has been referred to as a very dangerous individual: she’s manipulative, she’s cunning, she’s often times selfish and self-serving, and she’s technically a murderer. Her friends aren’t necessarily happy with her here at the school, and she has the uphill battle of trying to win them all over now in order to make her class president.Continued below
But if we look at some of the other drama that’s currently going on, it’s tough to think of if this can work out easily for her. Casey certainly had a winning personality and an immediate grasp of the situation when her and her fellow Glories arrived, but now the gang’s dismantled: Hunter no longer wants to be friends with her; Hisao is dead and is replaced with his brother, and Zoe is just dead (depending on your interpretation of the finale to the last issue). Ike is basically out of the gang, and Jade is in that weird place where I’m not sure we can tell who she firmly aligns with anymore (though I’d believe she still likes Casey). The rest of the Truants seem to be OK with her, but I’ll remind you that there’s still an internal power struggle over who is the new leader of the Overthrow Morning Glory Academy Gang.
Can Casey win? Potentially. Anything can happen.
Can Casey win without cheating? That’s the real question.
One Last Thing
Just figured I’d throw this in before we wrap up, as the cap-off to this week’s Study Hall:
Maybe now you get the reference in Joe’s pre-issue teaser?
As I’ve mentioned before, the Morning Glories Wikipedia is now live, featuring copious notes and annotations. While I’ve not written anything particular for it, I’ve contributed a few inklings here and there, and some notes are sourced for this very column in a cleaner database friendly fashion — so I guess think of it like this column, but with less “me” and more straight-up presentation of materials. Should be good for every time we get a name and are wondering if it has been mentioned before. (I particularly like this entry, myself.)
In further things you should be following, the Morning Glory Academy Study Hall podcast is live and updated with tons of episodes for you to listen to, including commentary for the fourth arc ‘Truants.’ You can find them streaming here on Multiversity Comics (see below for links) or on Podomatic and on iTunes. For those unaware of its purpose, this is a podcast that I do with Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma in which we discuss each individual issue at length, offering up commentary tracks to go alongside your reads. It’s pretty much the best.
And, oh, I suppose while linking to rival website isn’t good for Multiversity business, I will note that all-around good guy Kiel Phegley does a column called Morning Glory Days about “Morning Glories” where he interviews Nick that is a pretty interesting read for fans of the series. I won’t actively say you should visit other websites besides Multiversity, but I do like Kiel. It’s worth a read.
If you’d like to contact myself directly with thoughts or comments, shoot me an e-mail at the very specific firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a real e-mail that you can find at the bottom as well, should you prefer that.
I’ll see you in the backmatter!!
Previous audio podcasts: second arc interviews, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, second arc wrap-up, NSRFQR, third arc interviews, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, third arc wrap-up, all of the fourth arc