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 #45, in which we talk about the Ellsworths, and everything is depressing.
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 “Burning Fields” 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.
An Unhappy Reunion
At the end of issue #34, a Jade-centric issue, we found out that Jade brought her mother back to life. We weren’t too sure what this entailed or how she did it, but we did know a few things. Specifically we knew:
- That dead is dead, but
- That life can be “transferred” between vessels, a la but Jun and Hisao did in #33.
This made the final scene a bit perplexing, for all the obvious and related reasons. The discussion about death in the book is very specific, even if things can get confusing in other places; as Nick Spencer has said many times, when characters die they die — even if we see them again. After all, we saw Abraham get stabbed to death in #24, and yet in #25 we found out that that “hadn’t happened yet,” allowing him to be alive due to some kind of time travel.
Therefore when we look at what happened with Jade and her mother, we are in the unenviable position of once again asking whether or not we can truly understand what happened. We were forced to use our assumptions and the story logic for what death encompasses, yet when it comes down to it we can’t really explain anything about death at all. All we really know about death is that it doesn’t follow any logic or reason, it’s just an element of a larger equation — which, for the record, is a pretty apt description of death outside of the comic, I think.
All of which brings us to…
Livin’ on a Prayer
Back in #34 when we first found out that Jade brought her mom back to life, there were theories as to what this may entail. I posited that to some extent she had come back as a husk of her former self – which, if we view “husk” as a metaphor and not something literal (which is what I was thinking, like she woke up in a vegetative state or something), ends up being somewhat true. The question we once again have to ask – just like in #34 – becomes what just happened?Continued below
We can now confirm that at least part of what happened was that Jade prayed, and that her prayer was answered. Jade admits to praying, and even her mother seems to connect what happened with something divine. However, we can also attribute this miracle to the powers that the students of the Academy seem to have, not dissimilar to being able to read blank pieces of paper or travel through time — although the rules of this power do not seem to be defined. And if there is a definition that we aren’t aware of, there are certainly self-imposed rules that Jade goes into later.
Where this power seems to differ from the others, though, is that Jade does not seem to believe she was in direct control of the action. This is interesting, and not inherently out of line; as this was part of a prayer, Jade seems convinced that her power was directly bestowed from someone else – and that whoever answered her prayer wasn’t Capital-G God (or at least some kind of standard-definition benevolent being) but someone else. It makes sense if you think of other children that have used powers like Irina or Vanessa, who only seemed to be able to do what they did thanks to the presence of shrines — ie, a place of power in which their natural abilities were enhanced or bestowed enough to perform specific actions (although this is in contrast with someone like Casey, who can influence people with her words whenever she wants).
Yet, the bigger question is: where does the power come from? How does it work, and what does it mean for the person who uses it? Does it damn them, or is it something they can do good with? Only a few instances of power use in the book have been done in an altruistic fashion (see: Jun and Hisao), and Jade’s own mother describes Jade and her use of power as “pure evil” and claims to “see the devil in” her; sure, Jade’s mother is operating under her own understandings of religion and a certain amount of PTSD, but this still brings up the question of: where do the students even get their powers from? The Academy? We’ve always assumed that the students were born with their abilities due to some special recurrence on May 4th, but if gods are created then what happened to Jade as a baby? Something similar to what Baby Ike went through at Wow-Mo! (#44)? Or is this perhaps related to that strange Scientist who seems to know Jade and Oliver Simon (#10)? If we’re going off of last issue (#44)’s confusing birthing ideas, is Jade a test-tube baby?
To our understanding, “god” in the series is fairly manufactured, thanks in part to the repeated phrase “so we created our own gods.” It’s perhaps safe to say at this point that the children themselves are “gods” in the same way that Harry Potter was a “wizard” when he enrolled at Hogwarts; magic can be described as advanced science we just don’t understand yet, but the powers the children have – especially in the scene where Jade resurrects her mother – are unrefined to say the least, and they’re still learning (or being “created”). If nothing else, this could inherently be the purpose of the Academy.
So, when all is said and done, one thing that this issue asks (albeit not specifically) is: who, or what, is Jade?
For 45 issues now, we’ve known her. She’s a sweet girl, a bit goth or emo at times, but none the less an important part of our story. We know that she’s suicidal, but we also know that she grows up to be someone very knowledgable and important. We think she has some feelings for Ike and we hope that he can stop being a shit enough to be good to her, and most importantly — perhaps more than any of the other students — we want to see Jade win. On the one hand we know that she does, but aside from Casey, Jade seems to have the most difficult path in front of her; it’s just a matter of how she overcomes it.Continued below
Despite what the school says, we know Jade is special. She’s special in her abilities, and she’s special to us. But all that aside, does that mean Jade is inherently good? Her mother certainly doesn’t seem to think so, and it clearly weighs heavily on her.
While it may not seem like it on the surface, this issue opens up a Pandora’s box of questions. What does this issue’s primary discussion between Guillaume and Jade mean for the existence of a higher power in the series? If Jade is learning, who or what exists above her in order to answer prayers like this in the first place, and what is it that makes them evil? The series somewhat operates under the assumption that the school itself is “evil,” but it’s only evil in the sense that we don’t understand their central mandate of operations enough to sympathize — so what does that mean for Jade? Is Mary-Beth even right about what is or isn’t evil in the first place, in a book where the basics of morality and ethics are about as gray as they come?
Long story short, this is the quandary that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein poses: is Frankenstein’s Monster inherently good or evil? He is a “monster” so we denote him as evil, but that does not make him so – especially when we consider the circumstance of his creation. And what about the creator? How do we accept their morality or ethics into this play, and to what end do their actions define what is transposed onto the creation?
So when we look at Jade as the Academy’s Monster, we have to ask: is what Jade did evil, or is she good?
Something to Sing About
More to the point, we now understand that whatever the case may be in how the resurrection happened, Mary-Beth didn’t want to return. I’m in part reminded of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 6, in which a formerly deceased slayer is resurrected by her friends in the premiere, only to reveal six episodes later that her friends had stolen her from Heaven and she’s not sure how to forgive them for this. Mary-Beth seems to be in a similar place; she may not fully understand where it was she was taken from, but in dialogue from her and Jade we quickly come to understand that being pulled back was the exact opposite of what she wanted.
Now, this series has many jumbled up ideas about religion inherent in the text. The most prominent one, however, is the idea of samsara (#31) in which death is part of a cycle, which – when combined with the legend of Orpheus (also #31) – gave us the running theory of eternally reincarnated souls traveling between dual planes of existence. Therefore, it’s reasonable to extrapolate that wherever Mary-Beth was pulled from wasn’t death but rather her next life, and in pulling her out of wherever she went Jade disrupted the cycle… which in turn could have caused some kind of violent reaction.
This could in turn explain part of Mary-Beth’s reaction to the ordeal. Mary-Beth’s brain is scanned as a result of the crash and, for all intents and purposes, it is seen as “normal”; she shows signs of trauma but nothing her doctor deems too out of the ordinary – it’s still Mary-Beth in there. The only change is that there’s a negative mental reaction that translates into aggression that can not be fixed — so when Jade says that the process doesn’t work, can we be sure this is correct? After all, Jade’s understanding in the situation comes from what she saw of her mother, but thanks to dramatic irony we see a scene from #26 paid off as Clarkson attempts to save Mary-Beth before ultimately killing her (thanks to the literal power of persuasion – which brings up the quandary of Frankenstein’s Monster again, now in relation to Casey, and which we’ll talk more about later).
So is it possible that Hisao could be brought back, and that he’d be happy? Or would the universe find a way to course-correct and return him regardless?
And if there is another plane of existence from where people can be taken… what is it?Continued below
Alright, Lets Rewind and Talk About Other Things in the Issue
So, what did we skip? Ah, the Tower Ball plot!
As explained by Denise and Toby, two new ancillary members to the cast, things appear to be running quite swimmingly as Guillaume and Jun blunder about. This doesn’t stop Jun from overreacting when they mention his brother, though, and he does so quite violently.
Of course, I guess that has a rather understandable explanation now, right? When Mary-Beth’s brain was scanned we learned that she could feel nothing but aggression towards Jade for bringing her back to life. Now whenever his brother comes up, Jun seems to have that same problem as well. The question, I suppose, is which of the following is true: a) Jun wants his brother back so that they can be reunited, or b) Jun wants his brother back because he himself wants to die?
Still, things seem to be working out well for them. The plan is working pretty perfectly.
Oh, Wait, They Just Left Jade Tied Up in the Basement
Well that’s pretty dickish.
I do wonder if Guillaume and Jun are aware of what their actions have done in regards to Casey’s current initiative, though. With them now working with Casey, it’s probable that they know Casey is working hard to find Jade herself. Yet without any specific references to this, it’s hard to ascertain if they do or if it weighs on their conscious at all — or at least Guillaume’s, as he seems to be the only one who cares about more than just resurrecting Hisao. It seems like the only friend Jade has left in the world is her sandwiches.
The Jade/Guillaume situation certainly presents an interesting existential conundrum to the story, not dissimilar to the Frankenstein’s Monster thing. Guillaume is not inherently a bad person, yet here he is very clearly doing a bad thing; there’s really no reason that he couldn’t let Jade go, yet he choses to keep her as a captive prisoner in the basement. Even if we reconcile the aspect that he is doing this for a good reason (to bring the love of his life back to life), how do we qualify his intentions against his actions?
That’s one of the things I like about this book, really. It’s not over-bearing with it, but the book asks some pretty big questions in regards to the character’s morality and sense of ethics. I like Guillaume, yet I don’t like what he’s doing — as a reader, this puts me in a difficult position of defending him, yet on a certain level I wonder if he would even want to be defended. That applies to a lot of other characters as well; the book is full of good people doing bad things.
So I guess one thing we can all ask ourselves as perhaps the discussion question of the issue (and as, like, a huge thematic question asked by many powerful stories): is doing something bad okay, as long as the ends justify the means?
Not So Special
As if the powers in this book didn’t pose enough issues towards understanding aspects of the narrative, this issue adds an interesting wrench into the works.
Now, in the book there are at least two forms of psychic papers: there’s the files that Hodge has, and there’s the school newspaper The Answer. The Answer seems specially attuned to the students (though the faculty is not unaware of it or its general contents), and while the book had established that not all people can read the psychic papers, The Answer specifically allows us to comprehend how the papers can be geared towards audiences.
With that in mind, here’s the question: why can Guillaume read Hodge’s secret papers when, for the most part, no one else can? Reading these appear to be almost second nature to him and even Jun, as if it’s more weird that Jade can’t read them. And obviously Guillaume has had some kind of training in reading this type of paper, yet he’s clearly more powerful; he can read the things that only Hodge can, and that’s curious.
Hodge is a very clever woman and certainly crafty in keeping her secrets, and whatever notes she has are certainly things she keeps close to the vest. We also now have some clarification as to why Nine and Daramount and even Jun thought Jade was not special; we know she is, Hodge knows she is, yet the truth behind this is being covered up. But why? What’s so special about lying about what Jade can do, and why pretend she’s not special? Certainly that not only effects her education, but also puts her life in more danger (like certain characters otherwise thinking she’s disposable)?Continued below
The best guess I could have about this is that it is inherently tied to the fact that Jade is alive and well in the future. We may not know exactly what side Hodge is on, but she’s clearly playing towards a broader endgame than anyone else is; perhaps this in turn gives some value to keep who or what Jade truly is a secret. After all, Jade has a past with some weird Scientist that she only has vague, jarred memories of; there’s clearly some kind of cover-up going on in regards to Little Miss Sunshine here.
The Devil In You
The issue ends on a huge downer note. Casey as Clarkson approaches Mary-Beth in a callback to one of the mystery scenes of #26, and the scene ends with Mary-Beth taking her own life. Make no mistake: Clarkson kills Mary-Beth in this scene, and she does so with her powers. If we want to ask about “good people doing bad things” when it comes to Guillaume, Casey’s basically a minefield of ethical quandaries at this point. Not only that, but when Mary-Beth tells Clarkson that Jade is not of God “and neither are you,” it comes off as more than just a biting insult; if Mary-Beth could see “the Devil” in Jade, can you even imagine what she can “see” in Casey?
But more to the point, this scene once again sees Clarkson doing everything she can to keep parent and child together. It’s not the first time we saw this (everything Clarkson did in #44 to keep Vanessa and Ellen together), but it’s interesting to see her try so hard to have Jade and her mother be reunited; the lengths she’s willing to go to set Mary-Beth up for life as well as her language is really interesting. But it’s clear that there’s something to the relationship of parent and child; after all, the end goal of what Clarkson is doing is to reunite her (Casey) with her parents, right? Casey only agreed to Hodge’s plans on the condition that her parents would be brought back to life and that she would get to be with them, even if she was forced to manipulate both of her parents at different periods of her life and travels.
So as Clarkson tries to keep Jade and Mary-Beth together, we get to ask more questions about the relationship between parent and child. When we think back to the first issue, right off the bat we saw that parents and their children were pushed apart, both in terms of being sent away to boarding school and in more specific separations. Not only that, keep in mind that in Jade was the first one to be forced apart from her father; when she called home he denied having any idea who she was, which set off a chain of events that comprised the action of the first arc. We immediately asked what happened, but obviously the bigger question is why? Why can’t Jade interact with her father? Do parents endanger what the Academy is trying to accomplish, or is it more that they hold the children back from developing?
The school is obsessed with keeping parents and children apart, and yet high members of the Academy seem to be attempting to undo this. Is this nature vs. nurture again, like in #44, or is there a bigger reason as to why children should be with their parents?
The ending of the issue is very powerful and rather layered. On the one hand, it’s awful that Clarkson kills Mary-Beth, and while we know that Casey did dark things in her other life almost as a mirror of Daramount (who was ostensibly a good person before the Academy and her father forced her to be otherwise), this is pretty dismal. However, one mildly good thing that we can take out of this whole thing is the discussion of what parenting does for the kids in the book, and the importance of the parents role. Clearly there is greater power inherent in the relationship between parent and child than what we had even assumed, and as the book starts to reveal more about the relationships between various students and their parents, I would wonder if we’ll perhaps see even greater emphasis and revelations in regards to what roles the parents play — or perhaps are not supposed to play — in the development of these characters.Continued below
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 Issues: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19,#20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, #29, #30, #31, #32, #33, #34, #35, #36, #37, #38, #39, #40, #41, #42, #43, #44
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, Live at NYCC 2014