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 #46, in which Irina returns to the forefront after being away for far too long.
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.
And What’s the Deal with Airline Food?
As the issue begins, we find ourselves six years in the past, following up the recruitment of Irina by Clarkson from issue #30. For those that don’t remember, #30 revealed to us Irina’s past with her mother, while also showing that post-insurrection Irina would be receiving special tutoring from Mr. N., a previously unseen teacher related to the Academy who does not ostensibly care for Clarkson. Since then Irina has been missing, squirreled away in some private corner of the campus.
Now we see her traveling through the airport with Clarkson on the way to Abraham’s camp.. A buddy comedy this is not, as Irina clearly does not care much for Clarkson. One thing that comes to mind is the closing line of issue #30 in which Mr. N. refers to a “common enemy” between his interests and Irina’s, only to then show us Clarkson, and I can’t help but wonder if the little Irina does not have some idea of what’s in store for her here. Irina is a smart girl and surely Clarkson had to be rather clever for Irina to be convinced to go with her in the first place, so I can’t help but wonder why Irina would be resistant to going further with Clarkson now that they’re together in the airport.
Part of it is that Irina can tell that Clarkson is a liar. Irina will make remarks about Clarkson later on in the issue, but it’s worth wondering about how Irina knows anything about Clarkson. Is it just training from her mother that allows her to see through someone’s lies, like Clarkson suspects? Or is it something deeper, something related to her powers and talents? Irina clearly sees some sort of kinship in Clarkson; we typically only see the children as having powers, but Irina can see that Clarkson is one of her own, and that’s at least part of why Irina questions Clarkson’s choices. Yet as we’ll see later in the issue, Irina’s distrust of Clarkson runs deep, and it’s hard to tell what outside influence if any is at play here.Continued below
It also feels worthwhile to bring up that, in a book full of mysteries and half-truths, Irina shows us in this issue that she is one of the few characters who does not accept anything but complete honesty all the time always — she rebels against Clarkson for not being honest, she only agrees to work with Mr. N. because he’s somewhat straight with her, and her relationship with Abraham is built on a level of trust and honesty, at least initially. I don’t have to explain the irony of this, right?
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
One line I also feel worth harping on is Irina’s, “My eyes were closed. I was not sleeping.” There’s two easy ways to read this; the first being that this is part of her survivalist training from her mother, which would make sense since her mother constantly sent men to attack and kill her. The other, though, could be related to one of Irina’s powers, the ability to project herself to others; we saw it initially in issue #19 and semi-confirmed what it was in #25, and Irina will even put it on display again later in the issue (which we’ll discuss), so it’s possible that when Irina’s eyes were closed and she was not sleeping, she was simply communicating with some outside force.
Or, y’know, she’s just being catty. Anything’s possible.
So Much for that Trip to Cairo
Let’s continue picking at little lines, because that’s what we do best here.
When Clarkson learns that Irina’s best guess at a candy bar is “honey”, Clarkson softens up. She’s reminded that Irina is a child, not just a warrior, and this changes the way she treats her — to the point that Clarkson is keen to change her own plans and Irina to have a little fun. She suggests that before traveling to Abraham’s camp they could spend some time in Cairo, where Clarkson suggests that they could see the pyramids so Irina can “see where…” … and then everything goes to hell.
My question is: see where what? There’s a lot of ways to finish that sentence: to see where slaves were whipped to appease a vain Pharaoh; to see where aliens landed and had weird-ass landing pads built for them; to see where a king attempted to face and dialogue with God. Certainly if Clarkson is considering taking Irina to the pyramids, there’s a greater reason to do this beyond just doing something touristy while in town, right?
I only think this is worth bringing up because we’ll certainly discuss other pyramids later in the issue. Did I say pyramids? I think I meant ziggurats…
Something to keep an eye on is the fight sequence between Baby Irina and Clarkson and Irina and Mr. N. The two fight scenes mirror each other, both in paneling and in execution. The panels are the easier of the two to see at first; inserted panels over a splash page of battles beginning and ending are obvious mirrors, and the extended grace of the sequence does link the two sequences up nicely. Not only that, but it looks like the battle is continuing from the first fight into the second — despite being two unrelated fights, for Irina this is a continuous battle, one she’s always fighting throughout her entire life and triumphing over. There’s certainly a metaphor in that.
What’s also interesting about the fight is how it mirrors Irina’s relationship with Clarkson with that of Mr. N., in a manner of speaking. The issue opens with Clarkson attempting to be Irina’s friend while Irina calls Clarkson a liar before a fight, whereas her sequences with Mr. N. open with a fight before leading into a sequence of Mr. N. being friendly and Irina eventually calling him a liar as well (for the claim that he did not “go easy” on her during the battle). But that probably warrants a larger discussion about Irina’s relationship with figures of authority in her life.
Let’s do that now.
Hangin’ with Mr. N.
When last we left them, Irina was seemingly a captive. She had failed at her insurrection, she had been abandoned by those she believed in and felt kinship towards, and she was separated from everyone else; pretty much everyone considered her a problem child. But then there’s Mr. N., who is this kind of nice guy, doesn’t mind that she stabbed him within minutes of their first meeting, and now is able to have actual banter with Irina. For a character that’s been fairly cold and closed off from those around her that did not see her as an all-powerful figure, this is a huge step.Continued below
Irina has a tumultuous relationship with the authority figures in her life that’s pretty easy to track. Clarkson is the obvious point of reference in this issue, but we can even see some contempt for Abraham (issue #25); at the very least we can sort of see that Irina has a zero tolerance policy for liars (possibly past on from her mother) and that she typically sees adults as liars (which, on second thought, is probably important for the series as a whole). But with Mr. N., she actually seems to be friendly with him; that Irina makes a joke about going to Disneyland to someone that is essentially her captor shows to us a level of informality that we haven’t yet seen with Irina yet. One could argue that there is defiance in flippant responses (Irina even makes reference to Mr. N. trying to “warm (her) broken little heart”), but it doesn’t feel that way — it feels like Irina likes Mr. N.
What’s actually somewhat unclear here, though, is whether Irina is using Mr. N. to get what she wants or not. We can assume she is as Irina has showed us time and again that she’s an excellent manipulator, but it’s certainly debatable who is in power here.
And this of course leads us to discussing one of the big mysteries of the current issue…
The Identity of Mr. N.
Back in issue #30, we first met Mr. N., Irina’s new private professor with the name he claims is difficult to pronounce. We didn’t have too much to go on at the time, but with this issue Mr. N. seems to break a little bit as he makes mention of Uruk and blood in the Euphrates river. For those unaware, Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer (then Babylonia) that was along the east bed of the Euphrates River, and is most famous for being under the rule of the legendary Gilgamesh. However, fans of the book should have had a lightbulb pop over the head at the mention of Babylon, if only because of Issue #22.
Back in issue #22, some of our kids stumbled upon an ancient ruin that I claimed was the Tower of Babel, a tower that was built in order to allow the people of Babylonia to meet and communicate with God. In real life, the Tower of Babel is most likely Etemenaki, which was a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk — and who set that to be built, but Nabopolassar, king of Babylonia. Therefore, it’s possible that Nabopolassar is the true identity of Mr. N., if only because of his history towards worshipping gods (specifically Marduk).
However, it’s worth remembering: how did issue #22 begin? With Irina reciting the story of King Nebuchadnezzar of mighty Babylon, also a rather famous Babylonian king with an N-name. Nebuchadnezzar was the successor of Nabopolassar, and the story that Irina recites of Nebuchadnezzar (in which God acts through Nebuchadnezzar and destroys a whole bunch of non-believers) matches well with actions of the Academy. Not only that, but the fact that Irina speaks of Nebuchadnezzar and then later goes on to become the pupil of Mr. N. would certainly sync up very well in retrospect.
Now, what does Mr. N. tell Irina? “I was [in Uruk] too, you know. But only as your servant.” Looking at both options for the identity for Mr. N., this checks out; Nabopolassar built Etemenaki for Marduk, which is very much the act of a man serving a god, and Nebuchadnezzar killed people in the name of his god. Mr. N.’s mention of “kings and prophets, begging for your forgiveness” also fits in very well; Nabopolassar was a famous tactician in war, and Nebuchadnezzar actually threw people into fires for not worshipping an idol that he’d created.
If we keep looking back to issue #22, there’s even more for us to explore. We had already heard the phrase “so we created our own gods” used in the book (#10), and #22 featured the Truants traveling back in time to visit a priest in Ancient Sumeria who was not only surprised to see the children, but said, “Who would stand amongst our gods and claim their power? Who but the gods themselves?” This would certainly match Nebuchadnezzar creating an idol and forcing others to worship it, but the temple the children visited featured a giant stone tablet of Enki, who was Marduk’s father.Continued below
Regardless of which king you believe Mr. N. could be, both certainly served their respective gods to a fault. Mr. N. still appears to be doing this as he attempts to tutor Irina, but it’ll be interesting to see how his teachings influence here.
A Breach of Contract
So, dialing it back a little bit, lets talk about what Mr. N. is asking Irina to do — specifically, these “agreements” the Academy operates under.
It has long been a fan theory that whatever war is going on behind the scenes between the Academy and Abraham’s camp, there’s at least some kind of treaty or ceasefire in place. It’s something that is clearly broken on occasion (Daramount’s attack in #25), but rather than battle directly we see these two entities constantly engaged in games and shadow strategy. We’ve long wondered why; mutually assured destruction seems at least a small part of it, but only in the way one saves certain pieces until the end of the game in Chess.
This is perhaps the first time this has been directly acknowledged, though. It’s always been implied and inferred, but Mr. N. using the word “agreement” is key here, and he does so to Irina. Clearly this is tied to her need for transparency and abhorrence of lies, but with Mr. N. acknowledging that as a member of the Academy’s team he can not take certain actions to those on the opposite side, one has to wonder why is there a cease fire of sorts when someone like Irina can grab a rifle and change the agreement? I’m reminded of Future Jade’s dialogue on a broken Chess game back in #26, but this feels more like changing or re-inventing the rules — it just feels like cheating.
I guess what I’m wondering is: why have an agreement at all? Clearly there’s no love lost between the Academy and it’s enemies, but if all you need is a girl and a gun then why have rules at all?
I have a theory on that.
As Irina accepts Mr. N.’s opportunity to go off campus, she poses to him a question: how does he know she will not run away? This causes a flashback to what happened when she ran away from Daramount in the airport and Daramount complained to Abraham (referring to Irina as a lost cause), which in turn leads to the sequence in which Mr. N. gives a clue as to his true identity.
This sequence is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Certainly there’s that aspect that gives us insight into who Mr. N. is, but the way Mr. N. speaks to Irina in the first place is that with some reverence. Certainly this ties into the idea of “so we created our own gods” and that notion that Irina and the other children are of some importance, but the language specifically used is fascinating. Mr. N. says that no one has ever made Irina do anything and that she, unlike the others, has always been in control of her destiny; Mr. N. also says that Irina embraced her “true self,” which — given Irina’s fascination with truth in general — is very choice words. He also refers to Irina’s dominion over time and space, which certainly seems a nod to not only her inherent godhood but also her projection ability that allows her to appear in places she is not (#19, #25 and this issue).
So when Mr. N. says to us that he is not worried about Irina running away, is it because he trusts her — or is it really because she is actually in control?
Mr. N. refers to the school as a “prison.” This is interesting as it is the first time an Academy faculty member has referred to the school negatively, but who is it a prison for? The students? I’d imagine not, really; they’re brought here to learn, and in turn are revered by the staff. So if it’s not a prison for the students, then to whom is it a prison? Well, let’s think about it: who has no choice about their fate and what defines their actions? Who has to follow specific rules that they can not break? Who truly gets in trouble if something goes wrong, or if something bad happens?Continued below
Irina doesn’t need to run. Mr. N. notes that she, unlike the other children, has always been in control and knows that she is free to leave. It’s highly possible — perhaps even probable — that Irina won’t run because she’s not the trying to escape.
Clarkson and Kseniya
This is mostly an aside, but I was struck by a thought while reading the issue for a fourth time: in the scene where Clarkson calls Abraham six years ago, Clarkson does not appear to have disdain for Irina but rather a lack of faith, and part of this seems based on Irina’s relationship with her mother. Clarkson certainly understands the importance of the relationship between parent and child (#44) and the importance of a mother’s love (#45), but here Clarkson seems to think that there is too much of Kseniya in Irina.
I can not say if Clarkson ever met Kseniya. It’s possible, but we have no direct evidence yet. However, that Clarkson seems to have wanted to separate Irina from her mother (“I figured with her mother out of the picture…”) is certainly of note in a book that features the relationships between parent and child as a central thematic element.
One of Her Pawns
Moments after getting off the phone with Clarkson, Abraham is visited by a young Irina. Appearing to him out of thin air and magically transporting herself from Kiev to Cairo (assumedly just in his mind, so I believe), Irina visits Abraham and lets him know that she trusts him based on what she learned from her mother. This is the beginning of their relationship; we know that Irina has some faith in him, based on her insurrection and devotion to his cause, and it’s clear now that we can see that as an extension of her mother — and with her mother having some history with the Academy as well, so she probably knew Abraham for a time.
But more to the point, Irina shows up to throw shade at Clarkson. Despite getting Irina out of some desolate landscape in Kiev, despite promising to take her to Abraham regardless, despite even promising to get her a candy bar and spoil her for a bit, Irina doesn’t trust Clarkson — and she shows us this not just by beating her, but smearing her name to her partner. Irina makes reference to Clarkson “saving” and “blessing” Abraham (what Abraham was doing stranded in a desert for Clarkson to save is probably worth a mountain of discussion, though not yet), and Irina also refers to not being “one of her pawns,” which helps give some credence to the chess metaphor I brought up a little bit earlier, so we have to ask: why does Irina have it in for Clarkson? The one person in the world who is assumedly trying to do something to help her?
Irina is obsessed with truth. If we learned nothing else about her character so far, we certainly know this. We also know that Irina has a great sense at reading people and their intentions. So is it possible that Irina sees through all the machinations and manipulations that Clarkson has done in league with Hodge, and that Irina perhaps even knows who Clarkson is in relation to Casey (to whom Irina has no known relation)? And if Clarkson is untrustworthy, why is Abraham? Does this mean Abraham is similarly being manipulated by an outside force? Clarkson is on a mission for Hodge and is aware of this and her instructions, but is Abraham perhaps more of a believer — thus making any inherent treachery or double-talk surrounding his actions more believable to Irina?
Everything we know about Abraham and Clarkson tells us that Abraham is more the villain than Clarkson is. We know Clarkson has done bad things, but we also know that everything she is doing is with good intentions — as opposed to Abraham, who has done some horrible things for completely unknown intentions. But that’s not how Irina sees things… so what does that tell us, then, about Clarkson?
Also, Irina got her candy bar. Good for her.
One Last Aside
Before we wrap up, one more aside: I suppose it’s possible that Irina was able to travel there physically. We know that people can travel across space, and we know that this is a capability of not just students in general but of Irina (she literally will do it on the next page). But given the disorientation she feels on the next page, I would imagine that in this scene — like with the scene where she appears on Hunter’s TV screen in #19 — that she’s only doing this to Abraham and not to her physical self. After all, she mentions she will be with him only for a time, and Clarkson is still in Kiev searching for her; that search is far from over, and certainly Irina is a bit young to be a master of her powers. Plus, she gets that candy bar seemingly out of nowhere — I tend to see that as a clue about the nature of reality.Continued below
That said, we do know of one other young girl Irina has some association with who was very masterful with some talents at a young age, as seen in issue #7 — so let’s talk about her now.
Too Blessed to be Stressed
As the issue closes, Irina is presented with her favorite toy, and looks through the crosshairs of her new sniper rifle only to spy Zoe strolling the street. Mr. N. notes that Irina shouldn’t have a hard time killing Zoe since she’d done it once before, and this re-opens up the question: why did Irina kill Zoe in the first place (#19)?
There were two obvious reasons at the time, that being that she was trying to save Hunter (whom Zoe was trying to kill) while also potentially serving Abraham since Zoe seemed to be a rogue agent. Yet obviously the machinations of Irina in relation to Abraham can be hard to pin down, since she later tried to kill him. The school had noted that Zoe was a predator and that Woodrun was done to capture her, and Mr. N. even refers to her as “the biggest threat” we currently face; if Irina can see the truth about people, did she know this? And there is truth in this, then why have we yet to learn this ourselves? Zoe was dangerous, sure, and we don’t understand her actions anymore than we understand her in general, but why does everyone else find her so terrifying?
Something that could potentially be related to this is in looking at the reveal of Zoe here. As Zoe strolls down the street, everyone seems to be in awe of her. This is not out of character for Zoe; when we first met her she was literally saying goodbye to a multitude of boyfriends, and she’s always been “the hot/irresistible one” out of the group. Yet that kind of worship was hormone driven, and this seems very different – these people are reaching out to Zoe in the same way you typically see mobs of people reach out to prophets who can bless them.
The question, of course, is why? What has happened to Zoe since we last saw her that makes her a holy icon? When we first saw that she was alive again we’d inferred it was perhaps due to the events happening at Morning Glory Academy happening within a timeless bubble and her not being dead yet (see: the confusion regarding Abraham’s final line from #25), but perhaps that’s wrong. Zoe’s death was not mourned in the school memorial service (#31) and we can not confirm what happened to her body after the events of Woodrun. Was she resurrected? Is this the second coming of Zoe? After all, if Jade’s mother can come back from the dead, it’s certainly not improbable that Zoe could as well… and when it comes to creating gods, there is certainly a famous precedent set by those that come from God, die, and then rise again.
We created our own gods, and within that statement there’s certainly some leeway about what the creation is in reference to. If Zoe is a created god then its not out of line for the death of god to be followed up with the rebirth of one, especially in a book that deals with samsara and the cycle of life from death to rebirth. The reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated, and maybe so is our understanding of it; one death is not inherently the same as another, after all, and it’s probable in the world of “Morning Glories” that there’s no strict answer for what death involves — at least not one we understand completely. So Zoe came back, and it’s possible other people know it, and it’s also possible that Zoe has power derived from that now; the power of a god being worshipped.
Does that make her dangerous? I don’t know. But Irina’s the one with the gun, and the willingness to pull the trigger… and how does one defy a god, but with blasphemy?
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.)Continued below
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, #45
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