Friday, November 26, 2010

Nick Spencer's Morning Glories and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents

Nick Spencer is one of the hottest writers in comics right now thanks to his various successful Image series, the latest of which is the very popular Morning Glories. I read previews online of some of Spencer's previous miniseries -- Shuddertown, Forgetless -- that didn't really impress me, but I liked the first look at Morning Glories and have picked up all four issues to date (despite their relative scarcity). The intriguing premise, with a number of teenagers trapped in a sadistic prep school, owes a lot to The Prisoner and Lost and X-Men, and probably coincidentally is nearly the same set-up as the recent Cartoon Network series Tower Prep. But it's a lot darker and meaner than Tower Prep, and the real sense of danger keeps the suspense up.

Of course, a series like this will get increasingly frustrating if it just involves the heroes trying to escape and failing, and even though the plot has moved a decent amount in these four issues, there's a slight sense of repetition as well. The good thing is that Spencer can take things wherever he wants them, and he's created an intriguing enough setting with plenty of mysteries (the third issue's opening flashback to the 15th century implies a rich mythology in the background) to suggest that there are a lot of places to go. The various teen characters are still working to differentiate themselves, and the story is still shaking off its influences, but it's got some decent cliffhangers and solid art from Joe Eisma, and most importantly, plenty of potential. I plan to stick around to see where it goes.

I'm also intrigued by Spencer's new DC series T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, his first major corporate superhero assignment. Luckily DC hasn't just ignored his strengths and slotted him into some generic Batman spin-off; T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is quirky and self-contained, with characters that inherently lack continuity baggage and can be handled without excessive caution. The idea is that this covert agency gives its operatives superpowers that kill them within a year, so many of the characters are pretty much expendable, and Spencer can focus on a large cast that emphasizes the support staff over the superheroes.

I don't read many mainstream superhero books anymore (the only one I'm regularly picking up right now is X-Factor), but like Morning Glories this is intriguing enough to stick with. Spencer lays out the first issue in a nonlinear fashion that is a little disorienting at first but eventually comes together (ending at another great cliffhanger), and it definitely doesn't feel like another retread added to pad the company's superhero line. The art from CAFU is lovely, with a clean, crisp look reminiscent of John Cassaday's work. I just hope DC can keep from meddling with things too much and let Spencer do his thing without drawing him into epic crossovers (or just canceling the book after five issues). For now, I'd say that Spencer deserves much of his praise, and I might even go back and give those other Image books a shot.

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