By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
Nick Spencer, the writer of Morning Glories describes the story as “Runaways meets Lost.” I think you could get better comparisons. How about “Runaways meets Planetary” (Brian K. Vaughn and Warren Ellis!) or “Veronica Mars meets Lost” (Rob Thomas and Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse!)? All four have a strong fan base, the comparisons stay in the same medium and one side is based in the adventures of teens and the other side is based on mysteries in physics.
I’m picking nits as all four of those stories have compelled me to read more or see more at any given time. (I just finished the entire run of Veronica Mars in a little under two weeks before Netflix could take it off the instant queue and I would have had to wait for DVDs in the mail. I get obsessive sometimes). I definitely think that Morning Glories could compel me in much the same way.
On each side of those comparisons though, there is a question that might not have crossed your mind. I think it boils down to the simple question: how do you like your mysteries?
For example, take the final season of Lost and the “sideways” reality. (LOST ***SPOILER ALERT*** – which shouldn’t really be necessary as it has been a year since the finale). The season finale reveals that the sideways universe is the afterlife. Desmond is there to help them realize what is happening and to bring them all together to see each other again.
Let me say that again, and just think about it for a while. The season finale reveals that the sideways universe is the afterlife.
I’m not sure about you, but the number of stories I can recall that deal with life in the afterlife is not that great. For comedy purposes, there is the wonderful Defending Your Life. In myths there is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that has been forever tainted by The Killing. (I shudder to even mention that series in the company of actual good stories). Death appears in The Seventh Seal and later Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Off the top of my head, that’s about it. (I’m sure there are more examples and feel free to enlighten me about them).
Lost did it differently though. The adventures on the island took up less than three months for some characters. (I’m looking at you Boone and Shannon). For others, it was several years of their lives as they went back in time and lived in the Dharma community.
So, what does the island mean in comparison to the rest of your life?
For Ana Lucia, it didn’t mean much as she didn’t join the rest of the survivors in waking up in the afterlife. For others, it meant the world. Waking up brought in a flood of emotion for the characters (and this member of the audience) as these people that meant so much to them for just a part of their life reappeared.
So, what is the afterlife? How do you use your time? Do you use it to become the father that you wish you were, that you wish you had? Do you use it to come to grips with your own physical failings that resulted in your own emotional failings? Do you beat yourself up over all the evil that you did?
In Defending Your Life the battle was against fear. For Albert Brooks, as the writer, I’m sure that is a very personal battle. For the characters of Lost they had different battles to face. Finding justice, finding love, finding friendship, finding forgiveness or whatever they needed to find so that they could move forward.
(Thinking about that personally, I’m not sure what I would need to face in order to move along. It’s a mystery of myself that I will have to explore).
In those personal battles, what is more important, the previous 20, 30 or 40 years, or the time spent on the island? How would you ever be able to work in the experiences of the island in comparison to the building blocks of your personality, your life that happened so many more times?
That is the question I have of the afterlife. I’ve never met my grandfathers. I know they played an important part of my parent’s lives, but they both died before I was born.
What happens in their afterlife? I assume they link to the lives of their children who then link to their children and then we meet. Or maybe they have directory assistance in the afterlife and instead of reaching a phone, you physically transport to that person. No matter what is the way of the afterlife, the next question becomes how long do we see each other? What about all the people we’ve met over the course of our lives? What if a friend from elementary school that we remember as the person who first exposed me to video games doesn’t remember us? With whom do we spend time in the afterlife? What do we need to do to improve ourselves?
I don’t know the answers, but I do know that Lost helped to create the questions. Sometimes a good mystery doesn’t have an answer. Yet. Sometimes we don’t want answers as we don’t want to infect the hopes, dreams and prayers of our imaginations. Whatever answer we get will pale in comparison to what we had created in our minds or it may be so big that we would have never thought to dream it.
The thing is mysteries are everywhere, we just may not see them. In Veronica Mars only two people believed something different about the Lily Kane murder, everyone else just went on with their business. In Lost different people discovered different things about the island that they decided to share or not share. (By comparison, Rose and Bernard chose to ignore all the hoopla and just live in the moment that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. The mystery they got to solve was how they would grow old together). In Planetary we find that the world doesn’t work the way we think and three “heroes” lead us to examples that wander into the fantastic. In Morning Glories we see six kids that start at a boarding school. We don’t know why they are there. We don’t know the purpose of the school.
So, what kind of mystery do you want? Do you want ones that are concrete and you can solve and figure out within a set amount of time, like a murder, or the existence of a polar bear, or why someone can talk to machines in some sort of origin story or why people born on January 1st, 1900 or May 4th are special? (May the 4th be with you significance aside). Or do you want what friendships mean, or how friendships start, or what the afterlife is like, or what relationships do we have with our parents, or how we need to fool ourselves to actually find our more about ourselves? In other words, should mysteries reveal more about the soul of the person or the plot of the story?
Ideally, a great story gives you both as you explore characters and their environments. I think Morning Glories is well along that path after only six issues.