Written by Mark Andrew Smith
Art by Armand Villavert
40 pages, color
Published by Image Comics
There are times when the description of a book and the reality of it don’t match. Take, for example, Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors. A comic about future villains learning how to be evil sounds like it could quite easily be dark and mean and overly violent. It’s a reasonable assumption to make. Then you pick up a copy of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 and the reality? In a word: adorable.
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors opens with an nine-page sequence explaining the history of the school, and the hard-luck villain whose name graces its halls. In just those pages, Mark Andrew Smith quickly establishes the overall tone of the book; a little silly in places, but clever and fun. From there, we move forward to the current class, and in a matter of pages all I could find myself thinking was, "It’s what would happen if prep school students had super powers."
There are a lot of students introduced fairly quickly, most of them give a brief hook to introduce them. So Kid Nefarious is annoyed that he’s not getting handed everything on a silver platter because of his super-villain lineage, Mummy Girl is hopelessly crushing on Kid Nefarious, the Skull Brothers are bullies, and so on. They’re all good hooks, but there are also so many characters that get such a short sketch of a personality that I do hope Smith expands on them in future issues. There’s certainly the temptation to keep introducing more and more characters—quite a few of them are in the backgrounds—but I’d like to see it slow down a bit and focus more on a select core, at least initially. I’d like to know more about Ghost Girl aside from the fact that she’s Korean and like bi bim bap for lunch.
Smith does leave one big piece of the story until the last few pages, and for me it ultimately sold the comic. It’s a twist that isn’t used very often, but it makes the overall world of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors that much more interesting, and I hope that Smith explores the idea a great deal in the issues to come. It’s the sort of game-changer that quietly turns everything on its head and makes it stand out from other superhero worlds.
Armand Villavert’s art in Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is part of the reason why the comic comes across so adorably. In many ways, his super villains look less like horrible people and more like kids dressed up (in some truly fantastic costumes) for Halloween. Kid Nefarious’s childlike face as he shouts his demands is hysterical, and his following strut down the hall once class is over just screams, "spoiled kid." (Let’s face it, we’ve all seen his type before.) It’s some of the smaller touches in the character designs that I love, though, like Mummy Girl’s bandages holding her pencil and paper to take notes during class, or Ghost Girl’s white hair/green skin combination. Even the background characters look great, like the girl whose body is breaking down into a cloud of bats, or the kid riding around on a floating jellyfish. Everyone in this book just looks visually fantastic, and the staging of the images are just as strong. From the angles that the kids are hoisted into the air by the plants, to the hypnotic spirals behind Eye Eyes, this is a sharp looking comic.
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 is a strong debut, one that makes a good impression in a matter of pages. If Smith and Villavert can keep this up while also expanding and building on the ideas laid down here, we’re in for a great ride. Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, consider me ready to enroll.