Speaking as an adult who makes zero contact with children except to occasionally force them to review comics, I always appreciate reading a kid-friendly comic that doesn't read like somebody's trying really hard to talk down to his or her audience. And, as someone who grew up reading comics, I could tell when somebody was talking down to me. As a kid, I read a lot of those terrible X-Men Adventures type comics and always found them to be pale imitations of the real X-Men books. Conversely, I couldn't really understand the main books because, despite the awesome art by various forms of Kubert, they were completely nonsensical. The '90s, everybody.
Kids today are lucky, because they get to have, besides decent Marvel kiddie books, comics like Gladstone's School for World Conquerors, which, like a great animated movie, provides a quality story, beautiful art and appeals to both kids and adults simply because it's entertaining and not patronizing.
Gladstone's follows the eponymous school, which trains kids in the arts of extortion, misdirection, freeze rays, treachery and public speaking. It's a fun twist on the superhero school subgenre, propelled to greatness by the staggering amount of world-building writer Mark Andrew Smith pulls off in this first issue. He opens with the founding of the school (one appropriately based in theft and betrayal), establishes an array of characters (both teachers and students) and gives us a sense of supervillain culture, another clever bit where kids watch DVDs of superpowered battles as if they were wrestling matches.
Just as importantly, the art doesn't suck. Armand Villavert's style recalls a more expressive take on the pseudo-manga style you see on shows like Ben 10, making Gladstone's a suitable candidate for Cartoon Network somewhere down the line. His expressiveness nails the comedy bits, but he can also pull off the action scenes -- consistent with Villavert's style, there are lots of speedlines and hand-made motion blurs where characters' arms and legs turn into blurs just by replacing the outlines that make up objects with perpendicular lines. And when you couple Villavert's art with Carlos Carrasco's bright neon coloring, to quote Pokémon, it's super-effective.
Most importantly, Smith and Villavert have come up with some wonderfully distinct characters, both in concept and appearance. Principal characters like Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl and the Skull Brothers stick out and feel wholly original, while even more familiar-seeming characters like Martian Jones and the Jester feel more like archetypes than actual analogues. It would have been easy to fill the book with fake Lex Luthors, fake Jokers and fake Green Goblins, but that would have been a waste of everybody's time.
In the wake of other Image books like Infinite Vacation and Nonplayer getting tons of buzz from critics and fans, it seems like this one's getting a touch shortchanged. Which is a shame because Gladstone's School for World Conquerors is the kind of fun, sophisticated, Day-Glo kids' superhero comic that we've all been waiting for.
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