ADVANCE REVIEW! Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #4 will come out on August 17, 2011.
As an avid comics reader, it is rare to find a series that truly stands out from the rest. Whether it be a wholly original idea or a unique take on a much explored genre, they come so few and far between. But, I can say, without any reservation, that Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is one of those series. In recent years, new superhero books have not been finding their moment in the sun. There are but too many well-established characters with over half a century of backstory and name recognition behind them to allow another book to share the limelight. But Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is not trying to be those books. It is my feeling that Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is to the superhero comic what The Muppet Show was to the late-night variety show. And I mean that — not only does it change the game, but it makes it a game for kids to enjoy along with their parents — and without feeling as though they are worse off now for doing so.
In the last two issues of the series, writer Mark Andrew Smith has been exploring behind the Wizard’s curtain of the Armistice Agreement between the superheroes and the supervillains. With issue #4, he comes back to the story we fell in love with in issue #1: the idea that there are children attending a school to be respectable supervillains. The comic opens up with a battle between five of our favorite supervillains-in-training — Kid Nefarious, Martian Jones, Ghost Girl and the Skull Brothers — and a group of monsters that attack them. What surprised me when I came to re-read the issue was that there had yet to be team-up between the kids until this issue. At least, not a team-up started of their own volition (issue #2 has Kid Nefarious and Martian Jones fighting El Campeon — a mysterious, mystical Mexican wrestling genie — as an assignment in P.E.). With all of their solo classroom failures, it is great to see them dominate as a group. The dialogue in-between made me burst out laughing a few too many times. In one panel, after Skull Brother 2 saves Skull Brother 1 from being crushed, he picks up the head of the monster he just defeated and says, “Alas, poor stone monster. I shot him well.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Smith just made a Hamlet reference in a kids comic! But, wait, it gets better…
After the team reaches Mummy Girl’s home, Kid Nefarious finds some comic books and asks about them. Mark Andrew Smith begins Mummy Girl on an almost-soliloquy about the comic book medium and how they could be advantageous to the learning development of children and should be placed among the works of Shakespeare in classrooms, but, because those who criticize comics continue to propagate the stereotype of comics as superhero and children’s matter. This is all undercut by the fact that Kid Nefarious is not listening to a word that Mummy Girl saying because he is too busy reading a superhero comic. Smith also dedicates this issue to Scott McCloud, well-known teacher of comics. The whole scene is tough-in-cheek and a perfect injection of criticism in humor.
But what really works about the rest of the issue is that it is about kids just being kids. They all went over the Mummy Girl’s to study, fell asleep after she bores them with a lesson in comics, then she and Kid Nefarious secretly share a kiss. What is maintained throughout this series is that, despite these children being sons and daughters of infamous supervillains, they are still children, with children’s faults and children’s ideals and children’s fears and children’s hopes.
The one thing that I hope is maintained for as long as this series runs is having Armand Villavert on pencils. His wonderful psuedo-anime style works wonders on the story being told. Despite using panels, Villavert uses the whole page to showcase a scene. Characters are constantly flying in-and-out of panels. When Ghost Girl is about to unleash her final attack, her hair extends into every other frame on the page — a brilliant way to convey just how powerful she really is; she can barely remain on the page. And Carlos Carrasco’s colors are perfect. The use of bright, warm colors helps the images pop right off the page. Even in a fight scene, when many would go dark, the backgrounds are in orange, yellow and red.
The truth is, I could not recommend this issue — or this series — higher. It’s funny, it’s charming, it’s a marvel to look at. This is the closest I’ve seen a comic get to reaching that highly sought-after level of capturing a Pixar-esque balanced audience. Mark Andrew Smith and his team are making a book that is destined to be picked up as a Cartoon Network animated series in the next couple of years. My suggestion: I would not wait for that to happen before enrolling into
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.