Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1

Written by  Mark Andrew Smith
Art by Armand Villavert
Cover by Armand Villavert and Carlos Carrasco
Release Date  May 4, 2011

A long time ago, supervillains weren’t all that complicated. Lex Luthor, the Joker, and the rest of the baddies in comic books were evil. Why? To give their heroic counterparts purpose and someone to defeat. End of story. But with the rise of more complex, engaging even sympathetic villains like Magneto, many supervillains have become just as dynamic, interesting and relatable as the heroes. Even recent animated hits Despicable Me and Megamind focus solely on the plights and ultimate redemption of supervillains.

Gladstone’s is a charming new series from Image Comics that takes this one step further: Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is a prestigious academy for supervillains’ kids, where they enroll in classes like “Victory Speeches” and “Getting a Nemesis 101” alongside Home Economics and English Poetry. It might remind some of Runaways, but these kids are still young enough to believe in a black-and-white world, though that may change soon, as one teen hints at. 

Smith has a difficult task of juggling two different themes, both of which could easily down-spiral into stereotypes and cliché: high school drama and superheroes. He deftly skirts that in this first issue, because the combination of the two is refreshing and unique. Mummy Girl’s crush on Kid Nefarious doesn’t feel like a cliché because, well, she’s a mummy; a superhero and supervillain planning their battle has been done before, but what will be interesting is the kids’ reaction to their upcoming battle, not to mention if/when they find out that it is all a farce. The novelty may wear off in a couple of issues (at least to us older readers), but hopefully the stories will remain just as charming.

Villavert and Carrasco’s art deserves praise. It’s moderately cartoony, adding to the youthful tone of the comic, but it’s also vibrant, unique and deceptively simple. The colours are bright and fun, and I especially liked the panels with Gladstone’s statue, and how Mummy Girl uses her bandages as extraneous limbs.

Gladstone’s is cute, smart and fun; while age-appropriate for youngsters, it isn’t just for kids. I really enjoyed this issue and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series develops. Granted, this issue focused solely on world building and character development, which is understandable–it’s a series opener!–but if anything, opens many doors wide for great storytelling down the road. I especially recommend it for fans of Harry Potter, Gunnerkrigg Court, and Runaways.

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