Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 (Image)

Too many subplots and too little fun in this take on an academy for would-be super-villains.


40 pgs., full color; $2.99
(W: Mark A. Smith; A: Armand Villavert)
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 introduces us to a place cultivating the world’s future super-powered fiends. Students like Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl, and the Skull Brothers learn about literature while taking courses like Victory Speeches 101. And recess at Gladstone’s is an even riskier concept for its students than it was for most of us real world comic book geeks.
We’ve had stories about schools for wizards and stories about schools for superheroes, so a story about a school for supervillains was inevitable. Still, the fact that it’s a bit of a tired concept didn’t make it seem any less appealing. The name alone was enough of a draw for me. 
Unfortunately, it was disappointing. Gladstone’s is clearly geared towards a younger audience so at first I thought my dislike was because I was just too old to appreciate it, but upon further reflection I don’t think so.
Whether it’s targeted at my age group or not, there really isn’t much of a coherent story in this first issue. The first 9 pages explain the history of Gladstone’s through a fourth-wall-breaking account from the blue-skinned Dr. Archibald Phinius IV. Later we’re introduced to the egotistical Kid Nefarious who worries that his grades are too low, we find out Mummy Girl is carrying a torch for the insufferable Nefarious, and a fight breaks out at recess between the Skull Brothers and some obnoxious bullies. The issue ends with a meeting in space between a superhero and supervillain, and their discussion casts doubt on what the readers might normally consider the nature of battle between gaudily dressed good guys and bad guys.
None of it is particularly compelling and none of the subplots really click with one another. Though it takes up over a quarter of the issue, nothing in the opening origin story relates directly to the rest of the tale. In the meantime, we don’t really get to see much of the school or get a taste of the kind of clever ideas that a school for world conquerors would seem to inspire. For example, other than the previously mentioned Victory Speeches 101, we don’t really learn about any of the cool and funny villain-specific courses. The only other class we see is one for literature, and the only thing particularly villain-y about it is that the teacher is wearing an eye patch. This is the kind of concept that begs for the writer to just go nuts with it and have fun, and it doesn’t feel like Mark Smith is having any fun at all.
Armand Villavert’s art is in a manga-inspired action style that I don’t always gravitate to, but I certainly don’t mind. The only thing I don’t like is what seems like a lazy approach to the backgrounds of his images. A lot of his panels have nothing but a figure or two in the foreground and either a bare minimum of background or nothing but color. It gives the book an unfinished look. I think it also speaks to the sense that the creators didn’t have as much fun with this as they should have. For example, when Kid Nefarious and Martian Jones are walking through the school after Nefarious’s disappointing Victory Speeches 101 performance, Villavert misses some great opportunities to fill the background with whatever cool, funny, murderous, flashy stuff a school for supervillains would be filled with. Instead we get a handful of generic super-powered students and a bare minimum of architecture.
There’s nothing about Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 that makes me want to read Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #2. Perhaps if/when this is collected in a trade the overall story will feel more cohesive, but I wouldn’t recommend picking up the single issues. |Mick Martin
Click here for a preview of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl. For a completely different take on the book’s first issue, check out this week’s Rude Chapbooks.


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