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This Week's Comics Rock #2: Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1
Vital Stats:
Publisher: Image
Release Date: 5-4-11
Author: Mark Andrew Smith
Artist: Armand Villavert
Colors: Carlos Carrasco
Cover Artist: Armand Villavert
Cover Price: $2.99
Paul's Grade: B
The first issue of this new ongoing series is clever and lots of fun. It opens with a brief and rather silly prologue describing the eponymous Gladstone and how he and his school got started. It sets the tone for the rest of the issue: Lighthearted genre-parody rife with supervillains and supervillainy. After the nine-page introduction the scene jumps to the here and now and the introduction of the first principal character.
This is revealed to be Monologue-ing 101
It's a great splash page. The ruins are almost uncomfortably 9/11 but they don't dwell on it and I do like the defeated Batman-knockoff in the lower right of the frame. Kid Nefarious is the talented kid but is spoiled by his supervillain parents and has a sense of entitlement. Still, for a book about young Mad Scientists and Magical Aberrations he fits nicely as a central protagonist along with his cohort/partner-in-supercrime Martian Jones. He isn't riveting but he is someone I want to continue watching.
The book is shaping up to feature a large ensemble cast much like most classic teenage/high school dramas. Unfortunately the two female characters in this issue left me pretty flat. Mummy Girl with her puppy love for Kid Nefarious has a couple pages of in-class daydreaming by way of an introduction. It seemed to me a tired and overdone motif even with the supercriminal element.
Their dialogue just seems to retread the same familiar High School Girl story
Her BFF Ghost Girl is equally uninspiring thus far and both of them seem just a touch too Manga for my tastes. Actually, up to this point, the smaller and background characters have been more compelling and intriguing than the principal protagonists.
This book needs more scenes like THIS
Recess kicks off with a gigantic two-page fracas of kid supercriminals battering one another and getting up to general schoolyard roughhousing on a whole new level. Great costumes and a really engrossing palette of powers being displayed. I especially like the kid para-trooper and the one riding the flying pink jellyfish.
The Metal City Gang and the Skull Brothers taunt one another on the playground
This schoolyard fight is pretty great. First off, the villainous parodies are a lot of fun. I like the Rogues/Fatal Five-type team of the Metal City Gang. They seem like a bunch of villains who have teamed up for mutual protection/pooling resources. They've got a good, wacky balance and characters that both fit neatly into understandable archetypes while at the same time looking pretty unique. The Skull Brothers take it up another level still, caricatures of both the brooding ultra-violent street killers (like Bullseye or Deadshot) as well as the perfect set of goth kids. These are the characters that I want to pick up the next issue to see more of (and I hope they deliver).
Again, the art gets very Manga-like at times
The staff of Gladstones hasn't really been explored except for the Groundskeeper who is the retired villain Greensleeves. When he freaks out and uses his powers in nicely emphasizes that the adult villains are on another level than the kids. In my opinion the teaching staff at such a school should be just as awesome if not more cool than the kids (look at Hogwarts) so I hope we get to see much more of them in the future.
The issue also ends with three pages of dialogue between a hero and a villain that sets up a tantalizing mystery for next issue. Their talk also potentially casts the Skull Brothers' rant from earlier in the issue in a much different light.
The two fighting on the TV are the Hero and Villain we meet at the end of this issue
Mark Andrew Smith seems to have some very interesting ideas that he's playing with in this book. It's obvious he loves the tropes of supervillainy as well and that shines through consistently. It even makes up for some of the more heavy-handed story elements and the sometimes prattling dialogue (jury is still out on whether he is just writing high schoolers accurately or his dialogue lilts into the inane at times). Overall he does a good job though and if I like coming issues I think I will check out Amazing Joy Buzzards (one of his other Image titles). Armand Villavert's art is, as I've said, a little too Manga for my tastes but that is not consistent throughout the book. Also, I dig his costume designs for the villains (especially the initials at the end of Kid Nefarious' scarf). It is quite a challenge to stock an entire school with brightly clad fiends and he rises to the challenge beautifully. The coloring is bold and engaging. It puts me in mind of something Vince Colletta would do if he were working with digital coloring (for those of you who don't know Vince, this is a HUGE compliment). It puts me in mind of a by-gone era of comics when many backgrounds were simply bright colors that help to accentuate the mood of the scene or the drama of the panel. Very nicely done.
Gladstone's #2 will be on my pull list and I am hoping that the quality only improves from here. I especially hope that the main characters will become more endearing with more exposure (though I feel they could just as easily become increasingly aggravating). But this issue is bright and fun and well worth the $2.99 cover price.

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