Image Comics has a new series, written by Mark Andrew Smith with art by Armand Villavert: Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors. It’s a comic geared towards a YA audience about a school for teen villains to learn the tricks of their trade—but there’s more going on in the wider world outside the school than one might expect. The second issue comes out today, and the first trade collection is due out in late July.
The comic has had quite a bit of hype so far, selling out the run of its first issue and getting kudos from around the comics-related internet. I’ve had a chance to read the first two issues, and I have a few thoughts—for one thing, it’s pretty fun.
Mark Andrew Smith has done award-winning work in comics prior to beginning Gladstone’s for Image—Harvey and Eisner awards for his Popgun series of anthologies, and a Yasla (an award for graphic novels for teens) for Aqua Leung. Young-adult comics are his forte, and Gladstone’s seems to prove that with its promising start and engaging, amusing world.
The opening to the first issue was a little rough for me—the “let me tell you a story” narrative trick of getting in the backstory in the first few pages tend to make me leery of what’s coming next, but my fears were assuaged. The story that follows introduces the reader to several characters, like Kid Nefarious—a legacy student who thinks he’s the hot shit, and might not be—and his friend who is an alien, as well as Mummy Girl, who has a bit of a crush on Kid N.
The dialogue is witty and believable, very teen without being too predictable or silly. That, and it actually made me laugh here and there. I have a bit of a weakness for academy-stories; the interactions of a large casts of characters stuck together on a campus, learning to use their powers and also learning who they are? I love it. On the other hand, it can be overdone, and that cheapens the thrill, so it’s a thin path to walk—am I going to love it or be bored to tears?
The second issue of Gladstone’s is what knocks it onto the good side of the divide.
While the first issue is mostly setup and backstory, the second begins to delve a little further into the kind of world that would have an academy for young villains and also introduces a conflict: there are old-school villains, who want to be the real thing, not allied to work with the heroes in a truce of sorts. The parents of many of the young villains-to-be are involved in various ways with this conflict, some as law-enforcers and some as law-breakers, but the kids don’t really know how the world works. The tension between their lack of awareness of how the real business goes down between heroes & villains and the way the adult villains are keeping it secret is a nice touch, one that promises quite a bit of future drama and development.
The kids aren’t the only interesting characters, either; the instructors, the parents, and Ironsides—the villain heading the academy—all promise to be plenty interesting as the series continues, especially Greensleeves, who’s “retired.” (The kids don’t get what that means—they saw him die in battle on TV, so how can he be “retired?” Another bit of tension between the real outside world and the world of the academy, where the students don’t have all the facts.) The way the hero and villain whose battle we see “on screen” being televised in issue #2 interact is pretty great, too, and leaves me with questions aplenty.
The art reminds me a bit of the Teen Titans series—colorful, hectic and active, with a lot of attention paid to costumes and details and a slightly manga-inspired look. It’s just right, I think, for the story it’s telling. The fight-scenes are particularly well illustrated and kinetic.
Comics for young adults are still a bit of a narrow field, compared to the burst of YA prose fiction that’s a major part of the speculative fiction marketplace nowadays. I’m excited to see a fun, amusing new series—that seems to have plenty of potential—beginning, especially through one of the competitive publishers like Image.
In short—I really had fun reading these first two issues, and there are plenty of story-threads unwinding that have me interested in reading more to see where it goes.