Beautiful reminiscent of a million other things, and yet beautifully fresh – Mark Andrew Smith (The Amazing Joy Buzzards) and Armand Villavert‘s (Zapt) Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors is simultaneously the most innocent and most aware comic-book of 2011.
Schools for superheroics are nothing new, it’s the natural extension of the Sixties’ teenage angst that Marvel built their empire on and the raison d’être X-Men universe. It’s a concept the heart of all the classic X-stories and most memorable runs since, and Marvel have recently returned to that seemingly neglected Silver Age standby with Jason Aaron’s thrillingly irreverent Wolverine And The X-Men and the middle-of-the-road Avengers Academy, but Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors trims away the canonical chaff and legacy luggage to create something akin to Robert Kirkman’s glorious Invincible in terms of being an accessible, self-contained adventure, a thoroughly contemporary and yet equally timeless avatar for classic comic-book values in a world that seems to have forgotten them.
Almost existing in the same deeply cynical universe Garth Ennis’ The Boys, yet with none of the actual cynicism, the eternal duet between white capes and black capes is akin to pro-wrestling where brightly coloured characters square up for the cameras, playing out pre-agreed storylines in the newspapers for the entertainment of the slack-jawed masses. Against this backdrop, a bunch of supervillain offspring study in a Hogwarts for Moustache Twirlers, unawares that the world dominating schemes they’re prepping for aren’t entirely genuine, almost like Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways running a gleeful roughshod over the otherwise bloodless Kurt Russell movie Sky High* complete with schoolyard rivalries and romances.
Smith’s writing is fast-paced and warm, his characters rich enough to resonate with all ages of reader, and the character design and outsider edge of surreality recalls Peter Milligan‘s X-Statix, and likewise Villavert’s pen explores the same subverted pop-art style of Mike Allred, albeit with the stylised touch of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Those hoary, old treebeards deeply entrenched in the world of numerical Earths, secret wars and zero hours will delight in this throwback simpler, better age where characters and plots take precedence, but any parents looking for that perfect Christmas gift for their pop-culture hungry young hellion, hungry for the bright lights and sense of wonder that comes with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Harry Potter or the like, may just have found themselves the ideal stocking filler.
Whether they’ve the patience for comic-books or not, Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors is rewarding enough to reel them in.
* Sorry to bring Sky High up, I watched it on a flight. It was British Airways so I had no choice.