After bursting on the comics scene with "The Amazing Joy Buzzards," a book about a band of monster fighters secretly working for the government, writer Mark Andrew Smith quickly moved on to "The New Brighton Archaeological Society," a story about a group of child adventurers uncovering secrets about their parents' mysterious past. Smith's next project, published in May through Image Comics, splits his previous protagonists' age difference, focusing on super-powered teenagers learning about their powers and their world at a very special school with "Gladstone's School For World Conquerors." The twist? They're learning to be bad guys.
"Gladstone's" follows the adventures of Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl, Martian Jones, Ghost Girl and the Skull Brothers, the offspring of the world's most dangerous supervillains as drawn by Armand Villavert Jr. In addition to taking classes like Death Ray Construction, Henchman Management, Mystical Relics and Giant Monsters 101, the kids will be searching for the answers to a mystery involving both the school and their parents.
CBR News spoke with Smith and Villavert to get the gossip on Gladstone's, its enrollees and the overall world being examined inside the book's pages.
CBR News: Let's start at the beginning, Mark -- where did the idea for "Gladstone's School for World Conquerors" originate?
Mark Andrew Smith: I think the exploration into a unified world of villains is a very cool thing and the students of Gladstone's are the perfect windows through which to view that world. There are layers upon layers of history to this world that we've built and all kinds of different styles of villains from science villains, to supernatural, cosmic, and mystic villains are all in the same universe existing together and at work.
In some ways, it's a love letter to being young and still believing in things like, for instance, that professional wrestling is real and having heroes like Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan to look up to. When these kids discover the truth about their world, they're in some huge, world-ending trouble because of it, because they're at the center.
I really wanted to do something that's like the classic video games like "Street Fighter" and "Dark Stalkers" but also a little epic in scope like "One Piece" where everyone has their own special attacks and history and back-story.
Armand, what drew you to the project?
Armand Villavert Jr.: Honestly it was really a thrill when Mark contacted me on working on this project. I was a fan of "The Amazing Joy Buzzards" and it was an easy decision for me when he asked me if I wanted to work on "Gladstone's."
Mark, what is it about Armand's art that made him your go-to choice for the comic?
Smith: Armand has a great style and he can really bring life to the characters and a full range of emotion to the book. He's great to work with. I think Armand was born to draw supervillains. He's done fantastic work being the other half of shaping this universe and making cool characters. Mr. Nefarious is one of my favorite characters in the book, as well as the Skull Brothers. I think, with character designs and the actual storytelling, he's hitting home run after home run. He's the other half of the team on "Gladstone's."
What is it about the adventures of young, exceptional characters you both find so appealing?
Smith: I think youth with its idealism and inexperience is a great window to view new worlds. It makes for a more interesting story to have them thrown into situations and see what they learn from them and what they change into after being shaped by those experiences.
Villavert: Well in the beginning of my career I started with drawing younger characters and I kinda got good at it. I also enjoy it a lot just because it's easy for a younger character to go from serious to goofy and I love drawing goofy things, especially faces.
So, we know the book's protagonists are the offspring of supervillains, but what kind of world is the series set in, overall? Is it pulpy, sci-fi, straight-up superhero or something else?
Villavert: It has elements of sci-fi and definitely superhero. It's a world where we can do anything we'd like. Thats why it's so much fun to work on, because there aren't any limits to what we can do and where we can go.
Smith: The World of Gladstone's is a sci-fi superhero world blended with a sort of hyper-action kung fu and manga/anime video game world where everyone has his or her special powers and special attacks.
Focusing on the titular school for a moment, can you tell us how Gladstone's School For World Conquerors sells itself to potential enrollees?
Villavert: It's pretty much like Hogwarts. If you're part of the supervillain world, you know about it as a kid growing up. If your Mom and/or Dad are supervillains, then it's probably part of your upbringing, but I also can see a normal kid who has dreams of world domination researching his way into the knowledge that there is a school that will teach him to conquer the world.
Smith: Gladstone's School teaches the basics to the next generation of super-villains. In the series we're introduced to Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl, Martian Jones, Ghost Girl, and the Skull brothers, as they unearth the School's -- and their parents' -- hidden past. Gladstone's is a sci-fi supervillain coming of age story with a lot of mystery and intrigue along the way as the students navigate and start to figure out the world in which they live. Everything isn't as it seems and their parents aren't the people they thought them to be.
Have the kids in your story chosen to follow in their parents' footsteps, or has world conquering been foisted upon them?
Smith: Both. But for them it's the most normal thing in the world.
Villavert: For the most part they all idolize their parents, and that's really where a good part of the plot comes from.
If the kids in the book are indeed all villains, who winds up being the hero of the story? Or is there a hero of the story at all?
Villavert: The way I see it, there's an opposite end of the spectrum, and who knows? Maybe one day Mark and I will show that end, but we wanted to show more of the villains side of it since everyone knows villains seem to have more fun than the hero.
Smith: It's a world of supervillains, so the kids in our main group at Gladstone's are the heroes of this story. There are normal villains and then there are some really bad villains. Not everyone in this world sees eye to eye and everyone wants something different. A lot of the villains will go head to head with each other. It's like a huge dangerous game of chess that's being played out in the Gladstone's universe.
In closing, can you tell us a little bit about series main cast?
Smith: The Skull Brothers are my favorite characters in the series. They're highly trained and masters of just about every weapon. They could take on Batman and kick his butt. We never see their faces -- they're mysterious figures throughout the book. Their parents are hardliners and don't agree with the present state of the supervillain and Superhero world. They want it all to collapse.
Ghost Girl is Korean and the child of two supernatural heavyweights. She's stealthy and can get in and out of even the most secure location. She's powerful, too. She likes her food spicy and with heaping sides of kimchi at the table.
Martian Jones is a Martian and a science villain. He's a bookworm and teacher's pet. We'll learn more about the Martians later in the series. I'm looking forward to exploring the Martian Conqueror culture and his home world later in the series.
Mummy Girl uses ancient Egyptian magic for her attacks in battle. She has mummy wraps that are like huge arms that can strike or pick things up. It's like having a few extra sets of hands. She looks innocent, but beware; she can kick your ass.
Kid Nefarious is the main character of Gladstone's. He's the son of Mr. and Mrs. Nefarious, who are some of the most powerful villains in the Gladstone's universe.
Villavert: Kid Nefarious is the leader and his powers are pretty powerful. Mummy Girl is the supportive one to Kid Nefarious, Martian Jones is kinda like Turk to JD from "Scrubs," at least thats the way I see him. For the most part, all of the characters have the potential to be greater than their parents. Their powers are continuously evolving and also have the potential to be greater and greater. I think it's a perfect way to have kid characters, because kids have the potential to be the greatest (hero/villain) this world has ever seen.
"Gladstone's School For World Conquerors" is in session May 4