To reiterate my opening statement from the Low Vol. 1 review, Rick Remender is a writer who is on fire right now.
While not doing much at Marvel anymore, the guy is a workhorse with all of the books he’s pumping out at Image Comics — Black Science and the soon-to-arrive Tokyo Ghost to name a few. However, his most popular and highly praised book at the moment is Deadly Class. I reviewed a number of issues a while back, but it’s time to get back into it, especially with the start of a new arc coming later this year. Is it good?
Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth (Image Comics)
The year is 1987 and out on the streets of San Francisco is a teenager named Marcus Lopez Arguello. He lost his parents to a mentally ill woman who was released from an institution due to Reagan’s policies at that time, and he ended up living at a terrible orphanage until it burned down. Life has been hell for him, but one day, while being chased by the police, he is brought into a new world and given a rare second chance. He is enlisted at Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts, a high school for teenagers of all walks of life to become assassins. How will Marcus adjust to his new setting, classmates, new friends, and enemies?
There are plenty of strengths displayed in Deadly Class Vol. 1, but also a couple of problems. To begin, the story itself in the first volume is fairly aimless. The first two issues are primarily about setting up the main focus of the series, the character himself, and the Deadly Arts school. You learn most of Marcus’ past during this time (and what isn’t spelled out, you can probably figure out from the clues and hints dropped) and get a good idea for his motivations. The second issue does a great job establishing the school, the setting, its students, teachers, and cliques. Just the brief, but many scenes with the school, without having too much in the way of narration or over-explanation of certain aspects, make the setting feel fully realized. The setting is shown to have so much personality to it and offers a lot of potential for the story and its characters.
The third issue focuses on the lead and another character named Willie as they are given their first big assignment: to actually kill someone (someone who did something very bad before in particular). This part features more interesting bits of characterization and Marcus making his first deadly choice at the school (I will not apologize for that phrasing). The second half of the first volume is where things feel odd and not as focused, when a bunch of the students go on a road trip to Las Vegas. Pretty much the whole “Class” part of Deadly Class disappears and the comic starts to wander loosely from one point to another, as if it were a bunch of various scenes smashed together (particularly egregious in the fifth issue). The plot does get better towards the end when things start to refocus while also increasing the tension and suspense. Other than that, it feels like this particular storyline should have been held off until the second arc. We barely got adjusted to this new and interesting school, but then Remender pulls us away from it quickly and focuses on something that is far less interesting.
I dunno know man. Getting that high score sounds better if you ask me.
The main drive of Deadly Class is its characters. Our lead character, Marcus, is someone I am personally mixed on. Backstory-wise, his story is fairly solid (if a bit standard with the whole dead parents and revenge deal). Remender does a good job getting us to understand where Marcus is coming from and have some sympathy for him. He blames his parents’ death on Ronald Reagan and his mental health policies at the time, which ultimately fuels the teen’s greatest desire, to assassinate the president. The problems arise in two particular points: the first one being that he is not well developed beyond those points or is even that interesting. He’s mostly just an asshole, which you can understand given his situation, but he’s not really developed well beyond his past or his attitude. Even with the big scenes where he ends up killing two people, the comic doesn’t spend enough time on how those moments affected him. The second point is that he is probably one of the least interesting characters in the whole story, strangely enough. Despite his trouble past and how everyone seems to be hyping him up, he really doesn’t do much of note beyond the points mentioned and is surrounded by people who seem far more fascinating.
Speaking of which, the cast of characters is a mixed bag here as well. Saya, the main female who the first issue spent a lot of time on, doesn’t really do much. She has an intriguing introduction, but she is sort of there to be the cool chick and not much else (that should change as time goes on I assume, but right now). Billy is a character with daddy issues (that is one of the reasons why the teens go to Vegas; so they can kill his father), but not much else. Heck, even his own issues and demons, which the comic seems to imply are a big deal, are not properly explained outside of the fact the kid’s dad is a douche. Maria at first doesn’t seem like much; despite being part of a clique and the girlfriend of the clique’s leader, Chico, she’s relatively nice and friendly, but just kind of there and has thing for Marcus. However, the final issue in the volume does paint an interesting picture about her and makes her more of a tragic character. Her exchange with Chico is quite revealing and sets her up to be a big character going forward.
The final teen character is Willie, who I find to be the best character in the entire series thus far. His father was the leader of a big street gang back in the day and when he was gunned down, Willie killed the assassins himself. This lead to him earning a huge reputation, but there comes a curveball with that. We learn that it was his uncle that killed the guys and gave him the credit to build up his reputation. He’s not a killer and has big qualms about doing so (sort of like the other teens as well), but he has to keep up this image and it is really affecting his psyche. His own character arc shows a lot of potential with what decisions he’ll make and what he’ll grow into it.
I have a feeling the Dixie Mob today would be throwing a temper tantrum with today’s progressivism.
The last character aspect to discuss is the villains and they’re the weakest link in Deadly Class Vol 1. There’s the police, who seem overzealous in their hunt to take down Marcus to the point absurdity. Even if the kid did burn down his orphanage, I can’t fathom these officers going to ’80s action movie lengths to catch him. There’s Chico, who becomes a threat in the second half of the book when he suspects Maria is up to something. He’s not particularly interesting or memorable, being almost as wild and over the top in his “hunt” like the police. The last character is this mysterious figure from Marcus’ past and he’s just embarrassing. This guy’s entire character feels like an attempt by Rick Remender to make the most dislikable, disgusting, ugly, and shocking villain in a series ever. The guy is a serial killer, psychopath, racist, heavy into bestiality (to the point where Remender shows us a scene of him masturbating to a poodle on TV), and probably some other weird stuff we don’t know about. He doesn’t come across as threatening or scary, just frickin’ bizarre and laughable in how extreme he is. It screams of trying too hard by the writer to make a villain standout or be memorable.
Remender’s writing on the book is good, though features some hiccups. The pacing and story structure are fine for most of the issues, having a story that flows and progresses naturally. The dialogue is solid but much of the humor tends to fall flat due to timing and the exposition/narration getting overdone. The ’80s aspect, one of the bigger points of Deadly Class, actually feels rather wasted. Outside of Reagan’s policies as a president, there’s nothing in this comic that needed to be exactly in the ’80s and anything ’80s specific or mentioned felt like window-dressing (like mentioning the Grateful Dead and John Hughes). The story could have easily taken place in the ’90s and not much would have been lost, since you don’t feel the culture or personality of the time period that much.
Wes Craig provides artwork for the series and it’s one of the best aspects of Deadly Class. When I reviewed the first issues back in 2014, I wasn’t that big of a fan of the style he had (though the quality of the art was good regardless). Now, the art has grown on me and I appreciate it a lot more. Craig does a fantastic job with the layouts and putting together action pieces, making them look exciting and energetic as the characters move about and the angles used (the first issue is the best in that regard). His characters tend to be distinct and easily recognizable from the crowd as long as they are part of the main cast. Craig’s also great at drawing trippy imagery (the entire bit with Las Vegas for instance) and nice little details in the locations. Then you have Lee Loughridge’s colors that do look good in areas, like in Vegas again, and make things look very vibrant.
Is It Good?
Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth is a good start to this brand new series. It has an interesting setup and setting that provides plenty of opportunities for where the story can go. Some of the characters need a little work, but admittedly all feature plenty of potential. This volume does feature some weaknesses here and there but the quality of the writing and artwork are usually strong enough to overcome these issues. Deadly Class’ first outing is not a masterpiece nor even the best example of a story about a school of assassins (that goes to Five Weapons), but it has proven to be an interesting ride so far. You may just want to hop aboard if you haven’t already.