"Deadly Class: Volume 1 – Reagan Youth" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Originally published as Deadly Class #1 - #6
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Wesley Craig and Lee Loughridge
2014, 160 Pages
Trade Paperback released on July 16th, 2014
You know how Harry Potter has a really crappy life until he finds out he's a wizard and goes off to a fancy school to learn all kinds of magical stuff? Well, what if instead of Hogwarts to study under Dumbledore he went to a school of assassins run by Ra's al Ghul in 1987 San Francisco? That's the quickest way to describe Deadly Class and it doesn't nearly do the comic justice.
Marcus was living on the streets after his orphanage burned down (which he may or may not have caused). Some old guy stole his shoes and the cops are after him. When he is at his lowest, a group of teenagers pick him up and bring him to Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. Master Lin, the wise old Asian teacher, sees potential in the young man. Marcus doesn't quite fit in and he comes to the school with a bit of a rep with the orphanage fire. Everyone sort of hates him. Basically, it's just like being a regular teenager, except his classes include hand-to-hand combat and AP Black Arts instead of your basic algebra and English.
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Writer Rick Remender captures that feeling of loneliness that all kids go through during high school. That feeling of not fitting in or being accepted. He carves up the student body into somewhat stereotypical cliques not unlike what you'd see in a prison show, but with the assassin spin to it. You've got the Preps, the Dixie Mob, Soto Vatos, Jersey Kings, F.W.O. (Final World Order), Kuroki Syndicate, and the Freaks. Guess which group Marcus gravitates toward. He's an outcast and he only feels comfortable with fellow outcasts. The group that brought him in to the school is a composite of almost all the cliques, so there's a wide array of personalities and perspectives involved.
Although they brought Marcus into Kings Dominion, they don't necessarily like him. This first arc, entitled Reagan Youth, serves as the origin story for this Breakfast Club. They bond over shared experiences, such as killing a homeless man, taking acid on a trip to Las Vegas, and killing one of their fathers. You know, the basic things that kids get into.
The acid trip specifically is amazing. I've never taken acid, but from what I understand of it, artist Wesley Craig did a fantastic job bringing it to life. Marcus hallucinates through each panel, with people shape-shifting around him. At one point it looks like he's melting. A Mr. T slot machine talks to him. People around him change in size based on the emotion they're displaying. He has a confrontation with a security guard and Marcus shrinks in on himself with the guard's shown as this giant with a hand the size of the boy's head.
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Craig's artwork flows very nicely. It's easy to get caught up in Deadly Class until you suddenly find yourself at the end of the comic without even realizing it. Pages are often filled with several small panels that show close-ups of specific pieces of the action or inching the story forward in brief moments. When Marcus is at his lowest, he's about to jump off a bridge. On the left you see Saya, the Asian girl that leads the charge to bring Marcus to Kings Dominion. The panels are zoomed on her mouth, showing it closed at first, then slightly open, as if she's about to yell for him to stop. Meanwhile, on the other side, you see Marcus' clenched eyes, which relax slightly, as if he can feel Saya's gaze on him. These details fill every page and the comic is all the better because of it.
Marcus is the kind of character that is instantly likeable. He's had a rough life, filled with experiences that I have no firsthand knowledge of, but he suffers the same kind of social anxieties that we all face on a day-to-day basis. What do you say when you're in an elevator with some strangers? Are you supposed to say anything? He wonders that too and ends up blurting out some nonsense that we've all guilty of doing at one point or another in our lives.
Deadly Class is off to a fantastic start. This is a comic that can easily pull you in and never let go. Remender set up a lot of pieces to play with in the coming issues. I didn't even touch upon Marcus' arch-nemesis Fuckface. That's because I don't know enough about him yet, but I'm sure that will change. There are many corny puns I can throw in here tying in the school angle, like how reading this book should be your homework or missing this comic could be the death of you, but they're not worth it. Instead, just do yourself a favor and read this book.