“What the fuck just happened?” Is the question that drops us into this issue of Deadly Class by writer Rick Remender, artist Wes Craig, and colorist Lee Loughridge. Our young and confused protagonist Marcus finds himself in police custody with blood on his hands and his mind so burnt out that he has trouble placing the events that got him into his current predicament. Thus, flashbacks. We discover that after the events of the last issue, Marcus receives extreme detention in the form of “The Ditch”. His sentence is commuted however when he's sprung by Saya. The two then hit the road with Maria, Willie, and Billy to Vegas to do drugs, hit the slots, and oh yeah, kill a dude. After some stops, drugs, another stop, and more drugs, things get interesting. And by interesting I mean everything gets all Fear and Loathing.
Craig and Loughridge shine together in this issue. Craig's faces are full of personality (especially when they're high on something) and his portrayal of motion on the highway is stellar. He does a great job showing Marcus at the beginning just strung out from a mix of the drugs to come and whatever it is that got him stuck in a police station. There's one panel in particular that pretty accurately displays what goes in a mind that knows it's done fucked up. Loughridge gives everything an almost washed out vibe that matches the tone of nostalgia that Remender is obviously trying to evoke with the story. That most of this issue is a flashback itself makes it work that much more. The two really step it up though with the scenes of Marcus on acid. The page of The Strip is beautiful in it's use of extreme color (which is pretty vivid unlike the rest of the issue). The background just vomits bright neon and the marquees change to read things like “I am so high”, “Am I gonna die?”, and “I mean really reeeally high”. Letterer Sebastian Girner does a great job here by having the words in the caption box actually melt into the page. Some colorful Sienkiewiczesque panels of Marcus absolutely losing his mind are great as well. But subtlety, surprisingly, is the best part. The few panels where things aren't mind-boggling trippy but just a little off are the finest examples of Marcus's chemical imbalance.
For as much as he bagged on John Hughes in the second issue, Remender's teens read pretty cliché. We've got the punk, the urban youth, the bad-ass chick, her quiet friend, and the sad-boy protagonist. That's not to say there isn't room for these kids to grow but four issues in should be plenty of time for each kid to have some personality. A lot of the dialogue seems tired and dare I say out of touch. I can't help but read a subtext of Remender shouting “This is what teenager's are like, right?” Craig's sketchy artwork actually gives the most personality to the kids. Contrary to their posturing and bravado, these are 15 year olds we're dealing with. They don't really know who they are yet or what they're supposed to be doing. The harsh lines of Craig's work reinforces this feeling that we all had when we were just starting High School (and doing drugs on the way to Vegas. We all did that, right?). To Remender's credit though, when he gives Marcus his introspective monologues the young man actually starts to feel real. He's scared. Scared he'll get kicked out of King's Dominion, scared he'll get in serious legal trouble, and just plain scared that he'll fuck up. That feeling of relatability is sadly lost when the first bubble of dialog pops out of his mouth. Remender's overall story is promising too. The mysterious figure hunting Marcus obviously has a grudge. Marcus doesn't get along with most of the school and has already made some key enemies. He's even messed up with the faculty. These things have promise to prove some difficulty (some sooner than others) and assures us that things are going to go very bad very soon. We just don't know how yet.
For Remender's faults in characterization, the story does seem to be picking up and it looks like things are about to explode a bit next issue. The art does more for the story and the characters than the dialogue does, but it turns out that isn't such a bad thing. It'll be interesting to see how things shape up in the coming issues. It looks like things are about to get crazy, and this issue was great at setting it all up to subsequently go off.