Rick Remender continues to hit it out of the park at Image Comics, wrapping up an excellent first arc in Black Science earlier this month and continuing to impress in his somehow weirder series, Deadly Class (which is incredible, because Black Science features laser tomahawks and enormous frog people).
Deadly Class follows Marcus, a kid with a backstory so tragic it would make Batman feel ashamed. Orphaned and directionless after an overweight schizophrenic jumps off a bridge and lands on his parents, Marcus is taken off the streets by Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts, an academy for assassins in training from all over the globe. Like so many other high school settings, the King School has its cliques: the Yakuza, the South American cartels, even some rednecks from the Aryan Brotherhood - every crime syndicate and shady organization has a presence. But Marcus, unaffiliated with any established gangs, finds friendship in a group of outcasts and loners like himself. This issue picks up right where the last when left off, with Marcus tripping on an obscene amount of acid in a Vegas hotel room with his new-found friends trying to bring him down. Ah, high school.
What really makes Deadly Class such a distinctive story aside from its premise is its setting. Remender, along with artist Wes Craig and even colorist Lee Loughridge, grew up in the 1980’s. The Smiths, John Hughes movies, and Reaganomics course through their collective artistic veins and it shows. The references, the taste in music, even the attitudes of the characters…it gives me nostalgia for a time I wasn’t even alive to experience.
Craig’s flexible penciling and Loughridge’s wacked-out canvas of colors add just as much to this book as Remender’s writing. The tricks Craig uses to convey just how high Marcus is consistently both fascinating in how it develops his character and loads of fun. He imagines blood on his hands when he feels guilty, he perceives other people much larger than they actually are when he’s intimidated, crazy angles and warped perspectives are used when he’s scared or excited or angry. This issue is just a joy to ogle.
But what ultimately solidifies Deadly Class as a great book is the characters. In a school where drugs are plentiful, hormones are raging, and murder is curriculum, it might be easy to just fall back on stereotypes and let the insane premise and setting do all the entertaining. But every character has an interesting, even relatable personality, and when you do get stereotypes like the switchblade-toting gangbanger Chico or the jock-bully Viktor, Remender knows when to play them up for comedic effect or water them down for a more serious scene. But the star of show is Marcus, as it should be. He’s a teenager saddled with all the angst that comes with a complicated past and an unwelcome high school environment with the added intrigue of the occasional violence streak. One moment we’re sympathizing with his struggle to fit in and the next we’re disgusted with his occasional acts of murder. He’s a character I’m more than happy to watch grow.
Everything gels together to create a comic with personality out the wazoo. Where the hell will this book go from here? For the most part, I don’t have a clue but I’m chomping at the bit to find out.