Deadly Class presents a high school for assassins, populated by the progeny of the world’s greatest criminal assassins. Can an orphaned teen from the streets thrive or… even survive? Also, the 1980s.
Previously, in Deadly Class: In 1980s San Francisco, homeless teenager Marcus Lopez Arguello escapes from an encounter with law enforcement, only to find himself inducted into a school of assassins. But with no friends and a decidedly deadly atmosphere, is it better than life on the streets?
THE KOOKS AND ANTI-SOCIAL TYPES
Deadly Class bills itself as a comic about a training academy for assassins, but what’s within the covers is much deeper. The concept is ripe for an over-the-top spoof, but Rick Remender plays it straight, choosing to focus on recognizable human drama and conflict. The first issue was an incisive and troubling look at one kid’s life on the streets, until it transformed via a stunning action sequence into something more fantastical. Deadly Class #2 works in the same mode, treating with the familiar adolescent issues of alienation, bullying and finding one’s place. Remender’s assassin high has all the recognizable 1980s subcultures represented – goths, gangsters, jocks, preps, punks, straight edge thrashers, etc. The killers-in-training view their classes as any high schoolers do, with the assignment of murder handled in the same way as a frog dissection.
What makes Deadly Class good is how much of Remender is on the page. He’s made his youthful punk affiliation clear (both in issue #1’s back material and elsewhere), and the disaffection and righteous anger of Marcus feels personal and real. What I am interested in seeing is how Remender follows through on the thorny idea of assassination as a vehicle for social change. Issues of class and power are at the forefront of Deadly Class. While the school headmaster Master Lin makes it clear that one of the goals of the school to provide the underclass with a means of power, it seems odd that most of the characters are presented as scions of the politically and/or criminally powerful. As Marcus is a clear outsider to that power structure, it will be interesting to see what ramifications his attendance will have at the school.
IT’S FULL OF JAZZ
The art on Deadly Class looks like something from Patrick Nagel (you know, the guy who did all those Duran Duran album covers), which is both evocative of the period and highly effective. One of Wes Craig’s strengths is in how he animates the character’s movements, with expressive body language and facial expressions. His panel layouts are economical and energetic, mixing nine panel pages with more dynamic structures as necessary. Lee Loughridge uses a stark palette, with each page having a consistent color temperature. He varies the controlling colors from scene to scene, giving the pages coherency without becoming monotonous. Craig and Loughridge work together perfectly, creating a visual flow to the story that should be the envy of lesser comics.
BOTTOM LINE: ENROLL TODAY
Deadly Class reads like a mixture of Morning Glories by way of John Hughes, with a sprinkle of Ennis-esque scatology and a liberal dash of Reagan-era punk disaffection. Marcus’s origin story, such as it is, derives explicitly from Reagan’s policies, specifically Iran/Contra and his defunding of psychiatric hospitals.While Deadly Class #1 created an interesting protagonist but barely introduced the plot, issue #2 expands the cast and sinks the plot hooks, creating a second issue just as good as the first. The only thing that gives me pause is the tonal whiplash presented by the newly introduced villain who bookends Deadly Class #2. He’s an animal lover in the most grotesque sense, and while I think it’s supposed to play for laughs, it seems at odds with the rest of the story.
Image should be commended for putting together a package that puts the Big 2 to shame. For $3.50, you get twenty-nine pages of story uninterrupted by ads, with some additional back material from both Remender and Craig. So not only is the content good, it’s also good value. Deadly Class #2 is a fantastic follow-up to a stunning debut, beginning a series that I think will rank amongst the best in 2014. Check it out.