|—||Deadly Class (1-6)
Deadly Class tells the story of an orphaned teenage boy by the name of Marcus Lopez in 1987 San Francisco. At the age of fourteen, Marcus is living under a bridge and has experienced great emotional trauma in his relatively short life. As a small child he witness his parents get crushed to death by a suicidal schizophrenic who jumped from a bridge. After that traumatizing event, Marcus was sent to a boy’s home, where it is implied that he was physically and emotionally abused. He eventually escapes the abuse, by detonating some sort of explosive and killing the other residents.
In the first issue Marcus is on the run from the police for his crimes committed in his cryptic backstory. He is then rescued by a group of teenagers who attend a school for teenage assassins called Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. After his escape Marcus meets a Mr. Miyagi stand in, named Master Lin (the school’s headmaster), who offers him asylum at the school.
Despite being a school for young assassins, Kings Dominion isn’t that different from most fictions high schools. Instead of having typical cliques such as jocks, stoners, and band geeks, you have in-groups based on world crime organizations. Typical classes such as psychology and gym are replaced with assassin psychology and hand-to-hand combat. It’s also interesting to note that even aspiring assassins have homework assignments, except instead calculus problems then have to commit murder. Maybe King’s Dominion isn’t exactly your typical high school…
Around issue #3, writer Rick Remender temporarily gives up on the idea of writing about a boarding school for teenage assassins and instead decides to write a subpar tribute to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It honestly feels like even Remender, got bored with his own plot and decided that dropping acid in Las Vegas was more interesting than a school full of teenage assassins. Although, the Las Vegas half of the story arc provides readers with some of volume 1’s best moments, it doesn’t work for couple reason. The most obvious is the jarring fact that Remender struggles to write about the characters that aren’t Marcus. There are several other characters that join Marcus on the road trip but you’d be hardpressed to describe any of them beyond their outward stereotype. You have the late 80’s punk, female Latino stereotype, and a female Japanese gangster. The only exception is the N.W.A. knockoff, who got a backstory in issue 3, and even he doesn’t really have much character development.
Even more is the lack of connection between characters leading to the Las Vegas side of the first story arc. Marcus was attending Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts less than two weeks before being pulled from “The Ditch” (Kings Dominion’s harsher version of detention) by “friends” that hardly know him. The supporting characters know little about him outside of rumors about his murderous past at the boy’s home. Even if Marcus’s character was as outwardly transparent as he was to the reader, chances are they wouldn’t exactly line up to be his friend. Marcus spends much of his time blanketing himself in his own sadness. His sadness is merited, but it doesn’t make the character’s Xanga worthy monologues any less cringe worthy.
Despite some of the writing faults, Deadly Class has decent qualities. Wes Craig’s artwork works very well with the plot. Craig’s art takes aspects of dark noire realism and more cartoon illustration and the combination makes a perfect backdrop for Remender’s story. What takes away from the art is some of the coloring choices by Lee Loughridge. Much of the coloring choices are used to create an emotion for the panels as opposed to just coloring in what is drawn. At times the coloring choices are a great way to express the emotion of the given situation, but other times you’ll see whole pages predominately colored in puke green or urine yellow. It is an eyesore that sometimes takes away from one of Deadly Class’s best qualities.
By the end of the blood soaked and drug induced Vegas trip, we are left with plenty of questions about the Marcus and his friends. Near the end, an antagonistic figure from Marcus’s vague past is presented. Although this character is written for cheap shock, his meeting with Marcus is still interesting for the future of the series. Likely, this character’s involvement will help fill in Marcus’s backstory and help centralize the currently misguided plot.
Despite my slight disdain for the first arc of comic, I honestly want to keep reading the next arc to see what happens next. Rick Remender was proven with his other work (such as the very fantastic Image book Low) that he can write a great story. And maybe, if given enough time, Deadly Class will merit the praise it has gotten on other review websites. But truthfully this optimism is even lower than this story arc’s review score.