Deadly Class Vol. 1 (collecting issues #1-6)
Writer: Rick Remender
Pencils: Wes Craig
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editing: Sebastian Girner
Image Comics – Summer 2014
“…a coming of age story about broken kids expected to deal with a violent world.” – Rick Remender
Beheading. Assassin Psychology. Poison. These are a few of the subjects students study at Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, a secret boarding school for the world’s top prospective assassins.
According to the school’s dean, King’s Dominion was founded by victimized Chinese laborers to protect themselves against the predation of industry and to give voice to the downtrodden, wherever they may be. By the time the first issue of Deadly Class starts, the mission of the school has been compromised. Rather than training assassins willing to upend a world order that caters to the ultra-rich and powerful, the school has been admitting the offspring of crime families- the types of organizations that prey most upon the marginalized multitudes. Kings Dominion seems to be infested by those it aims to topple. While this is a tough contradiction to tackle, the creative team charges through the first six issues with true gravitas.
This environment of constant conflict is what makes the main character, Marcus, so compelling. While most of the school’s ranks are legacy students or those who come from powerful syndicate families, Marcus is a homeless Nicaraguan teenager in San Francisco during the height of the Reagan presidency. He’s an at-risk youth sleeping on the street, fighting for what little he has, no family, no prospects, suicidal. When he arrives at Kings Dominion, Marcus is the ultimate it-boy. His reputation precedes him as a violent youth and a survivor. There are hints of the pedigree that landed him at Kings Dominion, but it’s kept secret. Without social status, he is a pariah in the network-maze that is a unique high school hierarchy of clicks and clubs.
The 80’s were stamped by the full spectrum of the United States government acting to abandon the disenfranchised and marginalized in favor of business interests- cruel policies that were emphasized and increased with each successive American president after Reagan. While campaign ads for Reagan’s ’84 presidential campaign proclaimed, “It’s morning again, in America,” Deadly Class points out that the misdirection that led people to buy in to a brutal, predatory system based on the manufacturing of fear. Barbaric domestic policy coupled with an insidious penchant for interventionism abroad creates a rich stew of twisted characters inhabiting a world the government wanted us to see as one long John Hughes movie.
Deadly Class shows how the school’s goals have been compromised by outside interests. Kings Dominion is a melting-pot of disparate interests from across the globe with no interest in cohesion. The kids from the class of ’91 are fostering rivalries that they can expect to last for the rest of their lives. Just as the 1987 high school lives for these kids is tough, social rifts would likely grow more daunting in the decades following the Reagan era. Seeing each student, friend and rival alike, develop within Marcus’s orbit is a pleasure. Each is distinct in look and stature, and has their own way of taking care of business with their own agendas to support. The kids at the school feel genuine and speak about their insecurities in heartfelt ways. The writing is confident enough that the dialogue refrains from devolving into cloying Tarantino-esque hipster-ism.
The art is wild and the action is always clear, even when it’s at its most frenetic pacing. The team has opted out of panoramic, low-panel count pages in favor of frenetic composition that dares to run amok without ever straying into incoherence. Whether the settings are grungy or opulent, the coloring is well off the charts, coming to a roaring crescendo with a drug-fueled road trip to Las Vegas in issues #4-6 in which a fellow student enlists Marcus to kill his deadbeat father.
There are a lot of violent stories being told in modern culture about high school-aged students pitted against one another. When the novel, “The Giver” was first published in 1993, its portrayal of children without empathy led cozy American school districts to ban it. “The Giver” is almost tame by today’s standards, where series like “Battle Royale” and “The Hunger Games” deal major youth body counts in near-future societies. What sets the commentary in Deadly Class apart from them is its willingness to walk us back to a recent past we might have missed- or one that its readers may not have been born to witness. Deadly Class wants to expose the United States of 1987 as a distopian, nauseating piece of our history that needs to be confronted in light of today’s injustices.
Deadly Class Vol. 1 is available in print at fine comic stores in your area and through the ComiXology Unlimited subscription service .