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Review: Deadly Class Vol. 1 – Reagan Youth


: Deadly Class Vol.1 – Reagan Youth
Written by: Rick Remender
Art by: Wes Craig
Colours by: Lee Loughridge
Letters by: Rus Wooton
Published by: Image

“What if someone took the secret schooling from Naruto, the grit, gangs and violence from Reservoir Dogs, the drug addled ramblings from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and sprinkled it all with a few exaggerated memoirs to keep it all semi-grounded in the real world?”
This is exactly what Rick Remender achieves with Deadly Class.

Deadly Class follows the life of Marcus, an orphan living rough on the streets of San Francisco, and his entry into King’s Dominion School of Deadly Arts. The story opens with Marcus delivering a monologue on living as a homeless teenager in the poorer districts of the city; reflecting on how much he hates life, how much he hates the people walking past him, ignoring him and judging him at the same time, and how much he loved his birthday present this year. It was pneumonia. After taking us through the Reader’s Digest version of his life like this for a few years, he finally falls asleep only to once again dream of the day his parent’s died, before waking to the sight of an old man stealing his shoes. This is the final straw as far as Marcus is concerned. He decides to take a long walk off the short side of the Golden Gate Bridge, but at the last moment something holds him back and after one more night’s sleep life begins to get a little bit more eventful. One chase through the San Francisco streets and a chance meeting later, Marcus finally finds himself a potential home in the halls of King’s Dominion.

Once we enter through the doors of the school, Remender shifts his focus from Marcus to shine more light on the eclectic cast of Deadly Class. The book is filled with a great selection of varied characters, all of whom have their own back stories and personalities. No two characters could ever be confused for each other thanks to the care Rick has taken in carving out each of them. Every teenager feels like someone you could have met in secondary school and Remender has done his utmost to make them feel real inside the warped world of King’s Dominion. For the most part he does this by using different teenager stereotypes as a template for their characters and then builds more around that; he lets them fall into the trap of being whiny and opinionated, some quietly so, others more extroverted in saying what the feel, but each and every one of them wants to be the guy, trying so hard to come off as being edgier than Bismuth.

Remender makes great use of common high school tropes, turning them on their head when he introduces them into the world of Deadly Class. King’s Dominion is filled with skewed versions of what you might expect from a high school drama with Love Triangles, Hot for Teacher, Cliques and the ever-mysterious headmaster all making an appearance. Being a school for assassins, it also has a very unique syllabus featuring classes like Poisoning, Beheading, Larceny and Assassin Psychology.  As mentioned previously, the school is home to plenty of cliques, but they aren’t quite the groups you might expect. Instead they’ve been replaced with groups representing the Yakuza, Mexican Cartels, Neo Nazis and the rich children of Dr Pavel’s friends in the CIA. Meanwhile, the smokers and more typical tough kids make up some of the least dangerous groups in the school.

With so much extraordinary stuff happening behind the walls of King’s Dominion it would be easy to let Deadly Class feel too much like a work of pure fiction, so Remender uses extracurricular events to keep everything tied to the American Southwest circa 1987. When not in class, the students at King’s Dominion divide their free time between business and pleasure, or homework and pleasure, seeing as they’re teenagers. Their after-school activities often involve skulking around corners, eyeing up their marks, creeping from corner to corner, making sure to remain unseen, while a few students even work their way up to their first assassinations. When not finishing off this “homework”, they have to deal with the normal trials and tribulations of teenage life: popularity, teenage romance, friendships and trying to find themselves. In exploring these key moments in teenage life Remender delivers everyone’s origin story, little bit by little bit. He keeps the main storyline progressing, taking only brief breaks to delve into the past and uncover a little bit more about each student when the time is right.

It is also during these moments that Remender puts the most of himself into the storyline. A huge number of the events have been heavily fuelled by his own experiences growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. He freely admits that a few have been exaggerated, and that the timelines have been shuffled around a little, but at these moments everything can feel so raw that it gets more than a little bit scary. I won’t mention any specifics here for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but it’s not often that the Letter’s Pages can bring me to the edge of my seat.

Wes Craig’s art is also worthy of praise, the smooth edges and hatched shading help sell Deadly Class as something set firmly in the grungy late 80s, while adding just the right amount of grit to the seedy plotlines. However, as great as Craig’s art is, the major selling point for the art is Lee Loughridge’s use of colour."We're going to Circus Circus!" His tonal style is quite simply amazing. Each panel is dominated by a single colour that evokes the mood of the scene and the images are given definition by making use of different tints and shades. The whole effect really brought back memories of the Cowboy Bebop intro. The changes in colour from page to page also add a whole lot to scene transitions. Marcus passing out alone on a sidewalk? Grey. Midday in the desert at a Grateful Dead concert? Dry, muted yellow. Crawling over rooftops at midnight or driving down deserted streets late in the evening? Midnight Blue. It sounds very simple when put into words, but when viewed flipping from page to page it is just astounding. This technique of delineating the scenes by colour has a dramatic effect in setting the tone of a scene; it really helps give the feelof the bright neon of the Vegas Strip when there’s a sudden colour explosion. It also sells the feeling of what’s going on inside the brain of someone on an extremely bad acid trip.

Deadly Class is put forward as a story about crime and assassination, but at its core it is very much a story about growing up without losing yourself. If you like the sound of a grittier, more vulgar Harry Potter or Naruto, or if you enjoyed Resevoir Dogs, Rockstar’s Canis Canum Edit or maybe even Freak and Geeks then I recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read, possibly while listening to Morrisey, The Smiths, The Descendants and all that good stuff.


Deadly Class Vol.1 – Reagan Youth is available now.

Deadly Class #8 released on October 15th.