(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)
(Warning: This comic contains explicit language.)
Introduction: Dead Week season is here. Students everywhere are dreading dead week, the week before finals, the week that sometimes has more deadlines for major assignments than finals week itself. Whether your dead week is this week, next week, last week, or even the week before, take a moment to enjoy yourself—which is what I hope you are doing if you are reading this review. Even if you are not currently in school, perhaps you feel like you are in the middle of dead week. You should take a break as well. Here is a review on Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth to give your mind the refresher you may need.
I chose Deadly Class as my Dead Week-themed comic to review for multiple reasons. For one, the comic has “Dead” in the title. Secondly, the comic is about school, specifically a high school for assassins. I figured that combining “dead” and school made this comic fitting to review for this time of year. Additionally, as I have said in previous reviews, I am a fan of young protagonists. Set in 1987 San Francisco, Deadly Class is full of interesting teenagers trying to navigate an untraditional high school experience with lethal consequences. Deadly Class, published by Image Comics, is written by Rick Ramender; penciled by Wes Craig, who is also the cover artist; colored by Lee Loughridge; and lettered by Rus Wooton, who also created the title’s logo. This first trade volume, “Reagan Youth,” contains the first six issues of the comic series.
Plot Summary: Marcus Lopez Arguello is a teenager living on the streets after he bombed the abusive boy’s home orphanage he was placed in after his parents were killed when he was five years old. After being observed for almost a year, Marcus is recruited into joining King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, an elite, secret high school for training top-rate assassins by its headmaster, following a run-in with the authorities where he is rescued by some other students. Something of a loner who psychoanalyzes every interaction he has with others, Marcus tries to adapt to his new high school and make friends with his fellow assassins-in-training. In a school where the “cliques” are legitimate gangs and other dangerous groups where peace is hung on a thin thread, Marcus undergoes antics involving drugs, love interests, and, of course, assassinations—all the things you would expect from high school, right?
Plot Analysis: I must say that the premise for the comic reeled me in rather quickly. Here we have teenagers, people who are very moldable and who are still trying to understand themselves, being taught to skillfully kill others. Mixing bloodlust with, well, lust and other hormones/emotions sounds like a dangerous combination. However, this comic concoction makes for a great premise for a thriller. Much of this first story arc contained in this first trade volume deals with Marcus forming relationships with classmates as they all engage in risky after-school activities—activities that seem fairly tame when compared to the curriculum. As an introductory arc, Ramender does a fine job building and framing the world these kids are living in, as well as establishing who the characters are and what their relationships are likely to be.
Characterization: Speaking of characters, Deadly Class‘ cast is one of the highlights of the comic title, especially in this first trade volume. Both the lead character, Marcus, and the supporting characters enhance the comic title beyond its initial premise and turn it into a substantial book.
- Marcus: The book’s central character is Marcus, whose complicated past has shaped who he is and how he thinks. His goal in attending King’s Dominion is to gain enough skill in assassination to kill President Ronald Reagan, whom Marcus blames for his parents’ deaths. Reagan released many mentally troubled people into the streets. One of these sad people jumped off a bridge and landed on top of Marcus’ parents, who were in the midst of kissing. This scene happened right in front of Marcus’ five-year-old eyes. Couple this traumatic experience with the torment and abuse that became part of his life at the boy’s home, and Marcus has aged into pessimistic and somewhat paranoid teenage boy. He speaks somewhat matter-of-factly and lacks social grace in many moments.
- Marcus’ time on the street has made him adaptable and tough enough that he has also developed a take-no-crap aspect to his personality. When he sees a kid getting bullied, Marcus verbally defends him using his sharp tongue. Still, Marcus is no hero. When tasked with his first assassination assignment, Marcus is hesitant but suddenly flips a switch after having some sort of flashback (possibly a form of PTSD), and he swiftly kills his target. Later, he deals the killing blow again. His classmates suspect that he may be a budding psychopath, and Marcus himself hopes this suspicion is not true—although, as a reader, I can say the diagnosis seems possible. Whatever the case, I find it compelling how, despite the abnormal circumstances he has undergone and is currently undergoing, Marcus is simultaneously a normal high school student in the sense that he wants to fit in and find a group of people with whom he belongs. Marcus’ complexity draws me in, and I want to know how he develops.
Willie Lewis: Marcus’ first friend at King’s Dominion, Willie was admitted because of the reputation he got for killing five gangbangers when he was 12 years old, in retaliation for killing his father while Willie was in the house. As a result, Willie keeps a “hard” demeanor and leads the Final World Order gang at school. However, secretly, Willie was not the one who killed those gangbangers—his uncle did. His uncle set things up so that Willie would get the credit so that other gang members would be less likely to come after him. Willie confides this revelation to Marcus when the two are partnered to kill someone, when Willie admits that he is not a killer and does not have the gall to actually pull the trigger. Marcus is the first to learn what lies beyond Willie’s hardened persona, and the two become quick pals.
- Saya: Saya is the Japanese love interest of Marcus. She signed on to be Marcus’ sponsor at the school, meaning that his actions are on her head. Saya wields a katana and kills a police officer who was about to shoot Marcus, although she is somewhat traumatized over her first kill. Saya runs the Kuroki Syndicate at King’s Dominion, a group of Japanese gangsters. While Saya puts on harsh pretenses at school, she is friendly toward Marcus outside of class, although she does not yet reciprocate his feelings.
Maria: Maria was the girlfriend of Chico, who runs the Sato Vatos, a gang of hispanic drug cartel operators. Maria has an open and bubbly personality, and she is immediately attracted to Marcus, which earns Marcus the aggression of Chico. Maria is very flirty and openly sexual, which entices Marcus at times, although his eyes are on Saya. Maria reveals that she was only Chico’s girl because his family gave her food and shelter for the tradeoff of being an innocent-looking, infiltrator-type assassin for them, as well as being Chico’s “whore.” Chico was very possessive and aggressive, and Maria wanted out. When Maria and Marcus are in the midst of hooking up as the result of a drug-induced heated moment, Chico appears and begins to nearly kill Marcus. He genuinely tries to kill all of Marcus’ friend group present, and Maria slashes his throat to protect them all. We shall see how her story progresses in later issues.
- Billy and Kendal: Billy is a punk rocker son of a drug-smuggling dirty cop. Kendal is the leader of the Preps, a group of rich kids, mostly the children of CIA members. Billy became one of Marcus’ friends while Kendal is one of the students who helped save him from the authorities in the first issue.
- Viktor and Brandy: Two of the more antagonistic students, Viktor is the son of Vladimir Putin’s top assassin, and Brandy is the leader of the Dixie Mob, a group of white supremacists.
Art: Wes Craig draws the characters in a style that lacks fine detail, but I understand that the style is intentional and helps set the tone of the comic. Additionally, Lee Loughridge’s colors coalesce with the penciling style in a way that gives the comic a somewhat noir vibe. Somehow, these two artists create images that really capture the dark feel of 1987 that Deadly Class was aiming for. During the issues where Marcus is on an acid trip, Craig and Loughridge do a remarkable job at creating a trippy tone through their art, yet they return to their standard style once the trip is over. This occurrence shows the range of what they are capable of as an art team. I must admit that I am not the largest fan of “trippy” scenes, but I can recognize that Craig and Loughridge did a solid job accomplishing what they set out to do with their art. And I can appreciate that effort.
Final Remarks: Deadly Class features a premise that drew me in, but ultimately the characters are what maintained my interest. The supporting characters are diverse in personality as well as ethnicity, and they have pasts that are gradually being revealed as appropriate. Marcus is not your typical protagonist, and I find the “differentness” of the Deadly Class‘ lead character to be interesting. Finding yourself rooting for someone who is so mentally off-balanced that his actions sway between mercy and mercilessness is a complex experience that I have not encountered very often. And I have been intrigued enough that I plan to read further.
If anyone has become interested in Deadly Class as a result of this review, I have good news for you! A live-action television adaptation of the comic is releasing on the Syfy channel. This action-thriller will feature Marcus and his other classmates as they learn to become full-fledged assassins while dealing with their own personal issues and the struggles that come with any high school—even ones like King’s Dominion. The television series is directed by the same team that handled Avengers: Infinity War, and it premieres on Jan. 16 at 10/9 Central. The second trailer is featured below, while the first trailer can be viewed here, and the third teaser trailer can be viewed here.
Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.