Sunday, 3 May 2015

Deadly Class, Volume 1: Reagan Youth Review (Rick Remender, Wesley Craig)


San Francisco, 1987, and Ronald Reagan has ruined Marcus’ life. Reagan’s healthcare cutbacks meant suicidal schizos were set free on the streets, and one such sufferer decides to end their life by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge - shame Marcus’ folks were directly in the drop zone! Suddenly orphaned, teenage Marcus is living on the streets when he’s approached to join a secret underground assassin’s school: the King’s Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. Marcus’ dream of assassinating Ronald Reagan begins to take solid form… 

Deadly Class threw up a couple red flags for me right at the start. 1) Rick Remender started writing about therapists and littered the script with phrases like “positive mental attitude”, “negative feelings result from negative thoughts” and “can’t change reality but can change the way you feel about it”. I’ve recently gotten done with the weakest of his Image comics, Low, which is chock-full of that kind of crap and I really didn’t want to read another story about the same stuff. Thankfully the first issue is the last time we hear the results of Remender’s therapy sessions. 

And 2) the ridiculous American obsession of rigidly-defined high school cliques: these are the jocks, these are the nerds, these are the burnouts, etc. American friends have told me how cartoonish films like Mean Girls make their high school years seem as nobody is segregated like that, and it’s certainly not that way in Britain either, so I don’t know why writers keep writing high-school set stories in this fashion. Anyway, this approach is thankfully dropped halfway through the book and everyone starts mingling together like normal kids do. 

Once you get past the red flags, Deadly Class is pure fun, Fear and Loathing style! Marcus and his new friend Willie are sent to pick out and kill someone who deserves to die. Things don’t go well and Marcus is thrown into a solitary cell for punishment - until his sponsor, Saya, the girl who got him into King’s Dominion, busts him out and they and a group of friends go on a roadtrip to Vegas! 

Remender writes the kids pretty convincingly. They get up to no good, taking drugs, flirting hard with one another, drinking, causing havoc in casinos and the hotel room. The comic captures and conveys that spirit of raw energy and excitement to the reader very strongly. 

Like a lot of Remender’s comics it’s easy to see where he’s drawing inspiration from: Marcus is essentially Disney’s Aladdin (I think he’s even called “street rat” at one point) and the way he navigates San Francisco’s rooftops is a lot like Aladdin during his opening number in Agrabah, albeit darker. The whole assassin’s school isn’t new either and this one felt a lot like the Hellfire Club’s Academy from Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, and then the whole Vegas zaniness is classic Hunter S. Thompson. 

Remender’s a lot funnier here than I’ve seen him before. Generally a lot of the Vegas scenes are light, especially as Marcus drops a ton of acid sold to him by (of course) a Grateful Dead follower, but I loved the elevator scene in particular. Marcus is stood between two tall dudes in business suits and he’s obsessed with “elevator etiquette”, whatever that is, and comes out with: “Boy, oh, boy, they, ah, they sure do build ‘em big in Vegas, huh?” - the looks on the guys’ faces afterwards is fantastic. 

Wes Craig’s art is very good throughout but we see his range once he starts drawing things from Marcus’ perspective when super-high. Lots of nightmarish images that seem quite funny to the non-stoned audience but terrifying to poor Marcus! I love Paul Pope’s art and I got a strong sense of Pope’s influence in Craig’s style. 

The first volume of Deadly Class isn’t the deepest comic you’ll read or the most emotional, thoughtful or all that original - but it’s entertaining and fun in the same simple way Black Science is. Remender proves once again it’s not the story but how you tell it that matters. I really enjoyed Reagan Youth, I highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to more shenanigans from the rest of the series!

Deadly Class, Volume 1: Reagan Youth

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