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A long time ago, I had a theory for how to write a successful book series. All you have to do is take an established fictional mythos (say, wizards or vampires, for example) and put those characters in a high school setting. Drama and sky high book sales ensue.
My idea was Zombie Prom, which I won’t get into, because it’s not half as good as Rick Remender’s Deadly Class. I’m new to this series and haven’t read any Image Comics since junior high, but this most recent issue is an impressive blend of humor, criminal intrigue, and action.
Personal favorite Rick Remender writes, with art from Wes Craig and colors by Jordan Boyd. The book takes place at King Dominion, a Tokyo based high school for assassins. It’s exactly what you imagine; kids spending time on the shooting range and wandering the halls with rifles slung over their letter jackets. Thanks to a helpful recap paragraph, our main protagonist appears to be Saya, a freshman and target of the villainous student council. Let’s explore how these varied characters interact and the dark yet bold art that propels them.
At times cartoonish, the art for this comic still packs the punch of its subject matter’s brutality. Wes Craig’s line work gives each character a unique shape and characteristic, which goes a long way in illustrating the diversity of our cast. Vietnames-American, Commanche, Japanese, German metal-heads; the school is replete with what could be stereotypes, but are drawn with a unique style which makes their actions more important than where they’re from.
Despite the action taking place in smaller individual panels, no detail gets missed. Shabnam, leader of the student council, pivots convincingly from annoyance to rage at a fellow council member’s taunts. In addition, the coloring from Jordan Boyd bathes each scene in similar tones to set the feel of the surroundings. On a beach getaway, characters are backlit by pinks and oranges. In the stark fluorescence of the shooting range, industrial greys and blues dominate.
It’s a lot like reading a demented Archie, but by no means is that a criticism. I’ll be looking for these artists elsewhere to see this unique perspective put to use in other narratives.
I always enjoy Rick Remender’s writing, but typically only read his output for Marvel. In titles like The Punisher and Uncanny X-Force he excels at raising the stakes and intensity of each story. Violence isn’t a pleasure for these characters (well, most of them), it’s a necessity – the only out in a desperate situation. Deadly Class takes that mentality but with the added tension and social madness of being a high school student.
As this issue unfolds, deliberate character beats help to set up the pieces on a complicated chess board. We first meet Marcus, who wants nothing more than to return to King Dominion for revenge on the malevolent Master Lin, head of the school. Trouble is, Saya gives him his freedom by faking his death: by non-lethally running him through during their school “finals.”
Deadly Class portrays kids training to become deadly assassins, with some already establishing ties to criminal underworlds. Yet in each interaction – both Saya’s friends/betrayers, and the infighting of the student council – arguments that start about high stakes power jostling degrade into personal jibes about a character’s racial, social, or psychological background. Kids can be so cruel, but imagine a school full of highly trained killers – they probably take classes on cruelty.
It’s an interesting approach to a delicate issue – bullying is always reprehensible, and Remender creates great characters by pitting all that acrimony against each other in a diverse and volatile cast. At issue’s end, we’re left with a dramatic cliffhanger as a barely breathing Saya’s escape is cut short by her murderous brother. While bleak, I’m keen to see where this arc goes if only to revel in more of Remender’s dark humor.
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