Deadly Class is a book where a lot seems to happen when you’re reading it, but once you put it down, you’re hard pressed to come up with a significant thing you just read. So this is the third issue of an ongoing, and at this point, I’m going to assume you’re either okay with me discussing salient plot points and goals, or else you’re just here for the spoilers, which is cool if that’s what you’re into. We all got lured in by issue one’s strong claim that the main character, Marcus, was in it to win it—his victory as a character looks like him assassinating President Ronald Reagan. That’s ballsy. That’s fucking bold, and I was hooked. Issue two was a drag, after a point. Fun, but perhaps needlessly perverse, introducing a character by not really introducing them, rather the weird stuff they do.
Issue three picks up a plot thread of the first “homework” assignment from assassin school for Marcus, and one of the rival students whose name escapes me (this is why I used to solely read trades—names get away from me so easily), which is to kill a homeless person and not get caught. It takes a solid half of the issue before that is addressed as what they’re doing, besides parkour to look cool. I’m okay with a cool parkour sequence, because Wes Craig is a hell of an artist, but it seems masturbatory when it’s twelve pages. This issue has a lot of Marcus’ internal monologue, which is decently interesting, but the issue also has a lot of pointless debate between Marcus and the other student. At one point they get in a classic The Smiths vs. Eric B. & Rakim argument, and it’s... flat. “I’m a white kid who likes the Smiths and you’re a black kid who likes Eric B. & Rakim.” That’s the whole debate, and it still goes on for a full-page. The issue itself starts to feel sort of like a thirty-page version of the sequence in Fight Club where Tyler and the Narrator talk about how self-improvement is masturbation. In snippets, that works. In an extended scene, it drags. There’s a lot of cliché to the dialogue in this issue, and Remender is usually better than that.
The other problem I have with this issue, and actually the series writ large, is that there doesn’t seem to be a huge reason for it to be set in 1987, except for residual Reagan-angst. To illustrate: Mad Men. That show is definitively set in the 1960s, but the big point isn’t to say, “Look at these foolish people from the past, and how much better we are.” The point is to watch and say, “Look at these foolish people from the past; they’re exactly like us.” In order to do this, Mad Men plants itself in an era, because specificity leads to universality: Kennedy is running against Nixon; everyone smokes all the time forever; women are treated as undereducated objects and not breathing beings with goals. Deadly Class lacks much of that, beyond the passing references to Reagan and the Sandinistas in possibly the most complex backstory for a revenge plot ever, and the occasional reference to disaffected Vietnam vets. We get a world that we should be able to recognize, but we’re dropped into an insular-by-nature school where the time period may as well be Shogun-era Japan for all its narrative relevance.
Having said all that, Wes Craig is straight up knocking it out of the park every month. His compositions are fun and lively, even for the most mundane scenes. I can’t wait until he gets to illustrate some large-scale gang war type stuff (that has to be coming, I hope). The high point of this issue is honestly the two pages of his process sketches at the back. It’s the kind of backmatter I wish would show up more in floppies and not just trades, so I treasure its inclusion here.
Overall, this is a better issue than number two, but not as good as number one. It’s got a logical endpoint, but I don’t see it getting there in a way that’s that interesting, at this point. I’m willing to give it one more month, but my expectations are less-than-high.
Writer: Rick Remender Artist: Wes Craig Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 3/26/14