Here’s an interesting case of old folks listening to “the kids.” I hadn’t heard of this book until my older daughter and her husband suggested that I read it, and I was thinking, “I don’t recognize the author, looks kind of like a gangster thing…not really my cuppa-tea…” But LUCKILY, I’m willing to give Frankie and Alec the benefit of the doubt, and I read the book. And I’m VERY glad that I did.
Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge, and others – Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth (2014)
I was resistant going in. ANOTHER book set in the ‘80s? Really? That was MY era, but I’m also not a huge fan of unnecessary set-dressing. Did we need another Wedding Singer or That ‘80s Show (and, yes, that was a real thing) making fun of my high school years? It turns out, that’s not what Deadly Class is.
For those who haven’t read it, this series is focused on Marcus Lopez Arguello, a street kid with a checkered past, who suddenly finds himself being pursued by cops, who seem to be more interested in ventilating Marcus than taking him in. He is saved by Saya, a “goth” chick, who plugs a policeman before he can kill Marcus. Fairly shortly after this, Marcus discovers that Saya is a student at a school for assassins, and he is invited to join the program. We also learn that Marcus, apparently, has a reputation that preceded him to the school—as a child killer.
The interesting thing about this book, for me, is the way it develops characters. The action is pretty fast and furious throughout the story, but Remender takes the time to let the characters talk to each other quite a bit, too. Although I assumed, at first, that most of the characters were going to be flat stereotypes (the “gang-banger,” the “goth chick,” the “punk”), I was happily disabused of this belief as the story unfolds. The characters are given personalities, back stories, quirks, and flaws. (LOTS of flaws.) But somehow, for a school full of would-be killers, there are some interesting (dare I say “warm”) personalities amongst the students. By the time Marcus’s new friends help him escape for “detention” at the school to go to a Grateful Dead concert, and Marcus eats half a sheet of acid and flips out, I was pretty much hooked on the story!
Some caveats: the language is very Scorsese / Tarantino in tone, with MANY cuss words, derogatory terms, and sexist extremism—but for the era and the social groups that these characters represent, it’s probably not inaccurate in intensity or vocabulary. I was a “small town” punk, and my friends had some colorful vocabularies as well, but this book is more Joe Pesci territory than what I grew up with. Along with the dirty words, we also get explicit sexuality, drug use, and (OF COURSE) extreme violence. In fact, the book is full on BRUTAL. Like, almost not-even-funny violent. And although I’m not super prudish, there is some very disturbing stuff going on here, and the colorist, Loughridge, who likes to use odd color palettes, ALWAYS includes a version of red that gets splattered around in about every other scene…
Speaking of the artwork, Wes Craig’s drawing style is quite good, maybe a cousin to (old guy reference) the Hernandez Brothers, and it fits the story to a “T,” sort of scratchy and dark and thin-lined, but expressive when it counts. In my opinion, though, it’s the writing that really stands out. Characters really develop as the story unfolds, which is cool, and the weird things that happen aren’t TOO weird for the reader to follow along. I should mention, there aren’t any ghosts or magic or supernatural elements in the series (as far as I read,) but there are PLENTY of monsters! (Human monsters, that is.)
Overall, I would say that this is a well written, disturbing, and at times very funny book that will probably appeal to gangster / action-thriller fans, or to people who are interested in “outsider” characters and seeing how these types of folks get along and interact with one another. In the “Afterword” to this collection, Rick Remender says that he is basing much of what happens in this story on things that actually happened around him as he was growing up in Phoenix in the ‘80s. (He even saw a guy get shot in the head!) So in a sense, this book is like a fictionalized retelling of Remender’s own Reagan Youth, or a therapy session where he tries to work through and exorcise his traumatic memories. (That might explain the verisimilitude!)
Final words: If you like it rough and raw, give Deadly Class a shot!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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