Even considering Image’s long-standing reputation for distinctive art, Rick Remender’s current and imminent creator-owned titles stand out. They’re an exceptionally good looking bunch. Deadly Class, dropping this week, is the prettiest yet.
A late ’80s January sunset in the Golden Gate City makes trashmen, derelict orphan homes, and swooping skaters look dreamy. Lee Loughridge’s pastel luminosity locates the book firmly in another era, a rose-tinted fiction faithful in detail (check the skater’s tees, as cited in Remender’s Afterword) yet impossibly poetic in feel. Whether it’s this opening yellowy-red ochre, the vermillion of painful memories, or the cool blue of much of the action, Loughridge is unquestionably the mood-maker here (how did we miss him in our 2013 lists? how?), leaving artist Wes Craig free to compose.
As our protagonist Marcus holds himself together on the street of San Francisco, “sleeping under an overpass and eating garbage”, he’s wrestling “the bad voice” to maintain “a positive mental attitude”, Craig controlling the grid like Marcus controls himself. Borderless panels of those ethereal Loughridge hues are corralled, subdued by bright white gutters, with nary a hint of bleed (without giving anything away, in this book bleeds mean bad juju). And as Marcus tilts, or is tilted, into the violence, the chaos he so wants to avoid, Craig’s grid tilts with him as running becomes riding becomes wiping out on asphalt, all in a headlong slide toward the bottom right until the climactic page turn, where the grid explodes, panels overlaying each other like a house of cards detonated, face cards fluttering down with their edges singed.
With a line somewhere between the neo-noir of a Michael Walsh and the fineness of the Fiumara brothers, Craig’s figures are expressive of gesture and deceptively simply designed. Put another way, they’re elegant, in the same way the Wonder Twins’ sinewy, lanky figures often are, or David Aja’s Iron Fist was. The pupils in the titular deadly class, though easily distinguished from one another by their various spot-on ’80s styles (or spot-on 80s revivalism, at least), are collectively identified by this elegance, way cooler than the bulkier, squarer physiques of the adults (or squares) after them.
But what about the writing? Well, Remender is arguably the pre-eminent opener in comics today, damn near guaranteed to provide backstory, action, relatable character and mystery apace, sucking you into his script’s slipstream. Deadly Class is no exception. Though depending on Marcus’s inner monologue necessitates some exposition, and repeated references to the terrible Boys Home and his (unspecified) dark deeds therein may rankle for some, Marcus’s vagrancy feels tangibly unpleasant and desperate. There’s no romance to his life, and his fast track to a back alley demise never seems contrived. Similarly, when Marcus’s tattooed angel appears, throwing the action into high gear, there’s just the right amount of sass in their banter to punctuate Craig’s breakneck pencils and vibe youthful exhilaration, not one word more. Remender may over-egg Marcus’s narration a little, but once the conversations between characters begin, and Marcus has to decide where his future lies, Skid Row or Assassination Academy, the script is high and tight.
As a package, Deadly Class is a big idea with a filthy starting point, setting us up to wonder whether Marcus will escape the grimy streets and his own “bad voice”, or be snapped back just before some kind of ascension. What will make or break this book will be Remender’s ability to avoid glibness, especially as his young protagonists get more and more blood on their hands. This book is already one of the coolest on the racks, but it could be resonant too, a comic book Breaking Bad of sorts for a younger, differently disenfranchised audience. As a lapsed Remender fan, who’d been disappointed by Uncanny Avengers and Captain America, Deadly Class read like the Remender comic I’d been waiting for.