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Tension and unpredictability are the hallmarks of good suspense storytelling. While I wouldn’t necessarily characterize Deadly Class, the new Image Comics series from writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig, as a suspense story, the last few issues of the series have been told at an incredibly high level of tension. Issue #6 is mostly one long, violent confrontation, and it is nerve-wracking and highly compelling at the same time.
The concept of Deadly Class is that it takes place at a secret high school for assassins. Main character Marcus, who is the newest recruit at the school, goes to Las Vegas with a group of four other students. While there he drops acid and then is confronted by the gang member Chico, who saw Marcus getting involved with Maria, Chico’s girlfriend, who is one of the other students making the trip. Chico ruthlessly beat a hallucinating Marcus at the end of the previous issue.
From there, Chico goes full psycho. He kills three police officers who try to arrest him, then commences beating Marcus again until his friends arrive. Chico stabs one and is fully ready to kill Marcus until Maria slices his throat. If this sounds violent and harrowing, it is. However, it’s not glorified violence. This all looks very painful, and Remender and Craig worked up to this point, making readers interested in Marcus and the others over the first five issues.
Remender has been one of Marvel’s most original and inventive writers for a while now, finding fresh takes on series like Secret Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Uncanny X-Force, and Captain America. However, he has been even more uninhibited in his new series for Image Comics: Black Science and Deadly Class (he has another series coming next month from Image: Low, with Uncanny X-Force artist Greg Tocchini). Deadly Class, a violent coming-of-age outsider tale set in the 1980’s, is clearly important to Remender, who has written about its connection to his own life.
However, for as compelling and interesting as Remender’s characters are, a lot of credit for Deadly Class has to go to artist Wes Craig and colorist Lee Loughridge. This comic has such as distinctive look that makes it pop off the stands. I use the word “pop” intentionally because there is a colorful and graphic look of this series that has a connection to Pop Art. Craig frequently alters his style expressionistically, especially during Marcus’s recent LSD trip. The art over the past couple of issues has been very unique and dazzling.
Loughridge also shares a special role in this comic. There are a lot of blues and blacks over issue #6, but he also is not afraid of bold and impressionistic colors. Rather than the deep colors of most comics, though, Loughridge is usually employing pale and pastel hues of these colors. Even in the cover of Deadly Class #6, which is very striking in black and red, the red is not quite the blood or deep red that most comics would use. This gives the comic a distinctive look, which fits its story and setting.
Remender, Craig, and Loughridge wrap up the first story arc with issue #6, and Remender writes the hell out of the conclusion of the book, ending with lines that are at once heartbreaking and hopeful. The last sentence (which I won’t spoil because it’s really earned in this issue) is paired beautifully by the last page of art, which takes a bird’s eye view and distorts it to make the Deadly Class group look like they are driving downwards, towards hell – though as a group. The series is taking a break until September, but if you have not been following it, the first arc will soon be released as a trade and it’s really worth reading.