Much to my surprise, this second volume manages to be a better read than the first simply by sticking to its guns and continuing on from what was established before. No, the secret underground assassin school of Kings Dominion isn’t developed much more here, but I’m more in tune with what writer Rick Remender is trying to do here. I name-checked “Battle Royale” last time and Remender understands that, like the movie, teen angst and drama is a lot more entertaining to watch when the kids in question have access to lethal weapons. To wit: Watching Marcus and his girlfriend Maria try to hash out their relationship issues takes on a greater urgency after she’s tried to shoot him with an arrow. The latter’s relationship issues are at the heart of a lot of the drama in this volume as Maria’s manic moods are bad news for everyone, and his growing closeness to Japanese assassin Saya don’t make things any easier for those involved either. While not a “relationship” in the sense of what I’ve been talking about, the one Marcus shares with crazed hillbilly psycho-killer Chester is given further development here as our protagonist and his classmates team up to take the bastard down.
Naturally, things don’t go nearly as well as they planned. That’s good news for us as Remender and artist Wes Craig show with this volume that they have a real knack for putting together some brilliantly kinetic scenes of action and drama. The extended shootout and assault at Chester’s may be climax this volume (quite successfully) builds towards, but for my money their best work here is the wicked series of humiliations Marcus experiences at the beginning of the fourth issue. We’re not even halfway through the year and already this sequence involving sex, a hangover, a burrito, annoying comic book fans, and two gallons of diarrhea stands as one of the most indelible things I’ve read so far. Remender has stated that “Deadly Class” is somewhat of a thinly veiled autobiography, so read into the implications of this scene as an allegory for his life as much as you’d like.
The writer could stand to think a bit more about the kinds of characters who are spouting his dialogue, however. I’m not saying the cast isn’t well-developed so far -- but more characterization is always welcome -- just that his words come off as a bit too erudite in some cases. I can suspend disbelief when Marcus is going off on his poseur rant early on, but then you get the hillbilly who goes on about, “Why is spite towards trailer folk the last safe refuse for hate speech?” while looking like the perfect argument for why cousins shouldn’t marry and that suspension starts to shatter. Even if it is funny. There’s also Marcus’ emo narration which does get annoying after a while. Your mileage may vary, but I’m willing to deal with it due to all this volume has to offer.
Same goes for Craig’s art. His work here is utterly integral to the look and tone of the series and I can’t imagine anyone else filling in for him after his standard-setting work on these two volumes. Much as I like Craig’s style and the momentum he brings to his action scenes, there’s no denying that some of his layouts can be hard to follow when things start getting hot and heavy. It’s to the point where I have to take myself out of the action to piece together how certain scenes are meant to flow. I’d like to be able to immerse myself in Craig’s work without having to do this in the future. We’ll see who has to change first: Him or Me.
There’s also the fact that, like most series Remender writes, the events here can feel like a litany of nothing but bad things which happen to the cast. What sets it apart from the likes of “Fear Agent” and “Black Science,” is that in this volume it actually feels like part of the fun. The events of this series are such a lurid spectacle of 80’s excess, and not mostly straightfaced sci-fi dramas, that you start anticipating how bad things will get for Marcus and his friends rather than dreading it. Much as how seeing just how far Agent Dash Bad Horse was going to fall in Jason Aaron’s “Scalped” became part of the fun for that series after a certain point. (It was where he started smoking crack, just so you know.)
By the time the volume reaches its cliffhanger end, the action is humming along at a fever pitch and I’m wondering who is going to have to die in order for it to be reset to a normal level. This does mean that I’ll likely have to wait until sometime later this year in order to find out the answer to that question. It’s something I’m willing to suffer though because this volume of “Deadly Class” shows that the series may have hit its stride already. If it can keep this up, we may have the defining creator-owned work for its two creators.