A Positive Mental Attitude is Essential
I thought I'd read the first issue of Deadly Class before, except in my memory, it was the first couple of issues of Valiant's Harbinger relaunch. Marcus is running from memories of a childhood buried beneath tragedy, and fleeing from the consequences of another trauma, one for which he was the architect. And then, just a few months after his fourteenth birthday, Saya jets into his life on a crotch-rocket and turns his already upside down life over again. The enigmatic Asian benefactor in the sharp suit doesn't help me shake the echoes of Harbinger. "I would like to train you to become one of the world's greatest assassins," he says, and then I'm thinking, Oh! Harry Potter has forsaken Hogwart's to join Angelina Jolie in Wanted. Derivative, derivative, derivative.
Well, except for a lot of things.
For me, Mark Millar is kind of hit and miss. Rick Remender is consistently a hit. Well, outside of Marvel, anyhow; you young fanboys who don't know any better can drool over Secret Avengers and Venom. They're not for me. Anyway, "derivative" and Remender go together like vodka and castor oil, so I wonder what the future holds. Oh, but that's not all.
This book is set in San Francisco, 1987, and despite Marcus' new classmates having incredible senses of timing and living in a bizarro underground school, there's really nothing exceptional about the storyworld in which this is set. Even the characters' sense of consequence seems very genuine; only one person dies outside of a flashback sequence in this story, and the person responsible for that death is wide-eyed with shock and maybe remorse at the decision to kill as the one eyewitness. The narrative is epistolary, framed as entries from Marcus' journal, which is unique for a story focused on a young adult character, because young adult first person narratives are very often considered unreliable. Given that the narrative skips from month to month and he's homeless, a pick pocket who is about to enter a world of violence, that unreliability is most likely there, but Remender teases that these are memories obfuscated by bias or bad wiring, like in some stories. Sometimes, he seems to indicate, memories are best left forgotten.
So, so. Going back to Remender, I advise you to read his missive on the letters page. In it, he describes the influences from his life which shaped Deadly Class. It gave the whole issue a context which makes me hungry for more. I gave three stars because it took that page for me to think something more than "derivative, derivative, derivative," but no less because of that hunger.
Also, about Wes Craig's art and Lee Loughridge's color. Sure, there's something Fiona Staples-like about the figures, but Craig's linework is distinct enough that I suspect comparisons to other contemporary comic book artists will soon fade. Loughridge's name is dropped on the cover. The colorist's. This seems unprecedented to me, but I whole-heartedly agree with the choice. Loughridge's mastery of color creates mood throughout the comic, and gives a sense of mood that words and art alone cannot convey.
As a fan of good storytelling and a lifelong student of comics, I recommend Deadly Class. These aren't the New damn Mutants or Young f'ing Justice. Positive thoughts are essential.