For some of us, high school was one long shitty 4-year experience. Not only did we have to cope with the potential scrutiny of our peers, social acceptance (conformity is a better word), and passing our public education with flying colors; some, like me for instance, had to face the fear of daily beatings every single time I walked through those wonderful prison-like O.H.S. iron gates signifying that yes, another round was possibly awaiting me inside; fear is a horrible thing for an adolescent. But I endured, and was eventually released from my institutionalization.
My own personal experience with high school is part of the reason why I loved Rick Remender’s Deadly Class; its well-written story, fantastic character development, and beautifully realized art effectually sealed-the-deal. Set during the 80s amidst the Reagan-era, the tale follows a kid named Marcus, who – as a result of actions perpetrated by the Reagan administration – finds himself an orphan living on the streets; an almost comparable alternative to the boy’s home he was turned over to and spent most of his childhood in. After months of scraping along, barely surviving the harsh and terrible realities of vagrancy, he is chosen as a candidate for induction into a school for educating and training the world’s greatest assassins; a high school for killers calling itself Kings Dominion School of The Deadly Arts. Housed within the halls of this secret school are sons and daughters of the planet’s criminal element; a diverse mix covering every type of malefactor from your street-gangs and Mexican cartels to the Aryan Brotherhood, Mafia, CIA/FBI (love the inclusion of Hoover’s boys), Japanese gangsters, and the like. But unlike most of his classmates, Marcus doesn’t come from any sort of familial legacy; he is an unknown, a nameless face amongst a sea of pimple-faced, would-be murderers. This puts him in a privileged position of admission; a position which – to his detriment – has knighted him with the reputation of someone not to be trifled with.
Remender’s supporting cast of misfits are as equally important to this story as his leading male protagonist. The classmates with whom Marcus finds himself gravitating towards all bring their own sets of problems and insecurities. The fronts with which they present themselves soon begin to crumble away as circumstance brings them closer together and bonds of friendship are formed.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book from beginning to end. Remender captures the brutal nature of high school and encapsulates the experience as most of us remember journeying through it. It’s a gloriously accurate depiction; the art of killing being the perfect metaphor, acting as a surrogate for the social influence kids wield upon their unsuspecting secondary-school prey. Also worth noting (and refreshingly so) is the diversity among the central cast. I’ve been reading comics for what seems like the entirety of my wee life thus far and this is the first time I’ve seen so many minorities taking center stage under the umbrella of a single title; Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales’ Ultimate Spider-Man being other notable exceptions to the Anglo-American status quo in comicdom.
Remender ends this chapter of his story with a poignant afterword; a biographical retelling of his own personal experiences growing up as an outsider and how they shaped the very story I am now writing to you about. It’s a short retracing of events, yet powerful in its simplicity. Alienation, it would seem, is as inescapable as high school itself; for some of us anyway.