Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
While most of the universe is still freaking out over Rick Remender’s other hit new series, we rejoin Marcus Lopez and his merry band of punk-rocking assassins-in-training for the second volume of Deadly Class. Titled “Kids of the Black Hole,” the second story arc picks up in early 1988, just a few months after the gangs’ nightmarish Vegas trip, and at first glance, it seems Marcus has it all – a home, friends, a job at a comic book store with the most obvious Simpsons reference ever, and a girlfriend. Now, if he could just do something about that pesky redneck out for his blood. And his clan of hayseed killers terrorizing San Francisco. And Maria’s lethal fits of overprotectiveness. And his growing feelings for Saya. And the constant fear of Master Lin finding out about the Vegas incident.
Okay, so maybe it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s clear Marcus has grown a little since “Reagan Youth.” For the first time since his parents were killed, he has people in his life that he legitimately cares about, to the point where he would rather endanger himself than risk losing the bonds he has forged. But it’s not about peer pressure anymore. He wisened up to that real quick after his LSD-fueled nightmare in volume one. Now, decision-making skills feed off his lack of self-esteem, fueled by years of torment and abuse at the Boys’ Home he and Chester lived in prior to the start of the series, as well as the horrific consequences of his violent escape. In Marcus’ mind, cutting ties with the people in his life now means risking complete solitude all over again, and he can’t bear that possibility.
Self-inadequacy is the central psychological thread of this arc, and Remender has no qualms over displaying just how destructive that pursuit can become through his core players: Marcus, Maria, Saya, Chester, and newcomer Lex Miller. Each have their own version of self-worth, and each resort to extreme measures to achieve it. It’s a familiar theme, and unfortunately one that often results in characters who drown the story in their self-loathing because they just cannot stop reminding the reader how much they have to prove in this world. Luckily, Remender manages to evade this pitfall through building upon the dense characterization from volume one. In Maria’s case, we learn through a brief flashback about her brutal introduction into the South American Drug Cartel through Chico, and while it doesn’t justify her clinginess to Marcus, it does put it in perspective. She finds her affirmation in her manipulation of others, and when Marcus grows weary of her erratic behavior, the loss of control sends her over the edge.
Meanwhile, Chester returns as the main villain of this arc, and he absolutely steals the show. Operating under the alias “Fuckface” (yes, he chose that name himself), he assembles a gang of marauding hillbillies to commit gruesome murders all over San Francisco, insisting they dispatch their victims in an extremely specific way that we’d rather not discuss. Equal parts whimsy and terror, his insanity transcends the typical limitations of a Southern-fried serial killer. He dreams wistfully of book deals and movie rights once a cult following of their wicked deeds has been established, while repeatedly smashing his underling’s head into a clogged toilet for not following instructions. He embodies pretty much every element of ‘80s culture’s macho excess. He sports a grungy mullet complete with Dog the Bounty Hunter-style feathers, a denim jacket showcasing his appreciation for hair metal, and even dresses like Rambo when defending his home from Marcus’ raid. But make no mistake, he’s every bit as terrifying as volume one built him up to be. When he tells Lex and Marcus, “Y’all gone an’ marched into the festerin’ brown butthole of the devil himself,” he means it, and his evil practically bleeds from the pages.
Explosives specialist and amateur Johnny Rotten impersonator Lex Miller is a fantastic addition to Marcus’ crew, and an intriguing new foil for him as well. While both are well-versed in ‘80s punk culture, once Lex starts mocking the guests of his own party, it’s obvious Lex cares more about proving his own superiority than the catharsis Marcus and Saya experience when they go to see The Adolescents and Hot Garbage. Including real bands from the ‘80s punk heyday is a nice touch from Remender, taking full advantage of his knowledge of the underground music community in order to immerse his audience in this often misunderstood subculture without alienating those unaware of it. Sure, the Adolescents playing the song “Kids of the Black Hole” when Marcus and Saya watch their set isn’t the subtlest of allusions, but it definitely hits home.
Sadly, the weakest part of the volume is the art, though not for lack of talent. Wes Craig is still bringing his A game to every panel, but the lack of an issue-and-a-half-long nightmarish acid trip doesn’t give him many opportunities to leave a lasting impression. Aside from switching to monocolor for Marcus’ scenes with Fuckface, he’s pretty much coasting, which is disappointing after his dips into surrealism in the last volume. The pacing is also shaky at times, leaving many of the main characters short-changed. Chester’s family is sufficiently creepy as a redneck version of the Addams Family, but only a handful of its members directly interact with the story enough to leave an impact. Meanwhile, Billy and Willie are largely absent from the story until the final raid, and while that’s somewhat understandable given the story’s primary focus on Marcus’ relationships with Saya and Maria, even a little bit more time with them to build on the dense characterization they got in “Reagan Youth” would’ve sufficed.
While not the steal at $14.99 for issues #7-11, “Kids of the Black Hole” is a great second arc that will more than satisfy those who fell in love with the first volume (though as with most indie titles, newcomers should probably start from the beginning). At a time when Image Comics is flooding the industry with new titles impressive in both their diversity and quality, Deadly Class continues to stay ahead of the pack. Only time will tell if it can rise to top-tier status, but for right now, Deadly Class is doing quite well in a class by itself.
Final Score: 8/10