In this new column, I’ll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Njeri Thomas.
Njeri Thomas is a freshman pursuing a degree in psychology with the intent to go to medical school. She calls Houston, Texas home and loves reading, theater, and art. In the future, Njeri wishes to become a child psychiatrist and possibly an actress.
Deadly Class: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender is a spin on the classic new kid in school story. Together, Rick Remender, artist Wes Craig, and Lee Loughridge create a story about a homeless teen who is recruited by a school that teaches teenagers how to become professional assassins. The school may be unusual, but the characters experience the same struggles a normal highschool student does. I enjoyed the book, because it mixes the idea of a teenager starting a new school with action and adventure, and also focuses on serious topics such as mental health and death. This is a comic book that people can relate to, they will also appreciate the action that follows.
Set in 1987 in San Francisco, Marcus Lopez is a homeless teenager who lost his parents in an accident when he was five years old. Alone, homeless, and engaged in a battle with his own mind, he roams the streets, struggling to survive. After stumbling into some trouble, his saviors offer him a chance to join a school for assassins. Marcus struggles to adapt to the new school, until a group of misfits — Saya, Willie, Maria, and Billy — develop a friendship with him. There are other problems though; the rest of the school hates him, his morals are tested, and someone from his past is back to haunt him.
This comic addressed topics such as homelessness, the death of parents, mental health, and drug use. Through Marcus, Rick Remender integrated conflicts that affect millions of people into one character. He made you feel sympathy for Marcus and understand what is going on inside of his head. Reading and experiencing the friendships Marcus made when he believed he could only make enemies can lead readers to understand that even though they may believe they’re alone in their struggle, there’s always someone who is going through the same thing. Deadly Class can appeal to teenagers who are going through rough times and can’t find a support system, because they can feel a certain connection to Marcus. It can also appeal to mature readers who want to further their understanding of mental illnesses, and those who love action and fighting.
There were two scenes in the book that were my favorites. In one scene, Marcus’s newfound friends want him to do something horrible for them. Marcus reveals that he accepted this because he wants to feel wanted. His comment led me to think about how people are taken advantage of because their past caused them to feel unwanted. It makes one wonder about the limits to which a person will comply to feel some form of acceptance. The other scene in the book occurs when a fight breaks out between the characters. The action is amazing, and you can also read what is going through the main character’s head as he fights. Without the art, however, these scenes wouldn’t have come alive.
Artist Wes Craig can vividly express the character’s emotions through their facial expressions and body language. He also displays the different clothing styles of each of the characters. A lot of thought was put into relating the attributes of each character to their outfits. For example, Saya dresses very trendy. She wears fitted shirts to show off her body and to display her tattoos, colored skinny jeans, and sneakers. From her outfit, one can tell that she is very confident in herself. Colorist Lee Loughridge’s skill makes it easy for readers to understand the characters’ emotions being conveyed through the art. He used blues and reds to convey sadness and anger in the panels. He takes us back in time by using a yellow that makes a scene look aged, and he uses bright colors to express the hallucinations that come from drug use.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Deadly Class. Being a psychology major made it really interesting to see what was going on inside someone’s head and how their past caused them to think this way. I believe the combination of mental health and action didn’t get in the way of each other; instead, they helped Rick Remender convey his ideas to the readers. The writing and art are at an appropriate balance and create a remarkable comic book. I give the book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I recommend others to read Deadly Class: Reagan Youth; you won’t regret it.