Deadly Class, Episode 1 Review: “Reagan Youth”
by Rachel Bellwoar
A month in advance of when we were expecting it, Syfy has released the first episode of Deadly Class and it’s better than I could’ve dreamed! Besides being my favorite comic book series, Deadly Class is the story of a young man named Marcus who ends up enrolled at King’s Dominion, a school for the deadly arts.
Created by Rick Remender and Wes Craig, and published by Image Comics, the series is still ongoing, with a ninth arc starting in January, and follows in the footsteps of Happy!, another Image series that was adapted for TV by Syfy last year.
While I ended up not sticking with Happy! because of its fast editing style, Deadly Class is very much an adaptation in the spirit of its source material. The episode Syfy has posted on YouTube doesn’t include any credits, and IMDB still lists “Noise, Noise, Noise” as the first episode, but Remender confirmed his and Craig’s involvement with the production on Twitter, and it shows when you’re watching.
I chose 100% of the music. I broke, wrote, and/or rewrote every episode. I was a showrunner on the series, Wes art directed the series animation, the graphic design is taken from what Wes did in the book, the show is 100% an extension of the book. https://t.co/c1zP9taTEo— Rick Remender (@Remender) December 20, 2018
While the books aren’t quite as fresh in my head going into this review as I had planned (winter break was going to involve a massive reread), everything seems in place for a killer first season. Plot-wise, “Reagan Youth” covers Marcus’ recruitment into the school and his first major assignment: find someone in the city who deserves to be dead and, subsequently, kill them.
The city in question is San Francisco, the year 1987. Marcus carries a Walkman, but this isn’t an 80’s to get nostalgic about. Marcus is homeless and one of the reasons King’s Dominion appeals to him is its (relative) stability, in terms of food and a place to sleep.
Already you see some of the visual touchstones from the comics, from Marcus suffering a bad drug trip, to the animation used for a flashback to Marcus’ childhood. The series is serious about mental health and I appreciated that Marcus’ depression wasn’t attributed to his parents’ death but shown to preexist that, with Marcus wanting to be happy but finding it difficult to “snap out of it” like his father advises.
Casting-wise, the three female leads (Lana Condor as Saya, María Gabriela de Faría as Maria, and Taylor Hickson as Petra) are revelations (they also look like just they walked off the page, their costumes are spot-on). Liam James as Billy makes a big impression in his scene going over the lunch table gangs (his decision to walk over the lunch tables, instead of around them, saying a lot about his personality). It’s part of Willie’s character that he’s not the tough guy he purports to be, but I don’t know that Luke Tennie sells the front. Benjamin Wadsworth as Marcus sometimes comes across as too clean, but then inhabits the role the rest of the time. Overall, the episode introduced a lot more characters than I was expecting, while managing to give them real character moments, too (Viktor (Sean Depner) in poisons class or Lex (Jack Gillett) at the graveyard, which on the show is a rooftop escape, not an actual graveyard).
Most importantly Deadly Class takes its violence seriously (and its language, too, though maybe that’ll be censored on TV). Marcus’ reputation may be a lie at the start of the episode but there’s truth to it by the end. The teachers are merciless. Brandy (Siobhan Williams) gets hit in the nose by Master Lin (Benedict Wong), and it’s all so she can pass Marcus a note with swastikas. Willie and Marcus break the ice by talking comics (a nice nod to Image being an indie publisher), but moments later Willie’s taking out a gun and the debate ends with a threat.
Marcus tells his friends he wants to kill Ronald Reagan and they laugh at him, but Lee Harvey Oswald was an alumnus of King’s Dominion. While the subject matter may be offensive to some viewers, fans of the comic will feel right at home (or as at home as you can get at a school for murderers).
Deadly Class premieres January 16th at 10 PM EST on the Syfy Channel. To watch the first episode early, click here.