At Image Expo in San Francisco, Rick Remender revealed his newest creator-owned endeavor with Image Comics, “Deadly Class.” Along with artistic duo Wesley Craig and Lee Loughridge, Remender’s return to Image centers around an unusual and clandestine high school hidden under the depths of San Francisco. Described by Remender as “a high school for assassins where the heads of all the major crime families and spook organizations around the world send their fledgeling up-and-comers, their kids and people they want to become the #1 assassins,” the school in “Deadly Class” is only a part of the story he has planned. The series is, in many ways, the creative team’s exploration of the late ’80s, including real experiences Remender had during that period in his life.
The main character of “Deadly Class,” Marcus, has to deal with every problem a high schooler and adolescent has, but with the added pressure of passing classes like Dismemberment 101 and, as Remender puts it, “When you love a girl and she’s dating somebody, you don’t just risk them shit-talking you or metaphorically stabbing you in the back, you risk them poisoning you and literally stabbing them in the back.”
Remender spoke with CBR News about “Deadly Class” and his return to creator-owned comics after nearly two years, the personal nature of the story and characters, the diverse qualities of the school and how “Deadly Class” spun out as a combination of two different projects.
CBR News: Rick, what kind of assassins can readers expect to see in the hallways of this school?
Rick Remender: More than focusing on what kind of assassins, they’re kids from all over the world and all walks of life. There are few that are the children of Stalin’s #1 assassin. There are people from the Japanese crime syndicates, from the UK, from Europe, Brazil, Mexico and the States — not only are these kids taken from every single corner of the world, but they’re all representational of different themes from the era. You’ve got a Yugoslavian girl who’s super into the Goth theme. She’s down with Sisters of Mercy and Dead Can Dance. You’ve got all these different characters with unique backgrounds, but it’s also an exploration of the scenes I was surrounded by and a part of growing up in the mid-’80s.
That grew out of a book this was originally going to be, titled “Reagan Youth.” I was building “Youth” and “Deadly Class” at the same time when I realized the two worked so well together. “Youth” was going to be an exploration of the life and times of things I grew up with, taking place between 1984 and 1988. It includes my time in the punk scene and how it shaped me, which made perfect sense. I have dozens and dozens of interesting stories from that time in my life, so a lot of what we’re going to be seeing in “Deadly Class” is true with real things that happened to me, only now seen through the spectrum of kids training to become the world’s most ruthless assassins.
It seems like this is a largely personal project for you. On top of that, it’s one of the first creator-owned books readers have seen from you in some time — at least since “Fear Agent” wrapped in 2011. How long has this project been in development and how personal is the story?
I tend to have a process with creator-owned where it builds up until it just can’t stay inside. In 2004, I had developed “Fear Agent,” “Strange Girl,” “Night Mary,” “Sea of Red,” “The E.N.D. League,” “The Last Days of American Crime” — and all of a sudden, I threw them all out to the world to pitch them, and they were all okayed and off I went producing them over the next four years. This is a period of my life that’s very similar. There is no not doing creator-owned comics for me. There is just building them. What I’ve been doing is building this as well as a few other properties. They have all been in development since 2010, 2011 in various forms and they’re just now all congealing and coming together at the same time.
“Deadly Class” is personal. It’s dangerous, it’s fun and there’s an element of it that’s allowing my brilliant art team of Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge to show what they’re made of in terms of storyboarding action sequences. At the other side of it, it’s a story about a young man who’s in a new school and in a new world; one he’s not necessarily sure he fits in — the slings and arrows and the difficulties, drugs, parties, girls and all of the things that come with that era of life.
All combined with having to pass in a high school that’s training you to become a deadly assassin.
Yeah, where your midterm test is ninjas crawling out of the vents in your dorm room.
You mentioned Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge. What’s your collaborative process been like with them in creating the concept of “Deadly Class?” What makes them a good fit for the story you have planned?
Like I said, between “Deadly Class” and “Reagan Youth,” the two projects that ended up becoming one with this thing, the seeds have been there for two, three years now. I needed someone who got the mid-’80s scene stuff. I’m not going to write a story about a skate punk from ’86, ’87, who’s straight-edge, going to a Dag Nasty show and then try to explain that to somebody who doesn’t know what that is or doesn’t care about it. I needed an artist I could gel with and somebody who understood the scenes and feel of the era, cared about it and got it. The project sat and sat and sat.
Wes Craig was somebody I had been following and considered for some things in the past, but it wasn’t until I was over at Lee Loughridge’s house and we were hanging out and I saw him working over Wes on “Batman” that I realized, “This guy gets it.” This guy is just a natural-born storyteller, he’s smart as a whip and aesthetically, he fits this. I got him on the phone, told him the very basics of what I was doing here. We started talking about the ’80s and he was into a lot of the same music and scene stuff that I was into, so we immediately hit it off there. He got everything I was presenting him with. I realized he was the right fit and we got to work. His designs have been beyond perfect. He’s definitely one of the next big names in comics. I was very, very glad I was able to wrangle him for this and hopefully, can continue to hold on to him — because as we’ve been discussing this, “Class” has unfolded into 25 issues at this point.
What else can you tell us about Marcus, the protagonist of the book? Do you see him as a stand-in for yourself, or are all these kids representative of you?
When you’re writing anything, you have to have a bit of yourself inside a character, but then you have to do a lot of other stuff that isn’t you. Even things you don’t agree with, you have to find a way to agree with; you have to speak for that character and argue for that character. I guess that’s why I like writing conflict so much. By the time I put in the effort to build the character or get into the character’s head and understand them, the way that I like to show those perspectives and points of view is in conflict. You can easily bounce two characters of opposing points of view off of one another, and use that to get a three dimensional look around who they are.
There are aspects of Marcus that are similar to me, but there are many that are not. I don’t want to give away too much, but Marcus has had a really rough life. He’s the son of an immigrant from Nicaragua and his old man was involved in some of the contra business — his life was in danger when he came to the states. WIthout giving away any more, I’ll just say Marcus’ life hasn’t been any easier since then. Things have not worked out extremely well for him, and we’ll use that as our B story. We’re going to unravel his origin, his backstory and who he is and how he came to this school issue by issue. The first arc, by the time we get to issue #6, there’s a big revelation that people you think you know, you don’t know. The things you think you understand about people generally are poses, fronts and masks and all of those fun things. We as people all manage to do our very best to put on a show to have others think what we want them to think of us, but what we truly are behind the scenes is a very different creature.
And nowhere is that more apparent than high school. [Laughs]
It’s true. The more I put this all together with the assassin angle, I realized it was just perfect. The metaphors are abound. The more I write it, the more I’m like, “Oh! Another metaphor.” [Laughs]
“Deadly Class” appears to have a bit in common with the darker tone of “Uncanny X-Force,” and seems to have a different aura than your other Marvel work. How does this book flex different creative muscles than the ones you’ve been using lately with stuff like “Captain America” and “Uncanny Avengers?”
The assassins school aspect of it is really the background, so while you’re in class learning Disembowelment 101 or Deadly Poisons or any of these various awful things they’re in the class learning, the real story is character-based that’s in an era I know very well. I lived a pretty interesting life back in those days and I have a lot of stories about that stuff. More than anything, it’s me allowing myself to do the book I want to do and not worry about what people think or care about.
There are aspects, in terms of the assassins angle — “X-Force” is a story about a bunch of super powerful assassins who are actually going out to do this stuff. This is a story about kids who may or may not have actually taken a life yet, who are the children or prodigies of the greatest assassins in the world. They’re expected to stand up to something that some of them aren’t equipped to stand up to. Really, it’s about the process a lot of these kids are going through as they’re discovering who they are — as we all do in high school — and what they want out of life. Also, to see if they’re able to perform what’s expected of them.
Every few arcs we’re going to jump forward a year. We start in 1987 and every year, every class they go up, they’re expected to do more things that are worse and worse, corrupting themselves. Some of them are easily corrupted and can fall into this. Some of them are sociopaths, they have no compunction about any of it. Others are having a very difficult time. You can imagine if your father was a leader of a Japanese crime syndicate and you were expected to be exactly like your dad — who was this ruthless, renowned motherfucker — it puts you in a situation where if you don’t live up to that, that’s going to be pretty heavy stuff to deal with. It also just takes the metaphors of what your parents expect of you and what people expect you to become versus who you want to be and what you want to become. The situation and the stakes are bloody, which I think is the main similarity with “X-Force.” It’s a character drama with bloody stakes.
But again, I think that’s the background. I want it to feel like when it gets back into some assassin shit, when life and death are at play, I want you to be so immersed and so deep in the character story; so connected to the characters that that stuff comes out of left field and shocks the hell out of you. Unlike the books where the pedal is down and we’re going, going, going, this is much more a character piece. It’s me doing the kind of comic book that speaks to what I did on things like “Blackheart Billy,” “Strange Girl” and a lot of the creator-owned books I did coming up that I’m not exactly well known for, but still hold a huge piece of my heart.
Wrapping up, is there a course in the curriculum you created in “Deadly Class” that you wish you could have taken in high school?
[Laughs] Yeah, I suppose. There’s going to be a ninja class in the freshman year, where it’s not so much about killing people. It’s sleuthing and sneaking around and doing cool stuff like jumping over rooftops. The thing here is that jumping over a rooftop isn’t expected as just a thing you can do. I’m trying to look at all these things a crazy assassin is up to. If you were a freshman in high school being trained to do that, the part where you jump from one rooftop to another is kind of hairy shit. It’s not a little deal. Jumping out of a car window, stuff we see in action movies and characters just do it — that stuff is going to be things that there are classes for where they are trained. Some of them might not make it out of the classes.
As for if I would have taken any — I’m probably not the most physically violent person in the world. So no, I don’t think there’s any assassin’s technique other than sleuthing or running and jumping over rooftops that I would be interested in. [Laughs]