Every teenager believes that a poor test score or an argument with a classmate is the end of the world, but for the kids of King's Dominion School of the Deadly Arts -- the central locale of writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig's creator-owned Image Comics series Deadly Class, those situations really are life and death.
That's because the '80s-set series follows the exploits of adolescents who have been enrolled in a clandestine school for assassins. The kids' sponsors include powerful figures in the organized crime, business and intelligence worlds. So finals, quite literally, can be killer.
The series' first final exam period was chronicled in the “Die For Me” arc, which ran through issues #17-21 and told the story of the Freshmen finals for King's Dominion's incoming class of 1988. In the aftermath, readers saw the emotionally scarred, newly minted sophomores try to navigate their new academic landscape and learned two characters they thought died during finals and earlier, Marcus Lopez and his girlfriend Maria, were still among the living. They were also introduced to a new and intriguing freshmen class.
In Deadly Class #32, the kick off chapter to the current “Love Like Blood” arc, those survivors, sophomores and freshmen suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of Marcus' old King's Dominion rivals who discovered he was still alive -- and a Yakuza syndicate looking to punish Marcus' old flame, Saya. CBR spoke with Remender about the arc, its explosive action and the shocking revelation about freshmen cast member Zenzele that came in issue #33.
CBR: In Deadly Class #33, you made an already action-packed arc even more intense by revealing Zenzele's horrific origin: that she murdered her human-trafficking parents and works for a South African crime lord. What inspired her backstory? And can you talk anymore about her sponsor at King's Dominion, Mr. Stakle?
Rick Remender: There's still more to be told about Mr. Stakle, but in terms of what inspired her origin, when you're developing a character you look for hooks and shading that make these kids interesting. Zenzele's somebody who's incredibly religious, gone through something quite traumatic, did something horrible, and then sort of imagines it was the hand of Satan guiding her. So that idea tickled me and I planned it as a slow reveal where she seems like she's just a really lovely girl who's at this terrible school. Of course the last time we dealt with the Kuroki syndicate we saw her go kind of crazy and feral, and we saw a glimpse of the “devil.”
We've been unpacking Zenzele's origin bit by bit but protecting her truth. We showed her writing letters to her parents; she desperately wanted to go home and defend her parents from someone who was going to kill them. Only that someone was her. And she already had. So, Brandi told the class in an earlier issue was in fact true. Based on a few… things that are coming up in this story it’s the right time to reveal it.
For a good portion of our misfit crew I like to imagine crime figures as their parents because it always leads to tragedy. How can it not?
Zenzele told her origin to Tosawhi, the Native American skate punk. It's been a while since we last learned about his past, and we haven't learned his full origin either, correct?
We got a little bit of it. He revealed his anger and the inequality shown to his people. He talked about a family member who was in town and accused of having an illegal firearm and raising it at the sheriff. Tosawhi knows it wasn't an assassination. His uncle was standing up to the sheriff, [who[ was doing all kinds of gnarly shit on the reservation.
So he's got a pretty big chip on his shoulder, but that's the only part of his story we've revealed to date. Whether or not we learn more will depend on whether he survives this arc…
One of the things that struck me about him and the way he talked with Zenzele is how much he reminded me of Willie [one of the kids killed during the freshmen finals], in that he's a really good and decent kid who doesn't belong at King's Dominion.
That's true in many of the cases there. The school is there to suck these kids into the evil turbine and spit them out as something that can participate in all of the rotten machinations of crime syndicates, corporations, and governments. Most of us start off as good people. The people who become rotten get sucked into this machine and it churns them out into something else. That's what King's Dominion is attempting to do to our students, take them from innocent kids into compromised adults.
We saw some of the damage Kings Dominion has done in this issue in the scenes where sophomore Petra wrestled with her guilt over killing Billy during the freshmen finals storyline. She's sort of built a new life for herself with Helmut, so it was interesting to see that guilt creep back into her life, but it also made me wonder -- is there anything Petra won't do to protect her relationship with Helmut?
The situation that they're in is going to put them to the test. Petra is a complicated character, and a lot of fun to write. She's got a pretty horrific origin story that makes her fairly sympathetic, but it's also leads her to do some pretty terrible things; but we also saw her try to process her actions afterwards.
She tried to become a member of the council, to be one of the cool kids. She dyed her hair blonde and tried to fit in where she didn’t. That didn't work out so well for her. She reverted back to herself and was preparing to check out when Helmut comes along and gives her a reason to keep trying.
So, she's got a pretty close connection with him, but she's also got her own issues; from the death of her mother to the kooky death cult her dad was involved in, to what she did to Billy… So, whether or not you like Petra is sort of up to you. I've painted both sides of that fence.
Then of course you've got Helmut who loves her very much and didn't know Billy, however characters like Maria and Marcus loved Billy. It seems like a recipe for trouble.