Deadly Class #56 Review: A Fond Farewell to a Friend

Deadly Class ended today, and it delivered one more big surprise—and some additional meta-commentary—before it left. Writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig have a long history of crazy twists, elaborate battles, mind-bending page layouts, and challenging audience expectations. The finale has relatively few of those elements, but it's arguably better for it. It's virtually impossible to give a series like Deadly Class a perfect ending, so instead of trying, the team zeroes in on a couple of key ideas, making sure to craft a great issue of comics – even if it doesn't seem especially concerned with being all things to all people.

After the resolution of the book's central plot, Deadly Class #59 flashes back to the 1980s, where readers spend a few final, fleeting pages with Marcus's original group of friends at King's Dominion. Many of these characters have been gone for years, although seeing them again in the 2018 TV series successfully reminded the audience of how much fun they were together. And this final issue recaptures that dynamic nicely, providing a commentary on the characters of Marcus and Maria, and the wildly unexpected direction their lives took in the years after those first few issues occurred.

Some of the characters, who have had few, if any appearances in recent years, are especially great to see in Craig's current style, which has evolved significantly since the comic began in 2014. Colorist Lee Loughridge does some heavy lifting, too: the whole color palette and temperature of the comic shifts a few times throughout the issue, from Brandy's speech to open, to the deadly confrontation with Brandy and Shabnam at its heart, to the final, fateful moments in the present day... and then back to the 1980s, where everything is bathed in a lot more blue than readers have seen in a while, in keeping with those early days of Deadly Class

Rus Wooton delivers, too. Some people will tell you that lettering is best when you don't notice it, and there's some truth to that, but in between Wooton's understated work in the dialogue scenes, you get some moments where he shows off, and they always land. Loughridge and Wooton have been unsung heroes throughout Deadly Class, and they stick the landing here, too.

Something smart that the creative team has done—probably on purpose, although it could just be the nature of the story they set out to tell—is that the final issue (in fact, the final arc) require relatively little in the way of knowledge of anything in the book that you couldn't have seen in the first two trades, or the single season of the TV series. If you're invested in these characters, or ever have been, you can pick up this issue, understand it, and enjoy it on its own merits. 

There is an obvious evolution that the series has undergone, and that is especially obvious when the final pages of Deadly Class's 2023 storyline are juxtaposed against the final pages, which flash back to the 1980s and the series' beginning. The degree to which Marcus Arguello is a mouthpiece for writer Rick Remender is anybody's guess, but if he is, there's a clear trajectory throughout the life of the series – and there's a particularly fine point put on it by the story he chooses to tell in those final pages. We're going to get into that, but first...

We will be discussing major spoilers for Deadly Class #56 and the end of the series beyond this point. If you haven't read the issue and are put off by spoilers, please turn around now. The long and short is, this is a very good issue and if you like Deadly Class, you should pick it up.

Okay, now that that's out of the way: the ending.

Remender and Craig give readers one final twist worthy of Deadly Class, but in this case, the twist is that the ending doesn't feel like a Deadly Class ending. 

Every victory that Marcus, Maria, their family and friends have ever enjoyed had unforeseen consequences. They always lost almost as much as they gained – and at times, they lost far more than they gained, the "victory" simply being survival. It never seemed like a comic that could have a happy ending. As Brandy Lynn ascended through the American political establishment in the final arcs, and Marcus and Maria had a family to worry about, the writing seemed like it was on the wall: this was going to end in bloody, tearful disaster.

And it kind of did, but not in the way one would expect. And the reason, seemingly, is Remender's own awareness that those kinds of stories are not what is needed right now. As with the previous issue, Remender uses Marcus's work on Lone Star as what appears to be a metaphor for his own work on Deadly Class and as the series' biggest surprise happens—an actual happy ending, with no apparent horrors waiting just around the corner—Marcus explains his thinking on that project to Maria.

"I wrote a draft where the bad guys win, everything is shit, and nobody you like gets out alive. It was shocking – had a big emotional impact. But with the state of the world..." He explains. Then, "All stories end sadly if you follow them long enough. The difference between an up ending and a down one is where you stop. Why not just stop someplace nice?"

It feels like a far cry from the Marcus we knew in the early days of Deadly Class, an angry young man ready to pontificate about just about anything, often including how miserable everything is and how doomed we all are. Except... is it?

The flashback to the 1980s gives audiences a reminder of who Marcus is at his core. He's a character who may be a little too earnest for his own good, especially when surrounded by King's Dominion classmates who are, essentially, apex predators. Yeah, he learned to survive that, but his first words to the audience were, "A positive mental attitude is essential to surviving out here." 

In the flashback, readers see the old, ranting Marcus, but when challenged, he admits to his friends that focusing on the inevitability of death and doom is what helps him live in the moment. It's an echo of what he said to Maria just pages before – that all stories end sadly if you hang on too long. Is the ending here too good to be true? Maybe, maybe not. But as young Marcus learned when his parents were killed in a freak accident, "All that anxiety, all that worrying about the future – it didn't change anything."

So much of Marcus's "positive mental attitude" talk seemed like it was all dark comedy, sarcasm, and irony when Deadly Class started. Benjamin Wadsworth, who played the character on the TV series, delivered monologues dripping with the stuff. Now, though? Nearly a decade after the series began, the angry young man at its core has become a family man, exorcising his demons through creative endeavors and making the world a genuinely better place by accomplishing a variation on one of his earliest stated goals.

And Deadly Class #56 is better for it. Marcus started the book by celebrating his birthday on the streets, picking pockets and suffering from pneumonia. His story ends decades in the future, but the comic itself ends not long after his introduction to King's Dominion, where he found his family. Now, he's celebrating Petra's birthday, walking into a Denny's with people he loves, some of whom he would lose far too soon, and others who would shape the rest of his life. Any sense of being creatively short-shrifted because we didn't get the blood-soaked, depressing ending that Deadly Class seemed like it was inevitably leading to, can be massaged away by a finale that beautifully bookends that first issue – making sure that, unlike Marcus himself, the children he has with Maria will grow up with their parents.

Published by Image Comics

On October 19, 2022

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Wes Craig

Colors by Lee Loughridge

Letters by Rus Wooton

Cover by Wes Craig