Deadly Class comic review: Reality remembered & fictionalised therapy for high school survivors

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I guess there are people out there who had a great time at high school.

Who had lots of friends.

Who sailed through in a fog of only slightly angsty teenage moments.

I have met people who claim high school was the best time of their lives.

Only one or two mind.

The rest shudder at the mere mention of those thankfully long past years.

I wasn’t sure about Deadly Class as first.

Until I read the author’s note in the letters page at the back of the comic and I really saw what he was trying to do here.

It’s interesting.

This stirs up memories of how vicious kids can be.

Of bewilderment, confusion, hatred sparked through the hurt of non-acceptance.

But, and it’s the ‘but’ that makes this worth reading and recommending.

It also places the whole emotional rollercoaster in a fantasy world where a street kid with a black past can be saved from a tragic end by enrolment in an academy for assassins.

It’s the perfect balance of reality remembered and fictionalised therapy for high school survivors.

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Rick Remender and his collaborators in this comic, Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge have chosen to set this in the 1980s of their own teenage years.

They made a conscious decision to set this in a recognisable world.

As Remender says,

“There’s no magic. No spaceships. No one can fly or shoot eye beams. It’s a coming of age story about broken kids expected to deal with a violent world. It’s the 80s. No cell phones or email. And many of these stories are based on true events.”

I read issue 1 and immediately bought issue 2 just to see where this was going to go.

The emotions of the writer, artist and colourist add a lot of spice to this fictional tale. It could have been a fantasy escape aimed at teens. Instead it’s a really rather gritty investigation for adults looking back at just how awful high school could be for a broken kid.

There’s no wish fulfilment here.

At least not so far.

But there is a whole host of great characters that I’m just dying to get to know.

A few secrets yet to be revealed.

And the beginning of a story arc that I get the feeling I’m going to stay the distance with.

And as ever with any comics I find myself drawn to, the artwork here is beautiful. The Day of the Dead parade is a fantastic concept for a chase scene. In fact all the action scenes come across as thrilling but contained within a somewhat believable world.

The colours are also great, really reflecting the bleak aspect of the surroundings but throwing in tiny flashes of that 80s fashion staple neon pink.

What’s not to love?

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Pretty Deadly 1# and 2#: Rios, DeConnick & Bellaire throw down the gauntlet

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Pretty Deadly is an Image Comics release from Kelly Sue DeConnck (Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble) and Emma Rios (Doctor Strange: Season One).

And I’d say if you are willing to pick up the gauntlet DeConnick and Rios are laying down here you’ll be rewarded in time.

Because this story, despite throwing characters at us in an almost haphazard way, blending genres right, left and centre and coating the whole thing in hazy, dream-like artwork and colour, is intriguing.

The comic has already drawn parallels with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and I see no reason to dispute those parallels.

Yes, this is confusing, yes, it’s not a reader friendly first issue, but the quality is there.

The things that make it difficult are put there on purpose to challenge the reader. The reason I think this is because of the inclusion of at least three Tweets at the end of the book that say, “I really didn’t understand what was happening.”

Their inclusion almost seems triumphal.

It’s a defiant show of the team’s confidence in their pet project that they don’t compromise with a more linear introduction, a longer first issue or even an introduction to the main character until the very end of the issue.

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You are either going to love or hate the following things:

  • An opening narration by a dead rabbit and a butterfly
  • Artwork so fluid it takes a while to interpret what is going on
  • The Western setting paired with strong female lead characters
  • A layout that owes more to Manga than modern day American comics
  • A colour scheme that bathes its world in pink, yellow and brown hues

It is useful to have a basic plot outline in your mind before reading this comic for the first time. So here goes. Welcome to a world that resembles a Western in perpetual sunset. Our narrators, the above mentioned dead bunny and butterfly, start us off with the tale of Sissy and Fox, a young girl with mismatched eyes and a cloak made of vulture feathers and an old man who covers his eyes the better not to see the world.

From here the action speeds up and there is little time for formal introductions.

A man called Jonny has let an important document be stolen by Sissy. A woman called Big Alice isn’t messing about when she says she wants it back. She hunts Jonny down and then goes after Sissy guns blazing. Meanwhile Sissy and Fox are high-tailing it over the desert with their rag tag band of outlaws in tow, one of whom isn’t averse to taking pot shots at them from afar – who needs enemies when you got friends like that.

I won’t go any further, since a review should still leave you surprised by the story. But if you are willing to read and possibly re-read this the plot will eventually suck you in.

Reading a comic using the Comixology app

One last thing I should say about Pretty Deadly is that I read these first two issues on the my Google Nexus using the Comixology app.

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This is the first time I have done this, not due to any tech-hating tendencies; rather I just never felt the need before. But due to a combination of having missed the first two print issues being in stock in my local comic shop, travelling and not having Wi-Fi at my disposal, I decided to download issues one and two and read them offline on my tablet.

At first I thought my screen would be too small to really take in the art work or read the script.

I was wrong.

The pages are beautifully optimised for the screen.

Reading full pages is easy and clear.

My ability to follow this story also hugely benefited from the app’s guided reading function.

The app zooms into one panel at a time. Smaller panels are seen whole. Sometimes a whole page layout is broken down into significant elements so you see things in order rather than all at once. The whole thing is pretty seamless and so well done you hardly notice it.

It’s very simple and very effective especially for a complicated story like Pretty Deadly.

I don’t think I’ll me moving my comic habit fully online.

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Like the e-reader vs. paper books debate the online comic app certainly has it’s time and place and unlike the e-reader actually can enhance your enjoyment and understanding of a beautiful visual tale.

Comic Review: The Wake by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy

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The Wake is a new 10 part comic series by American Vampire writer Scott Snyder and Hellblazer: City of demons artist Sean Murphy.

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I really loved this comic because of its ambition and scope. Snyder has woven a story out of sea myths, folklore and fable that comes crashing into reality with a terrifying discovery on the bottom of the ocean.

It’s epic in scale, part one takes us from 200 years in the future to Mars 3.8 billion years ago, takes a pit stop on the Great Plains at the turning point of human evolution 100,000 years ago before bringing us back to the present. Despite these broad strokes the story arc of the main character Dr Lee Archer is perfectly plotted so you get to know and care about her in a pretty short time.

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Believe me when I say this comic is best read with little or no knowledge of the story.

which makes it a little tough to review.

I really don’t want to spoil it for you.

So let me just give you a few basics that will let you know if this is for you or not.

Do you love the sound of an amazing sea-based sci-fi story that cleverly ties in real things like the inscription on a Sumerian tablet telling of the flood of Babylon with the Loneliest Whale in the World and the Aquatic Ape Theory?

Then this is for you.

I will also say that after reading this through for the first time I immediately re-read it. This almost never happens but it really is that well written and full of detail that it’s easy to miss first time round.

One last thing to say about The Wake is that the whole thing would fall flat without Sean Murphy’s amazing artistic treatment of water throughout. In an interview with ComicVine last year he said:

“It sounds kind of funny but water is like another character in this book. I looked at a lot of other comics and noticed a lot of people don’t draw water. They’ll just draw lines and the colourist just makes it blue. I really tried to figure out a new way to handle water, to draw an actual wave crashing, a tidal wave surging through a city, there’s all different ways that water works. I’m trying to learn about that.”

I’d say it’s working pretty amazingly well so far.

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Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon, superhero comics just got interesting again

One of the things I decided when I started this blog was that I wasn’t going to review superhero comics. Why? Well, let’s just say I’m not a fan and like the old film says (you know the one with the baby deer and the rabbit?) “if you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nuthin at all”.

So what am I doing adding a review to Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction to my list of recommended reads?

It’s actually pretty darn good.

Imagine my surprise when I left my local comic shop this morning holding something published by Marvel and actually quite looking forward to reading it. If, like me, comics featuring bulging biceps and outlandish costumes leave you cold then read on for a refreshing take on the old genre. It’s nice to see Matt Fraction, fresh from a stint writing Tony Stark as a bit of a douche on Invincible Iron Man, doing something really rather good with the original source material.

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You can come to this material cold, without knowing anything of the characters and the back-story as I did and still enjoy it. I mean I’m pretty sure I saw The Avengers film in 2012 but believe me it doesn’t stick in my mind. But it’s nice to have a flavour of what you are going to encounter before you buy this as the story jumps around a little and you can be a little like, “how come this guy’s in the Avengers when he’s not got any superpowers?”

A little bit of back-story goes a long way

So there are two characters using the name Hawkeye at the moment in the Marvel Universe; Clint Barton and Katherine Bishop. These guys are the focus of our story. Clint Barton it seems packed his quiver and ran away to the circus at a young age and was trained in archery and sword skills by two bad-asses called Trickshot and Swordsman (I know *sigh* super hero comics right!). He then opted for a career in crime before switching sides to become a Hero, a member and leader of the Avengers and then getting whacked by someone called the Scarlet Witch.

So much for him.

Then along comes a young upstart called Katherine or Kate Bishop. A typical super-rich-talented-ninja-style-crack-shot and takes up his mantle in the Young Avengers. Kate Bishop has some additional back-story but to be honest I wouldn’t bother with it unless you are a Marvel fan.

But then Barton isn’t dead.

And we’re up and running with this story-line. So this uppity chick is Ying to Barton’s Yang. She’s sassy and can give the Emperor Domitian a run for his money when it comes to making a trick shot; he’s shambling and socially awkward but mentors his impetuous protégé in the ways of fighting for good and whopping some bad-guy ass. So you know, like a dream team or something.

Art work that makes you go ‘aaah’

But, and this is the beauty of this comic and the reason I’m reviewing it. When you open this up and start reading it just doesn’t feel like your typical Marvel super-hero fare at all. For one the art-work is simple, stylish and simplistic. It more than carries the action without losing any of the emotion in the few poignant moments of the story. In fact it reminds me a little of Batman: Year One inked by David Mazzuchelli, all smudgy shadows and impressionistic blocky outlines.

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Fraction manages to create some nice character tension between Barton and Bishop that is interesting enough to give them some depth.

The action is pretty pacey and there’s a gorgeous cut-shot scene when they are being chased in a 1970 Dodge Challenger by a bunch of bad guys in Italian Job old-school minis. The layouts, artwork and scripting are pretty much as fine as you’ll see in any comic currently on the stand.

Plus I’m pretty sure we’re going to be seeing that mysterious red-head with the urgent need to catch a plane again. And she provides the one laugh out loud moment of the comic when Barton’s privates get ‘bleeped’ by the image of his own masked identity – class!

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If you love Marvel comics and the Avengers you’ll love this fresh take on your old favourites. If you’re not such a fan you’ll love this because of the beautiful art work, the amazing layouts and the refreshing lack of coloured spandex tights.

A word of warning though the collected edition also includes Young Avengers Presents #6 which I won’t comment on because of you know, the bunny and the baby deer.

Collecting Hawkeye #1-5 and Young Avengers Presents #6, Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido and Alan Davis, is available to buy at your local comic shop or online from Comixology and Marvel Unlimited. And if you loved this then volume 2 is also out now.