In 1987, Reagan was president, the war on drugs was failing (and now there’s one that hasn’t failed), while the airwaves rang out with The Clash’s electric frenzy and The Cure’s synth-full coos. In Deadly Class’ 1987, all this remains the same with the added institution of King’s Dominion. At King’s, students connected to the world’s biggest crime syndicates learn and study the art of killing. The offspring of notorious mob bosses and gang leaders need to have the proper training if they want to take over the family business.
And then there’s Marcus Lopez.
Marcus lives on the street. Marcus lost his parents when he was young. Marcus burned down the orphanage he lived in and the innocent children inside. Marcus is a murderer. So how does a broken kid with no lineage–a cynic in every sense of the word–find himself in King’s Dominion? Marcus’ story will unfold in time, but the Deadly Class pilot episode kicks this tale off in the best possible way.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Deadly Class comes from the mind of co-creators Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Remender has been thoroughly involved with the show’s development as it nears its television debut, which was initially set to premiere on SyFy next month. Instead– as an early holiday treat because we’ve all been so well-behaved–the pilot episode was unceremoniously uploaded to SyFy’s YouTube page yesterday with barely a warning. What a wonderful holiday surprise indeed.
The nearly hour-long pilot is a whirlwind that matches the pace and flow of its source material. Like most shows based on the written word, those not familiar with the comic might have their heads spun around once or twice. Within the first episode, two hands are needed to count the number of times Marcus nearly meets death. Between scuffles with homeless vagrants, police chases, and the threatening new gang situation he finds himself in at the school, Marcus is always in danger. King’s Dominion’s newest student has a rough twenty-four hours.
Transforming a comic book into a television show (or movie for that matter) is a difficult task without the Marvel or DC name attached to it. Successes are noticeable though. The Walking Dead has been going on since 2010. Preacher was just renewed for a fourth season. Happy! received positive reviews and will be coming back for its second go-around. All of these shows were comic books first, and now have a second life on the small screen. Collaboration with the creators (like Remender) and folks behind the scenes who understand comics and its fans have given rise to the lesser-known characters to viewers otherwise unfamiliar. Deadly Class even gives a nod in this direction when Marcus stans for indie comics while the X-Men enthused Willie pulls a gun to make his point that Marvel is king.
Deadly Class’ cast isn’t your typical superhero ilk. Honestly, they shouldn’t be called heroes at all. The ones called Superheroes often try to convince everyone else–but mainly themselves–that they’re just like everyone else. Marcus doesn’t have any special powers. He’s brave, but only because he’s smart. He’s smart, but only because he’s a survivor. He survives, but only because he’s not quite brave enough to end things himself.
Survival is the essence Deadly Class works to instill early on. One early homework assignment from Master Lin, the enigmatic headmaster of King’s Dominion, requires groups of two to go out and kill someone who “deserves to die”. There’s no larger discussion regarding ethics or moral obligation or human rights. Murder and ethics come into question during the assignment when his lab partner freezes at a critical moment and Marcus’s fight overrides his flight response.
The episode is as fast-paced as Marcus’s life. Because he’s never far away from a brawl, Deadly Class’ pilot has continuous action; though the fights are usually interrupted too soon, leaving room for future engagements. The show’s mood matches the secretive setting of King’s Dominion: dark and as bleak as a show about a disaffected kid from the streets stumbling into a world of fledgling assassins should be. That said, there are of humor, adding needed levity to an otherwise oppressing atmosphere. The students are kids, after all, and they’re going through puberty. They might be sitting through a boring lecture in Poison 101, but flatulence will always be funny.
Deadly Class avoids falling into well-worn high school tropes during its first episode, but the show acknowledges them to help set its tone. Marcus is an outcast who smokes cigarettes with other outcasts on a dingy rooftop the students call “the graveyard,” as they bicker about the merits of punk music and goth rock. One friend, Billy, has a green mohawk and a skateboard while another–the son of an Irish freedom fighter– spikes his hair and wears a cross earring. Fortunately, it’s not overdone and the setting and characters provide an accurate representation of the time. Throw in some excellent, period-appropriate song choices that aren’t the predictable fare one might expect to hear. Not throwing shade at Cindy Lauper or Duran Duran, but their style just isn’t the right fit for this story.
Like many–heroes or not–Marcus has choices, and his decisions are often made on the fly. For better or worse, these choices will guide his path, both in King’s Dominion and out on the streets. There’s the dilemma of doing the Right Thing or being the Hand of Justice. How much will he let his past affect his decision-making abilities as he becomes more educated in the way of a killer? He shows early on that he has little to fear because he has little to lose, and quickly finds a way to use this to his advantage. But as he grows and gains a new family of sorts, his little to lose is going to change a lot.
Deadly Class premieres (again) on SyFy on January 16th, but check out the video above if you can’t wait until then.