High-school drama with the added stakes of being surrounded by trained killers, Deadly Class is a faithful adaptation of the comic book and makes for good television.
Homeless, orphaned teenager Marcus is given the opportunity to change the course of his life when he’s invited to enroll in King’s Dominion. It’s a very private school in San Francisco, where leaders (and gang-leaders) of the world send their kids to be trained in the deadly arts.
Marcus’ new diverse group of friends consist of Saya, Willie, Maria and Billy.
Billy becomes fast friends with Marcus and lets him know everyone’s affiliations. Son of a corrupt cop, Billy was enrolled in King’s Dominion to get toughened up and resents his dad for it — this leads to a road trip later in the series to try and kill his pops. Billy has a green mohawk, skate boards and is a punk rocker. Because Deadly Class is set in the 1987, I’m going to let these rebellious tropes slide, since they are applicable for the time. Having the show set in the ’80s also opens up the possibilities to spotlight some ’80s music.
In the comic book, Marcus and another friend, Willie, discuss music while on a homework assignment to kill someone. But it’s not a discussion about punk rock music, rather emerging hip-hop artists. Willie is the son of a Compton gangster, who was one of the most respected O.G.’s of his time. While Willie is the leader of the F.W.O. (Final World Order) faction at the school, made up of others from South Central Los Angeles, he’s got a tremendous legacy to live up to and is preoccupied with appearing “hard.” Their homework assignment doesn’t go exactly as planned and we get a great revelation into each of their characters.
Willie is a great character and I think the show cast him well.
The show actually does a better job of framing their homework assignment, as the comic introduced their target to the audience earlier. It also doesn’t leave any ambiguity as to whether or not the mark deserved to die. Unfortunately, the show added a conversation about comic books. I’m don’t want to hear Willie talk about the Dark Phoenix Saga, especially when we have an X-Men movie based off that arc hitting theaters this year. Having one comic book property talk about another opens the door to unwelcome comparisons. Maybe Deadly Class didn’t want to have Marcus talk about The Smiths when Charlie in Bumblebee — also set in 1987 — already did, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have Willie talk about Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J or Public Enemy.
Next among Marcus’ group of friends is the love-triangle of him, Saya and Maria. Marcus likes Saya. Maria likes Marcus.
Marcus first sees Maria during a Dia de Muertos festival, but it won’t be the last time we see her in this cool getup. Admittedly, the makeup makes for a good disguise when carrying out an urban assignment. Maria also wields fan blades, which makes her even more cool.
At King’s Dominion, Maria is part of the Soto Vatos gang, which includes all the “Cartel Kids.” Unfortunately, when she meets Marcus, she’s still the girlfriend of Chico, who’s leader of Soto Vatos and son of one of the scariest Cartel bosses in South America. While it can be hazardous to one’s health in high school to be seen flirting with anyone’s girlfriend, this school ups the ante. Sure, King’s Dominion has strict rules against students engaging in drugs, sex or murdering fellow classmates, but it’s not like the students are observing the first two rules…
But while Maria likes Marcus, Marcus likes Saya.
In both the show and the comic, Saya looks down her nose at Marcus while in school. Billy describes her as one of the “Yakuza Kids” and she’s leader of the Kuroki Syndicate. In the show, she treats Marcus’ recruitment into King’s Dominion only as an assignment, whereas in the comic she vouches for him when he initially refuses the invitation by Master Lin. It’s unfortunate that the show took this direction, as the comic indicated that she saw potential in Marcus.
The show also, unfortunately, cut out a cool chase scene when Marcus first meets Saya.
When Saya first appears on her motorcycle and tells Marcus to “Get on,” he gets on. What follows is a spectacular chase through the streets of San Francisco. To see how she dispatches the cops, I recommend you pick up the comic. No doubt it was cut for budget constraints on the show. Still, the substituted fight scene is well-choreographed.
This isn’t the only departure from the comic book.
Instead of Billy, it’s actually another guy, Shabnam, who gives Marcus the lay of the land. But because Billy is part of the road trip later in comic that seems straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (complete with a visit to Circus Circus), I can see why the series gave him best friend duty.
While pointing out the various factions, Billy points out a nerdy guy in a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt and says he’s the leader of The Hessians. Marcus makes a Dungeons & Dragons joke, which — considering the recent rise and cultural acceptance of D&D with shows like Critical Role — I found to be in poor taste and makes me dislike our protagonist. Billy admits that he has a character in their campaign and that they have good weed. In the comic, it’s actually the leader of the Jersey Kings who “moves all the drugs in the school.” Why the show decided to create a group named after a mercenary group that George Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat during the American Revolution is beyond me. But if it’s to create a group of nerds for the show to make fun of, I say, “not cool.”
Rounding out the initial introduction of gangs, I found it amusing that “The Preps” were, not only rich kids but, kids of parents in the FBI and CIA. Marcus calls them “fascists,” but Marcus also wants to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Marcus blames the president for cutting the federal money for the mentally ill, which led to the death of Marcus’ parents. In the show, this is shown as an animated flashback pulled straight from the comic. While Deadly Class might focus Marcus’ teenage grieving mind on who he thinks is responsible, the deinstitutionalization movement had been going on since the 1950s and steps were being made toward it as early as the 1920s and ’30s. Those of you who’ve seen American Horror Story: Asylum, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Sucker Punch may understand why Americans were losing their stomach for the idea of asylums. Unfortunately, this can lead to other problems. Couple that with states shifting the bill to care for the mentally ill to the federal government… well, that only exacerbates the issue.
I wasn’t going to bring this up, but the show decided to feature the flashback.
While on some heavy drugs, Marcus even hallucinates President Reagan talking to him through a television. If Deadly Class was set before 1981, there could have been an interesting story where Marcus plans to assassinate the President, but sees John Hinckley Jr. beat him to the attempt. Then again, we’d lose our excuse to have ’80s music and we already have Fargo Season 2. Deadly Class does show the rifle of Lee Harvey Oswald on display, but so far, I think Zoolander has been more successful at tying-in its characters and histories to the attempts and assassinations of world leaders.
It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively Deadly Class chooses to pursue this vein, especially considering Master Lin’s speech in class at the beginning of the series.
Benedict Wong plays Master Lin. I liked him as Wong in Doctor Strange and thought he did a great job as Kublai Khan in the Marco Polo series. It helps the show to have a such a strong and experienced actor among its cast. Benedict Wong has this gravitas when delivering narration, which adds depth to his lecture and also his story of how King’s Dominion was formed.
King’s Dominion is certainly unlike any other high school we’ve encountered on screen. If you’re ready to take your high school drama program watching to the next level, be sure to check out Deadly Class on Syfy for some literal backstabbing.