Syfy's Deadly Class Is More Awkward Than Cool

Benjamin Wadsworth as Marcus in Deadly Class.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)
io9 ReviewsReviews and critical analyses of fan-favorite movies, TV shows, comics, books, and more.  

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a movie that feels like a living comic book. It works not only because of how it uses its source material, but how it shifts away from it. Syfy’s Deadly Class fails to meet the same standard, leaning too heavily on its graphic novel to the point where it doesn’t feel like a show anymore. That might make it palatable for hardcore fans, but others may grow tired of a series that’s not only flawed, but feels like it’s trying too hard to be cool.

I’ve seen the first four episodes of Deadly Class—Syfy debuted the first episode online late last year but will air its premiere on the cable network tonight—based on the graphic novel series by Rick Remender and Wes Craig. The series is a 1980s drama about a homeless teenager named Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth) who is recruited into a high school for assassins. Headed by Master Lin (Benedict Wong), King’s Dominion trains children how to become killers. Its mission was originally to help the underprivileged gain power against “The System,” but has since become a who’s who for the children of gang leaders, federal agents, and the criminal elite.

Advertisement

Right away, the elephant in the room is the premise itself. It’s about kids learning how to hurt and kill people. That’s something not everyone is going to be okay with (I personally didn’t care for it). We’re living in a time where there’s an epidemic of school shootings, so to have a series that’s centered around violence in school can feel unsettling. Especially because the show hits so close to home—this isn’t a fantasy about superheroes or witches, it takes place in the real world. And in the real world, school violence is a real problem.

In the graphic novel, students routinely brandish guns inside school. The production team did make a conscious decision to remove guns from King’s Dominion (they’re still seen outside the school), with the in-world justification being that Master Lin abhors guns. That said, there is a moment in the first episode where Marcus looks over a school trophy case with a couple of guns inside. Also, there’s a scene where a couple kids ambush some bullies at a school dance and shoot hallucinogenic blow darts at them, forcing others to evacuate while screaming. The guns may be gone, but the imagery isn’t.

María Gabriela de Faría as Maria in Deadly Class.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

Advertisement

For those who aren’t turned off by the premise, the rest is a mixed bag. There are some good performances in there, notably by Luke Tennie (Willie), Lana Condor (Saya) and María Gabriela de Faría (Maria). Wadsworth is okay as Marcus, though not a total standout. He holds his own against the other actors just fine, but he feels a little more subdued than a role like this needs. Marcus is supposed to feel wild and unpredictable, but I never got that impression from Wadsworth. Others definitely had room to grow—the biggest problem being projection, as some of the young actors are just too quiet for a show like this. Wong is a solid performer who always delivers, but it’s hard to tell how much he cares about the role he’s playing. My takeaway: Not much.

The biggest problem for Deadly Class isn’t the acting, it’s the story. Regardless of whether or not you’ve read the source material (I’ve read the first two volumes), the show comes across like the writers turned a comic book into a script without changing enough to make it feel real. Comic books may be visual, but they don’t automatically equal good television. The mediums are different, and should to be treated as such. On the page, a scene where Marcus is monologuing in his head about the evils of the capitalist system might read well, but watching it on the screen makes it seem awkward and kind of preachy. The teenagers, who are supposed to be these counter-culture rebels, the epitome of the “real 1980s,” end up feeling less than human because some of their most-important dialogue feels like it was written to be read, not said.

During a set visit last year, Remender told me one of the reasons he was brought on board as a co-showrunner was “to make sure that the book is translated with the intent that Wes and I had when we created the book.” The novel’s thumbprint can be felt all over the place. Shots are ripped straight from the panels, character flashbacks are animated to look like the series. Several lines are repeated verbatim from the books, or only slightly altered. Some of this works, but much of it doesn’t. I can’t speak to what happened behind the scenes—although many of the people I talked to on set mentioned how they worked to honor Remender’s vision—but it feels like the comic book creators (or creator) should have taken a bigger step back to let the show’s story come into its own.

Advertisement

There’s also the issue with some of the graphic novel’s more questionable subject material, much of which has made it into the show. The series is very diverse and boasts an equally diverse cast, but some characters (who Remender said he based on real people he knew growing up) end up playing into racial stereotypes. There’s also a supporting character who’s a Neo-Nazi, portrayed as the Queen Bee of the school. She faces occasional backlash for her openly racist views, but never any long-term consequences (at least not as of the first four episodes). Given the rise in alt-right and white supremacist activity over the past few years, framing Brandy as this typically unchallenged person in power felt unwise.

Then, there’s Fuckface. I don’t even know where to go with this. He’s a villain, but he’s one that felt like was written by a 15-year-old trying to “shock” his English teacher. Fuckface is, I’ll just come out and say it, a young man from Marcus’ childhood who’s into bestiality. We first see him at a petting zoo, having just fucked a goat. He masturbates to footage of dog shows. He strips men down and puts them in chains. He threatens to defile a corpse. Sure he’s a bad guy, but he’s also a disgusting waste of time that I had no interest in watching. It was the one thing I thought the show was going to change from the comics, but it didn’t. And it’s terrible. He doesn’t add anything of value—good or bad—and his presence feels more an attempt to be “edgelord” than tell a good story.

Marcus chilling with the other school outcasts on the roof of King’s Dominion.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

Advertisement

Really, that’s kind of the show in a nutshell. Deadly Class thinks it’s on the cutting edge, that it’s saying more than it is—partially because it’s based on a graphic novel that did the same thing. There’s going to be a specific audience this works for, and that’s fine, but I’d otherwise tune out. Deadly Class is an immature edgelord fantasy that isn’t nearly as cool as it wants to be.

Deadly Class airs tonight at 10 p.m. on Syfy.


For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Advertisement

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

The Heroes of This Week's Best New Comics Are Complicated Dads

Atomic Robo mentoring a young robot friend.
Image: Scott Wegener, Shannon Murphy (IDW Publishing)

Whether you’re a sentient, technologically-advanced robot designed by Nikola Tesla or a street-level criminal with a knack for getting thrown in the pokey, raising children is a difficult task. And while it can be rewarding, it’s much more often an emotionally and financially draining endeavor.

The heroes of this week’s best new comics are at a point in their lives where they’ve become responsible for nurturing the next generation of young minds who are going to inherit the Earth and, truth be told, they’re both kind of nailing the whole parenting thing. Just not exactly in the ways they anticipated.

Advertisement

A pawn shop owner realizing why Ricky is trying to sell a stolen necklace.
Image: Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips (Image Comics)

Criminal

Despite his street name, all Teeg Lawless really wants at this point in his life is a modicum of peace and tranquility after spending years running with mobsters, pulling off heists, and generally living on the wrong side of the law. Old habits die hard for Lawless, and even though he’s trying to get on the up and up, Image Comics’ Criminal—from co-creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips—opens with the man behind bars in a local jail waiting for someone…anyone…to bail him out.

Advertisement

Lawless’ salvation comes in the form of his misguided young son Ricky, who, taking after his father, reasons that he can get away with robbing an elderly neighbor he knows to be in possession of valuable jewelry in order to get his hands on bail money. But Ricky’s actions come with consequences that neither he nor his father are prepared to handle, and force Lawless to fall back on his old ways in order to make sure that he can keep his family safe from retaliation. (Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, Image Comics)

Atomic Robo making sure Bernard is up to the task at hand.
Image: Scott Wegener, Shannon Murphy (IDW Publishing)

Atomic Robo: Dawn of a New Era

Atomic Robo’s seen a lot over his centuries-long lifetime of learning about and experimenting with the forces of nature that define the world. He’s putting the whole of his vast knowledge to good use in IDW’s Atomic Robo: Dawn of a New Era by passing it along to the next generation of sentient, mechanized intelligence.

Advertisement

For now, life’s mostly quiet for Atomic Robo and the newest young recruits at the Tesladyne Institute, but unbeknownst to everyone else within the organization who believe Robo’s merely tinkering with a new project in his private lab, he’s actually in the process of building what might be his greatest, most significant achievement yet. (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Shannon Murphy, IDW Publishing)


For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Advertisement

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Deadly Class, and the Powers and Limitations of a One Man Show

María Gabriela de Faria as Maria on Syfy’s Deadly Class.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

There’s one thing that’s clear from visiting the set of Syfy’s new comic book series, Deadly Class: This is Rick Remender’s show.

The creator of the Deadly Class graphic novel series isn’t on the sidelines for the adaptation of his 2014 Image Comics work with Wesley Craig, Lee Loughridge, and Rus Wooton. He’s put himself front and center. Serving as co-creator, and showrunner alongside Mick Betancourt (who replaced Adam Targum last May), Remender is heavily involved behind the scenes for the Russo Brothers-produced series. Remender is writing, producing, consulting, and several other “-ings” that make a show happen.

Advertisement

“One of the reasons I’m here is to make sure that the book is translated with the intent that [Deadly Class artist Wes Craig] and I had when we created the book,” Remender said during a set visit interview. “It was a matter of just having people that were genuinely inspired by the source material wanting to honor it.”

And the people around him know this. Several of the folks I spoke to on set, from the production team to the actors, were not only dedicated to bringing Remender’s vision to life, they see him as the person to turn to when it comes to anything and everything Deadly Class.

“It’s been amazing to sort of see this world created by Rick, and the transition of where we’re going to go from the graphic novel to the series,” Benedict Wong, who plays Master Lin, said during a set visit interview. “It’s great to have Rick there, and it is his baby.”

Advertisement

It’s no surprise Remender would want to be heavily involved in the adaptation of his and Craig’s work, as it’s a story Remender is intimately connected with. Deadly Class, first released in 2014, might be about a young man named Marcus (played in the adaptation by Benjamin Wadsworth) who joins a high school for assassins, but it’s just as much Remender’s story as it is Marcus’s. Much of Deadly Class’ world and its characters are based on Remender’s own life as a kid growing up in the 1980s. During io9’s set visit, Remender talked about how he originally created Deadly Class so he could tell stories about his experiences in what calls an underrepresented subculture in the popular era.

“I have seen few-and-far-between examples of the [1980s] I grew up in brought to any media,” Remender said. “It was important to me to be able to take a snapshot of the ‘80s I grew up in, and not the ‘80s that was like, ‘Hey remember leg warmers or Rubik’s Cube? Like yeah, I saw Ghostbusters.’ It’s not nostalgia food.”

Willie (Luke Tennie) on a “kill someone” homework assignment with Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth).
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

Advertisement

Deadly Class does succeed in that objective. It’s very different from shows like Stranger Things or the ‘80s episodes of Black Mirror, as it’s about a very specific subset of 1980s counter-culture. The kids in Deadly Class loathe the status quo. While in their San Francisco-based school, they drunkenly rant about the evils of a capitalist system, smoke weed out of bongs in fish tanks, and quiz each other on how many flip-side tracks from the Cure they can name off the top of their heads. Being outside of the “mainstream” is their version of normal.

There’s also the ongoing thread of mental health as it connected to life and politics of the 1980s. The show takes place after then-President Ronald Reagan’s federal policies led to the deinstitutionalization of many mentally ill patients, which is seen today as a policy failure. Deadly Class shines a light on those failings, with Marcus serving as a wise-beyond-his-years orator of truth, taking a critical lens to a problem that wasn’t fully understood at the time. In that vein, the show is giving that historical event modern context.

The one caveat that comes with adapting period pieces—including ones written well after the time period in question, as is the case with Deadly Class—is how we interpret them today. The rise in cultural criticism, especially from the perspective of marginalized groups, has changed how we view many period works whose elements might seem outdated, or even bigoted, by modern standards. Sometimes this results in change, like how Nintendo removed a racist Mr. Game & Watch reference from Super Smash Bros., despite it being from a 1980s game series. Other times, context is added: Older Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry cartoons now come with a disclaimer about the importance of seeing the cartoons as they were. In the disclaimer, Warner Bros. says it doesn’t condone the racist scenes and caricatures, but says to remove them would be erasing history. In his interview, Remender presented himself as falling into this line of thinking.

Advertisement

“We’re finally in a culture that’s desperately trying to rewind a lot of really bad mistakes,” Remender said. “But the danger there is then you try to whitewash or water down our entertainment, so we don’t take a look at what it actually is.”

There was one thing Deadly Class did choose to change before production, and that was the use of guns at school. In the graphic novel, gang members routinely brandish guns inside the school, but the production team changed this because of today’s epidemic of school violence. They said we would see no guns at school, the in-world justification being that Master Lin abhors them (the first episode of the series does feature a trophy case with two guns inside, though nobody uses them). The actual issue of gun control and school violence won’t be addressed in the first season—although actor Luke Tennie, who plays Willie, hopes it is discussed someday.

“For me personally, instead of ignoring an issue I would prefer to discuss it, especially using art. So we’ll see. I hope they do,” Tennie said.

Advertisement

Chico (Michel Duval) and Marcus are at odds because Chico thinks Marcus has been hitting on his girlfriend.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

There are some uncomfortable character depictions in Syfy’s Deadly Class, all of which stem from the graphic novel—and I’m not just talking about “Fuckface,” the villain who engages in bestiality and masturbates to footage of dog shows. Most of the kids who attend King’s Dominion, the high school for assassins, have segregated themselves into racial groups, taking on names like Kuroki Syndicate and Final World Order (F.W.O). Those groups and their members tend to play into stereotypes, like Chico’s (Michel Duval) “machismo” and Saya’s (Lana Condor) reliance on honor. When asked about addressing the risk of stereotyping in his work, Remender shrugged it off, saying the characters were based on real people he knew growing up.

“All I can do is build characters based on people that I knew, and try to put into them what was honest and real about who they were in the era in which we were living as teenagers,” Remender said.

Advertisement

Brandy (Siobhan Williams) and others in the Dixie Mob gang, made up of children of white supremacists, KKK members, and Neo-Nazis.
Photo: Allen Fraser (Syfy)

The characters are diverse and played by an equally diverse cast, but upon watching the first four episodes of the season, some of the things they said and did come across as questionable.

Brandy (Siobhan Williams) is probably the most controversial character, as she is an actual Neo-Nazi. She passes Marcus a class note that contains a racial slur surrounded by swastikas, talks about how “the South will rise again,” and is overheard making racist jokes about Hispanic people. She does face the occasional backlash, like when Marcus throws a drink in her face during a party, but for the most part, people laugh her off. She’s presented as the popular girl. The cheerleader. She pushes people into closets for Seven Minutes in Heaven and bullies the goth girl at the school dance. She’s the Queen Bee.

Advertisement

Given the rise in Neo-Nazi activity in the United States over the past few years, it was surprising to see a white supremacist character be given that kind of platform, without a lot of pushback from the other, more diverse characters (although that could very well change in subsequent episodes). Remender had this to say when asked whether the rise in alt-right activity over the past few years caused him to re-examine Brandy’s role:

Why would I change that? Have racists gone away? What’s changed is we’re all very frightened to talk about it, [that] we’re all going to get a Vox article written about us and somebody’s going to take a giant shit down our throat if we say it wrong…How does the current landscape change how I deal with an ugly racist? Other than to show an ugly racist, and show their ideology, and then to blow it up. The responsibility you have is not to paint them as a strawman, is to hear that sort of stupid ideology, and then to put a spotlight on it and melt it away. And so in a character like Brandy, she’s based on people I was around during those years that were really ugly and just sort of backwards. Just sort of cooked in an ideology where their worldview became xenophobic because they lived in this nothing.

It is up to interpretation whether Brandy’s characterization can be called “ugly,” but it’s important to note that Brandy was based on people Remender met when he lived in a small rural community in Arizona—not a diverse high school in San Francisco.

Advertisement

Deadly Class is Rick Remender’s vision. That can be a good thing, but it can also present some issues. While there is a diverse group of writers and directors behind the scenes of Deadly Class, many of the characters and journeys still end up feeling filtered through one man’s lens. A lens that’s rooted in nostalgia. It’s Remender’s memories of other people and how he saw them—in some cases, maybe not as they actually were. But just like with Reagan’s mental health crisis of the 1980s, which is explored in Deadly Class through the lens of time and experience, sometimes we can’t look at something just as we thought it was. You need another point of view.

Deadly Class premieres January 16 on Syfy.

Advertisement


For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Santa Puts Asgard to Shame and Technology Rules the World in This Week's Best New Comics

Amanda McKee reflecting on her life.
Image: Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín (Valiant)

This week’s best new comics are all about two of the biggest things on people’s minds around this time of year: Santa Claus, and the inescapable effects of being increasingly connected to our digital devices.

At what point do you think Santa’s elves all realized that the demand for traditional, non-electronic toys was going to keep going way down—and that if they wanted to be able to keep up with the changing ideas about Christmas, they’d have to learn to start building cell phones and tablets?

Advertisement

Klaus and a couple of his friends delivering gifts.
Image: Dan Morra (Boom Studios)

Klaus and the Crying Snowman

Everyone loves a good Christmas fable where a terrible person learns the error of their ways with the help of a little holiday spirit and a visit from Santa Claus. But it’s not often that these stories involve epic conflicts in space with ancient gods hellbent on stealing energy from the sun.

Advertisement

If you took Troy Miller’s Jack Frost and tossed it in a blender with Thor: Ragnarok, you’d end up with a story something like Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus and the Crying Snowman. Sam, a confused snowman, awakens one winter morning melting and, in his panic, stumbles across the path of Klaus, one of the world’s many living Christmas-themed deities responsible for making the holiday possible.

As much as Sam wants to give into the more existential issues weighing on his mind, he quickly gets sucked into Klaus’ war against horrific, living Christmas trees that herald the impending arrival of the Norse deity Surtr. Morra’s illustrations are dynamic and bright—keeping the action high-octane while also leaving ample room for the comic’s more emotionally heavy moments to really resonate with you. It’s a fun, wild, one-shot of a comic and honestly, it reads like the kind of story that should become a Christmas classic. (Grant Morrison, Dan Morra, Boom Studios)

Agent Drake in the midst of a neural hacking.
Image: Andy Diggle, Alessandro Vitti, and Adriano Lucas (Image Comics)

Advertisement

Hardcore

Image’s Hardcore—from Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, Alessandro Vitti, and Adriano Lucas—takes some of the very serious moral questions about drone warfare and spins them into an interesting tale about the next generation military conflict. As part of the Hardcore program, Agent Drake works as a specially-trained “pilot” who hijacks the bodies of unsuspecting (though nefarious) villains and uses them as stealth weapons to take out even more dangerous war criminals and ne’er-do-wells.

As questionable as the practice is on its face, Drake and the other operatives working for Hardcore reason that their methods lead to far lower levels of collateral damage compared to traditional drone strikes. But as is always the case with cutting-edge tech and those deploying it, their morals are…dubious. (Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, Alessandro Vitti, Image Comics)

Advertisement

Amanda searching for the ideal place to call home.
Image: Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín (Valiant)

Livewire

The psiots of Valiant’s Harbinger series have been through hell and back. First thought to be the world’s greatest hope for the future and now turned into social pariahs by humans who don’t understand them, most of the psiots are doing everything to stay under the radar in hopes of living lives as close to “normal” as possible.

Advertisement

But for Amanda McKee, a powerful psiot with the ability to control technology with her mind, merely running for her life was never enough. When she found herself living in a world that was actively hunting down her fellow gifted people, she fought back—and while her actions were heroic, they came with devastating consequences that turned her into public enemy number one.

In writer Vita Ayala and artists Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín’s Livewire, Amanda’s trying to make amends to the people she cares about for the danger she put them in during her pursuit for justice. At the same time, however, she’s steadfast in her belief that she’s got to do whatever it takes to keep psiots safe. Because if she won’t, who will? (Vita Ayala, Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín, Valiant)


For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom. 

Advertisement

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source