Rick Remender, Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge's "Deadly Class" #4 finds our protagonists on a bonding road trip off to kill the dad of one kid, and naturally, to pick up cheap drugs to sell to their classmates upon their return. Obviously this turns into an acid trip gone horribly -- and hilariously -- wrong.
Remender's placement of the road trip in the story is wise, because it's an awesome chance to have these characters bond in fun, and soon to be much less fun, circumstances. Though this particular issue is almost entirely a hilarious romp, there is evil lurking just outside the edges of our anti-heroes' mindless adventure. In fact, Remender actually starts the book in the police station, with our primary anti-hero, Marcus, unable to remember the previous events and covered in blood. It all means something, not just from a wonderful character development point of view, but also because badness is absolutely afoot and Remender raises the stakes appropriately throughout.
Though Remender's story is funny and smart, the unequivocal stars of the issue are Craig's illustrations and Loughridge's colors. The execution of Marcus' drug overdose and subsequent trip is absolutely magnificent. The choices made range from subtle to absolutely balls to the wall unsubtle, and it's a beast of an acid trip -- one worthy of Hunter S. Thompson and, appropriately, taking place in the Nevada desert and Las Vegas. Most artists would take an acid trip as an excuse to play havoc with panel borders, but Craig keeps it reigned in, never breaking his traditional layouts and relying on trippy images and Loughridge's masterful colors to bring it all home.
The trip plays especially well in contrast to the rest of the book, which is more controlled and sedate, though still innovative in its storytelling choices. Craig's character work gets better with every issue, and he's particularly hilarious here as he shows us the students under the influence as their relationships to one another both change and solidify.
Loughridge is nothing short of masterful throughout. He absolutely bathes scenes in evocative and yet appropriate colors -- a desaturated grayish tone for Marcus' time in "the ditch," followed by a scene absolutely alight with the orange of a hot desert, then the moody cool blues of that same desert at night. It's stunning color work and it gives the issue so much depth and purpose, things that could easily be lost in such a fun issue that features a free-wheeling drug-suffused road trip.
"Deadly Class" has been impressive from the start with its bold, aggressive and unapologetic concept and commitment to that concept. However, issue number four is the best issue yet, by a good distance, and I'm on the edge of my seat to see what this creative team will bring next.