Writer: Brandon Thomas
Artist: Khary Randolph
Colorist: Emilio Lopez
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Cover Artists: Khary Randolph, Emilio Lopez (Visions of Excellence Variant); Emilio Lopez (One Stop Comics Variant)
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Associate Editor: Arielle Basich
Logo and Production Design: Andres Juarez
Publisher: Image Comics
Even people who can use magic have complicated family issues. Excellence #1 introduces us to Spencer Dales, the son of a prominent magician from a family line that is more or less magical royalty. We look back at Spencer’s early life—full of happy memories—and its progression into a frustrated father-son relationship that is caused by Spencer’s slow progress in learning magic.
As Spencer grows, he learns that his rage gives him his power, which he uses to go through the trials to advance from Rook to Patron. However, a family tragedy strikes, which sets Spencer on a path that challenges the established order.
When you go to pick up your comics on new comicbook day, you might notice that this issue seems a little thicker than the others. While this issue runs around 40 pages, it’s likely you’ll get through this double-sized issue quicker than most standard-sized comicbooks. It’s a fast-paced, engaging read that leaves you wondering why it couldn’t have been 80 pages long.
One of the aspects about Excellence that quickly became apparent to me was the amount of world-building that Thomas did. You get a simplified look at part of it right away with the “Four Walls” that are established. These Walls give you an idea that the magic world in this story follows a structure that some might consider to be stuck in the past.
While it’s almost an inevitable (and unfortunate) fact that anything having to do with magic and wands will be compared to Harry Potter, there were elements of this that gave me shades of the rules of The Wheel of Time (women—instead of men like WoT—can’t use magic, and Spencer has Nynaeve-like magic abilities) and design layouts of Black Panther. At the end of the day, though, the story of Excellence is uniquely its own. It is truly a well-written book that has some lines that cause you to pause and think (“We can be nothing far easier than we could be something”).
Front and center of the story is the relationship between Spencer and his father. The voice-over narration tells us that Spencer longs for that connection that he remembered having as a child as we watch him struggle with his studies. Even worse, he notices his father favoring other boys who are excelling at their studies. Spencer lives for the moments where his father is proud of him and embraces him. This was almost hard to read since I was all-too-familiar with these feelings as a young adult.
At the same time, I almost left the book wishing that the complicated relationship had been left as subtext, while we are faced with the rigid and perhaps brittle rules of the world that Spencer occupies. Showing us instead of telling us about the relationship allows the reader to make that discovery. Regardless, the heart of the story is the relationship and the theme of legacy, so I didn’t mind it too terribly.
As hard as it is to find a critique of the story, it’s almost impossible to find anything wrong with the art in this book. Randolp’s crisp lines and beautifully detailed world is given extra life by the characters he draws that feel almost life-like. Top that with Lopez’s ability to use subtle and bright colors at the right moments, and this book is undeniably wonderful to look at. Bennett does a great job clarifying the speaking and the voice narration with his careful lettering, and, although it was such a small detail, I loved the way he designed the circles that give us Spencer’s age.
All in all, this is a book that is well-deserving of the title Excellence. In this first issue, we are introduced to the complicated familial relationship that is sure to blow up around the powder-keg that is Thomas’s well-thought out world building. It may be a world where people can use magic, but the obstacles they face are all-too real.