Sam Thorne reviews Excellence #1…
Magic has always had an odd place in the pantheon of comic book tropes. In regards to comics, most of us probably think of brand name magicians such as Dr. Strange, Zatanna or Dr. Fate, all of which are characters who typically fade into the background when placed near their respective publisher’s leading lads and ladies. While magic is such a powerful and interesting concept in other forms of media, in the comic realm, it tends to blend in as just one of many possible schools of discipline for a colourfully-clad hero, or devious villain. In that vein, sorcery always seems to fall by the wayside and isn’t something that’s widely celebrated in comics for the most part.
That being said, Skybound Entertainment and Image Comic’s latest #1 looks to put magic and sorcery in the limelight of the funny pages once again. Behind the freshly printed Excellence #1 is creator and writer Brandon Thomas (Horizon, Voltron), accompanied by artist and co-creator Khary Randolf (Tech Jacket, We Are Robin).
Excellence #1 starts with a helpful diagram depicting the Aegis – a futuristic skyscraper which houses a society of magicians who exist in a colour-coded caste system, immediately making me think of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, A Brave New World. The story proper starts with the birth of Spencer Dales, born to one of the most prominent magical family clans. We see Spencer grow older page by page, but his magical aptitude struggles, leading his proud father to doubt and lose faith in him.
Upon his fifteenth birthday, Spencer must face an aegis assessment – essentially a magical field op designed to test his mystical talents and ultimately to deem whether he is worthy to continue his family’s line. Spencer eventually succeeds, although not by traditional means. His father and he share a heartfelt moment, before tragedy strikes, as the eldest of the Dale clan, Spencer’s grandma, falls ill leaving us on a cliff-hanger for issue #1.
First of all, Brandon’s building of Spencer Dale as a protagonist is great. Spencer is defined as someone who is not naturally gifted at magic, he is someone who is behind the curve, someone who has to try harder than everyone else to keep up, someone who is frustrated and full of anger at his failures. He’s not the prodigal son, he’s not a Harry Potter type at all. In reality, it’s the drama of the Dale lineage that’s at the forefront of the story here, while the mystical elements mostly take a backseat. As far as the writing goes for #1, it’s punchy, lays a lot of foundation, and casts a wide and deep hook for issue 2.
Khary Randolf’s pencil work does a good job of fleshing out the magic of Excellence. The dialogue itself is not inherently that magical, it’s the visuals that bring the spellcasting to life, it’s the colour and shading that adds depth to the world’s futuristic and mystical aesthetic. Going forward, I could still see this being ramped up even more, it’s a mystical world and there’s no excuse for that to not be present in almost every panel.
Overall, the foundation of Excellence #1 is well built and kudos for Image & Skybound for once again releasing something that’s off the beaten path. I did enjoy it and am curious as to where Brandon Thomas will take the series in its first few story arcs. The only real criticism I had is that the issue was all about brick laying and not so much about hooking us, it just could have used a little more bite. While it wasn’t among the most exciting issue #1’s I have read, I’m still very much keen to see what this creative team has to give.