By Zack Quaintance — First things first, Excellence #1—the new comic from Brandon Thomas (Horizon, Catalyst Prime: Nobel) Khary Randolph (Mosaic), Emilio Lopez, and Deron Bennett—has an incredibly powerful opening scene. And it’s not the usual comicbook thing of fiddling with time to put an explosion, violence, or death up front. No, in Excellence #1 the opening scene finds its power in the universal while at the same time setting the tone for the themes that will drive the book.
This comic starts with its narrator being born. Like, really being born. The second panel is an umbilical cord being cut and the third is a nurse showing the child to his parents. Our script starts its narration proper with Every story I have ever loved, that has ever meant anything to me, was really about one thing...he goes on to note that the specifics of these stories don’t matter to him—it could take place during any time, happen in any place, with people who didn’t look anything like me—before telling the audience that the type of story he’s describing is about fathers and sons. This narration is as poetic as it is effective. It lets us know what we’re in for and also sort of tips to the audience that even if you think magic is wacky, or if you don’t look anything like the characters, there’s something here for you. It’s all very well done.
And the writing remains strong throughout, like it grabs the audience by the hand at the start and guides them through the journey. The art is just as strong. Randolph is a vastly underrated comicbook artist who I’m happy to see doing creator-owned work here, rather than the work-for-hire superhero books. His sharp and stylish linework creates a fresh feeling for stories about wizards, be it in the characters wardrobes or when the fantastical spells are being cast, creating duplicates of wizards who can run up the sides of buildings. Basically, this is clearly not Harry Potter. Randolph, Thomas, and the rest of the creative team also give us great scenes inherent to the cultural experience of their characters.
We get background about wizardry in between the protagonist’s grandmother cutting his hair, threatening to mess with the sharpness of his line if he insists on being in a grumpy mood. We get spells cast from characters wearing pristine high tops with hip jackets. We get a comic that is singular in its themes, dialogue, and designs, an interesting conflux of real culture and comicbook wizarding. That’s all really a bonus, though.
As the narrator suggests at the start, the real core of this story is the father-son stuff. It’s not just that though, it’s family. Excellence is a book about family. Beyond that, there is also really powerful subject matter about continuing to fight for change that serves an entire community even at great risk and suffering to your own person. The entire point of the powerful wizardry going on here is not to accomplish something new or grandiose, it’s to continue a long tradition of shielding those who most need it. What a concept. There’s quite a bit more to this book than all of that, but to say pretty much anything else here would be to risk spoilers. Essentially, Excellence #1 is heady and meaningful, conjuring up one hell of a debut comic.
Overall: Phew, this is one fantastic comic, with everything from the script to the concept to the linework feeling new and urgent and endlessly complex. Rich with universal themes of sacrifice, pride, and family, Excellence #1 is the start of something special. 9.8/10
Writer: Brandon Thomas
Artist: Khary Randolph
Colorist: Emilio Lopez
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: Image Comics - Skybound
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.