On a superficial level Excellence #2 is easily misinterpreted as “Harry Potter meets Marvel’s Black Panther,” and understandably so, but to quickly dismiss the work that creators Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph have put into this title would be a massive disservice to their efforts. Excellence #2 continues to build upon the world of magic with the Aegis at its epicenter. At the core of Excellence #2 lies two distinct but interconnected points of conflict. At the forefront is a heist story set in the backdrop of magic and mysticism. Spencer Dales defies the laws of the order when he attempts to break in (and out) of the Aegis’ inner sanctum to retrieve a sacred healing scroll. Behind Spencer’s defiance toward the Aegis lies the second and more overt conflict Excellence has to offer, the mercurial relationship between Spencer Dales and his father. Excellence #2 is full of magic, mayhem, and fraternal angst; quickly capturing readers imaginations with inspired thrills but reinforcing their interest with relatable themes.
Image Comics describe as follows:
The Aegis protects the world, but not everyone is equal in their eyes. A lesson their newest recruit, Spencer Dales, learns the hard way when he crosses the Aegis’s unseen master: The Overseer!
A Father’s Love, or Lack Thereof
The summary doesn’t seem to capture the emotion that fills the book. One look at the closing thoughts Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph leaves readers with at the end of every issue suggests as much. Granted, Excellence has some flaws, playing into what some may categorize as “tropes,” but Excellence takes hold of formulaic story beats and adds new flavors. Thomas infuses pure emotion and relatability to our protagonist. Spencer is young and ready to take his steps into adulthood, for both his sake and that of his fathers. The inherit expectations, the presumed success, the anticipation of greatness that Spencer is born with fuels the divide between Spencer and his father, a high-ranking magic-user renowned in the Aegis.
The Dales are one of ten original lineages at the source of the community’s adulation. Most magicians show signs of magic manipulation as early as 5-years-old. Much to his father’s dismay, Spencer was a late bloomer. Raymond Spencer began as a doting father, ever present and always teaching young Spencer. But as time wore on, Spencer struggled with his abilities, and Raymond fought to connect with his son. Spencer found fuel for his magic in anger, using his desire to gain Raymond’s favor as a means to become adept at magic. Brandon Thomas uses the love/hate relationship to portray Spencer as a three-dimensional character. Spencer is brash, projecting his disdain for his father onto others; yet his rage is a cover for a young man seeking to both prove his father wrong and gain his approval.
Throughout Excellence #2, Thomas juxtaposes Spencer’s current divide with his father to tender moments of Spencer’s childhood; nurture and disdain represented visually. For every step forward, another is taken back. When Spencer’s grandmother’s illness proves life-threatening, Spencer sees one obvious solution, use Aegis magic to heal her. Raymond Dales sees otherwise; it is not the way of the Aegis. Any concerns Spencer had that the Aegis way of life is flawed is reinforced in one moment. Spencer is everything his father isn’t, if saving his grandmother means obtaining a scroll from the Aegis, then so be it.
The System is Broken
For all the noble efforts of the Aegis, like striving to better the lives of the unknowing public, there remains an equally rigid restriction, like preventing women from wielding magic. The system is flawed. Spencer and his father Raymond are an allegory for the generational divide. Raymond buys into the Aegis and all its rules; Spencer questions their customs; tradition doesn’t equal correctness. It is this generational divide that plays out as Spencer wields his magic to break into the Column, the Aegis term for buildings of high power.
There is a thrill in seeing how Spencer manipulates his way through the Column. Spencer uses sleep spells, Mirror clones, and good old agility and prowess to overcome Aegis security. Again, it is the back and forth that lends the scene gravitas. As Spencer navigates a magic elevator shaft in the present, we cut to Raymond introducing Spencer to the Column (and those elevators) for the first time. Present day madness crashing against memories filled with fondness.
Feast Your Eyes
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the artwork in Excellence. Khary Randolph excels in the role of co-creator and artist. Khary Randolph’s line work, proportions, dynamic movement, and facial expressions are essential to the story. Randolph’s art bleeds “cool” off the page. Every panel is filled with detail, from magicians battling it out in the desert to a little boy beaming with joy on his first elevator ride. The comic book medium is equal parts story and visual representation of said story; the art in Excellence does the plot justice.
Character designs are simply beautiful. I won’t pretend to be able to describe it all on the digital page but give it a look for yourself and enjoy — necklaces, flowing coattails, flashes of lightning magic all service to create this world. My expectations for future issues are high.
It’s still early days for Excellence. Excellence #2 continued the trend of emotional conflict, world-building, and thrilling action. For every moment of excitement, there was an equally profound scene of emotion. The series still carries the stigma of feeling derivative, but I have little doubt that with each new entry Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph can put their own indelible mark on this new world of politics, drama, and magic. The book is toted as being “made entirely by creators of color,” but by no means does Excellence have singular audience appeal, everyone can dive into Excellence and enjoy the results.