Excellence #3 enriches an already exceptional series by adding layers of depth, action, and most importantly, poignant themes to the rich narrative. Base level comparisons can be made; likening the book to Black Panther meets Harry Potter, for starters. However, co-creators Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph are establishing Excellence as a series with its own identity that captures the hearts and minds of its readers. Issue 3 presents its themes of responsibility, dependency, and karmic turnabout with overt clarity: “Every single thing that we do…it always comes back.” Rather than coming off as pandering, the issue explores the subject with depth, infusing the story with symbolism and conflict that hammers home the very themes it initially presented.
Issue 3 catches up with Spencer Miles on his new assignment as an enforcer for the Aegis. His team rounds up Magicians selling “Quicks” to former Order members stripped of their magic by the Aegis. Quick Wands (AKA Quicks) are wands with a finite magical limit, but The Order cannot track them. For Spencer, the assignment is a “punishment” for his transgressions against The Overseer, but anyone without the last name Dales would have received far worse. Things take a turn from the worse when Spencer receives his newest assignment from his father. Aaron Miles, Spencer’s pseudo brother, has a romantic relationship with a charge (Persons of interest the Order is sworn to protect). Aaron is reduced to low-level assignments after trying to prevent Spencer from stealing a rare magic artifact. It was Spencer’s rash actions, but Aaron felt the brunt. Spencer reluctantly takes the assignment, and the inevitable battle between brother vs. brother is underway.
Quick Wands – A Temporary Answer for A Long-term Problem
As I continue to enjoy the Excellence series, I find myself seeking the details and metaphors the author implements into the story. Quick wands appear to be a loose metaphor for drugs or dependent stimulants. The Aegis (a Government stand-in) regulates wands, forcing magicians to use them as they see fit, on their terms, despite outcast magicians need for them. A little too close to home for some.
But the idea works well. Spencer uses his current position to obtain Quick Wands for their ability to remain untraceable. His Grandmother, GG, remains catatonic; but the power of the wands grants Spencer her fleeting moments of clarity. The moments are a gift and a curse for Spencer. Each visit brings a sense of joy as he converses with GG, showing a far more caring side to Spencer than usual. A welcome change to the stoic young man he presents to the world. Unfortunately, the brevity of these moments is a harsh reminder of GG’s situation and the inciting incident for the current state of affairs. Page 14 captures the moment with an artistic flourish and emotional impact. Spencer’s reliance on Quick Wands grows ever more dangerous with each use.
Do Unto Others – Karmic Turnabout
The idea of Karma is presented heavily in Excellence #3, both literally and figuratively. The notion that what happens to a person happens because they caused it with their actions or lack thereof. It may be a cliché, but it doesn’t make the idea any less impactful. Writer Brandon Thomas adds another layer to the world of Excellence; allowing the notion of Karma to take literal form. When a mage uses a spell with a registered wand against another member, that very same spell hits the caster as well. Karma, taking physical shape.
Figuratively speaking, Thomas implements Karma into the story as well. Spencer’s attempt to steal a rare artifact has affected himself and those around him. Spencer’s current situation (however misinterpreted), The Dale family’s fall from Grace, and the tumultuous relationship between Spencer and his Father are all the after-effects of decisions these people have made. By no means do I anticipate this reoccurring theme to end with Excellence #3. As the series continues, fans can look forward to the repercussions of a character’s actions. It feels right at home using Karma in the explicit story beats to establish a more ambiguous theme the writer is trying to get across.
The Brotherhood of Man
The saying stems from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel (and popularized in pop culture; New Jack City, for example). After Cain had murdered his brother Abel, God asks Cain where Abel was. Cain replies: “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” Spencer refers to the saying during a narrative caption; failing to take responsibility for Aaron’s interference all those years ago. Ironically, the words seem lost on Spencer. The words have come to symbolize man’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for the welfare of their “brothers” in the universal sense of the term. Various religions have concluded that people do have this responsibility.
The issue splendidly uses narrative boxes to exemplify Spencer’s internal conflict. Does Spencer genuinely feel that he had no part in Aarons current state, or is he merely convincing himself of the reality of the situation? The latter is more likely, but Aaron must come to terms with his choices as well. But therein lies just one example of what makes the issue so good. Spencer is flawed; he’s human… and relatable. Spencer isn’t an unwavering moral compass, but a boy on the brink of manhood struggling to find himself; and audiences are along for the ride. There’s a duality to Spencer’s thoughts and actions. He knows the rules of the Order are antiquated, but his burgeoning ethics are at odds with his desire to please his father and seek atonement.
With every issue, Thomas continues to gear the story towards the inevitable confrontation between Spencer and the Overseer. Excellence #2 provided a glimpse of Spencer battling it out with the Overseer in the near future. Instead of coming off as a spoiler, it gives nuance to the story beats in the present. Spencer’s growing mistrust of the Order builds with every issue; understandably so. Despite their outward appearance of altruism – The Aegis does strive to better the lives of the “worthy” -there are more revelations with each issue proving The Aegis to be far more Orwellian than initially presented. It works well to allow the audience to gain insight and empathy from Spencer current state of mind, lending gravitas to what surely will become his denouncement of The Aegis. What remains unsaid, but implied is how this will further destroy the relationship between Spencer and his father.
Khary Randolph’s artwork continues to shine. Every issue is simply beautiful, worthy of the price point. Each subsequent issue seems to have at least one page that perfectly captures the emotional weight of the scene in terms of both pencil work and layout. Colorist Emilio Lopez’ bright hues and tones coincide effortlessly with Randolph’s art. Every panel, page, and issue “pops.”
The Low Down
With so much going for it, it’s hard to deny how impressive Excellence #3 proves to be. Gorgeous art, a well-paced story, moving themes, and over-the-top magic action add to the titles growing likeability. If Excellence #3’s cliffhanger is any indication, fans are in store for even more gratifying storytelling come next month. If there’s room on your pull list, even if there isn’t, do yourself a favor and give Excellence #3 a chance.