If the majority of superheroes are built on science-fiction (most notably the Marvel characters), the fantasy equivalent to them would be magicians, some of the most iconic of which have appeared in the pages of DC. Nowadays, at least in popular culture, the common idea towards wizardry would be Harry Potter and since then, numerous creators have put their own spin on J.K. Rowling’s coming-of-age fantasy. A great example is Excellence, the latest title from Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph for Image.
From the moment he was born, Spencer Dales was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps by being a member of the Aegis, a secret society of black magicians tasked with bettering the lives of others, but never themselves. Through his struggles and especially during his teenage years, Spencer comes to the realization that the Aegis is a broken system in need of someone with the wand and the will to change it.
Considering the aforementioned Harry Potter, Excellence is treading familiar territory within the genre, even as recently as fellow Image title The Magic Order. As this mixture of coming-of-age and wizardry, at the heart of the story is about a young man initially trying to live up to his family’s legacy, only to eventually see the cracks and forming his own identity. In terms of characterization, Spencer is clearly an outsider as evidenced in the initial issue where he hasn’t perfected his skills as a magician is expected to, lacking much support from his father, though the women in his life help. His grandmother (or “GG”)’s presence in particular becomes the motivation for Spencer’s action with sequences that are both uplifting and heartbreaking.
As a comic book about black magicians, created by two black men, I was reminded of the Black Mask Studios title Black, which was about black people having superpowers and dealt very much with issues such as racial tensions. Excellence is less about race – though you do have the Overseer, who is this all-white figure at the higher-up of the Aegis – and really about fighting the establishment, as Spencer fights a flawed system whose intentions may not be good.
Evoking some elements of African-American culture, the word “brother” is significant to the book’s predominantly black cast, especially in the relationship between Spencer and Aaron, someone with his own problems, such as maintaining a romance with a white female. The subtitle of this volume is Kill the Past, which is really about breaking the walls of the Aegis that can be the likes of mixed-race relationships and the declaration of women with a higher authority, due to the use of magic by females not being allowed. Despite the clever world-building, the magic itself is rather all over the place, because every issue is constantly adding new elements that can be hard to follow. The narrative can also jump back and forth, playing with time — and that’s not even to say anything about time travelers, which do appear here.
Despite the level of wand-waving that happens throughout, Khary Randolph draws this like a superhero book, especially with Spencer wearing a long coat that might as well be a cape. It’s beautiful to look at, with some dynamic panel layouts that help with the spectacular action sequences. As flashy as it can be, Randolph knows how to draw subtlety, particularly Spencer’s facial expressions that speak louder than words.
Magic that surrounds this story, even if it can be hard to follow at times. Excellence is well told in its characters and relevant ideas.