Created/Written by Brandon Thomas, Created/Art by Khary Randolph, Colors by Emilio Lopez, Letters by Deron Bennett, Published by Image Comics
In the sophomore outing of Excellence, Brandon Thomas utilizes time jumping narrative to reflect and refine a truly engaging story.
Issue two finds frustrated protagonist, Spencer Dales dealing with the imminent danger of his grandmother and the unwillingness of his father to act in her best interest. As Spencer enacts a plan to do what is forbidden, yet what he feels is absolutely necessary, the story delves into his past, a more recent history, and the present.
By utilizing this narrative structure, Thomas allows the reader to fully embrace the internal struggle of Dales. Moments in his past build the character of Dales, infusing his core with his father's teachings. In the recent past, the sins of his father come to the forefront. Damning Dales both in action and in spirit. In the present, he seeks redemption, not only for himself but for those he's wronged along the way.
Portraying a protagonist as genuinely unlikable is a bold move for Thomas. Dales lashes out against family and friends, too often hand-waving the help he so desperately needs. Growth does not come easy in the world Thomas has built, and our spirited hero suffers as a result. But that pain is earned. Each choice and resulting consequence feels heavy and impactful.
While family themes remain a central element in Excellence, it's interesting that through the first two issues only two female characters have been introduced, GG, Spencer's Grandmother, and his unnamed mother. Before the issue begins, a listing of Four Wills mentions that women are not meant to hold magic, and it seems as though Thomas is building to something grander. The structure of this story remains thoughtful and lean. Hopefully the omission of female characters is intentional and meant to build into later issues.
Randolph's inks continue to match the high bar set by Thomas's words. The angst sits upon Dales's 15 yr-old face, as fiery and resolute as any image of Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter. While at 19, the stern determination Dales displays leaves no doubt of intention. Panel pace is quick and clean. The reader is never pushed too far ahead of the story. The jagged outlines of the figures make each swing of a wand that more pronounced. Randolph pushes and pulls the characters creating a masterful tapestry of visual storytelling.
Thomas and Randolph continue to weave a story equaling compelling and mystifying. Tight and with near limitless potential. It remains difficult to patiently wait to see what they conjure up next.