Created/Written by Brandon Thomas, Created/Art by Khary Randolph, Colors by Emilio Lopez, Letters by Deron Bennett.
To say that Excellence is my most anticipated read each month is an understatement. Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph continue to up the ante, all while maintaining a tight and evocative narrative in Excellence #4 “Soul Burn Slow.”
Gigantic reveals are stealthily laid out in the latest chapter of Spencer Dales's life. The aftermath of his battle with Aaron is told in pieces, with equal time given to each combatant. This allows for insight and growth from each participant, in almost a blow-by-blow commentary.
As always the family dynamic is at the forefront, Dales's troubled issues with his father are addressed again, but it never feels like a retread, instead it is simmering, building steadily, bubbling over in every word between the two. Aaron's journey takes him in a different direction, the more mature of the two young men, he accepts his fate, yet there seems to be something behind his eyes, and it'll be interesting to see what Thomas does in future issues.
The reader is treated to a first appearance, an in the making conversation, that jolts, and ultimately upends the rules Thomas has set in Excellence. Expertly done, Thomas shatters the notion of the Four Walls, calling into question their purpose, and the reader's faith in this structure. Again, Thomas lays crumbs for further exploits, the possibilities endless, and enticing.
As a result of the battle of wizards, Aaron and Spencer become more than colleagues, rivals, or even brothers, they share a piece of them, imprinted on the other. This allows for insight previously unknown, each compelling the other to see their own side. This narrative will be familiar to anyone who's seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi and one could argue it's done even better here, to Thomas's credit.
Randolph and Lopez work in tandem, bathing each panel with dynamic lines and bold, page-filling colors. Lopez's work with hue, eliciting emotion with grouped blues and greens, then yellows, oranges, and reds is quite splendid. Randolph continues to master the transition from big, explosive battle scenes, to tight, nuanced facial close-ups. One could flip through each page, no dialogue or narration, and still come away in awe.
The issue ends, asking an important question. The answer will drastically affect the lives of Spencer and Aaron. Relationships always at Excellence's core, “Soul Burn Slow” tackles structure, and faith, in one's self, and the structure which maintains society. Thomas is weaving an epically layered tale. The cohesion Thomas, Randolph, and Lopez display is spellbinding. Excellence moves well past the barrier of its publisher's namesake. Not sky-bound, its potential is limitless.