Created/Written by Brandon Thomas, Created/Art by Khary Randolph, Colors by Emilio Lopez, Letters by Deron Bennett
Things go full-throttle in “Recoil”, the third installment of Excellence, by Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph. The story builds to a fever pitch, creating a nuanced yearning for the next installment.
Rules are the name of the game, as the emphasis shifts to an authoritarian tone. Multiple pages are laid out, with large font warnings and direction. Thomas, ever skillful, sets up the world of Excellence as a foreboding one. The society of the Aegis balances ever so precariously, propaganda against breaking the rules is front and center, Thomas weaves the paranoia of the elite intricately throughout this issue.
Spencer Dales, still trying to find his place at age 16 deals with the repercussions of his actions. Not fitting in with those who brought down his sentence, nor with those, he must police, he internalizes his struggle.
Thomas dutifully shows what the other side of this world of magic holds. People trying to scrape by, desperately seeking any recourse to remain tethered to magic. This small insight into a different populous teases what could come in future issues, if Thomas deems it so. This coupled with the authoritarian aspects of this issue leads one to wonder where this story can go. Allegory and allusions to current real-world strife are not hard to connect. Thomas does a fantastic job of grounding a story fraught with fantasy.
Dales' loyalty to his grandmother, GG is further reinforced, with a touching interaction that only comes from behavior most foul. This balance, the Ying and Yang of Dales's journey is central to Excellence, and it's to Thomas's credit that it never comes off as contrived. Family continues to play a role when Dales speaks to his father about an assignment, this interaction lacks the love and warmth seen earlier, here it's a verbal thrust and parry, words and striking stares shot out, forcefully against one another.
In the end, it comes down to the relationship of Dales and his brother-in-arms, Aaron. The issue builds to this crescendo, a confrontation filled with raw emotion, pacing so quickly each panel can't come quick enough. Despite Aaron's supporting role to this point, Thomas provides a real agency and hints at much more.
Randolph continues his tremendous work. Quiet panels framed as if from The Wire, to dynamic spell-casting, and aerobatic movement, that would leave Dick Grayson impressed. Randolph shows a range and willingness to go beyond the cliché, tired, and worn progression. So much of Dales's emotion is set on his face, Randolph makes each squint and snarl echo off the page. This is complemented by Lopez's colors. Situating each different character in stark contrasting colors, with defined hues, helps establish their agency as well.
Thomas continues to weave a tale, both contemporary and fantastic, at home on any late-night drama, or tucked away in a fantasy-driven YA novel. Accio Excellence #4!