Writer: Brandon Thomas / Artists: Khary Randolph, Emilio Lopez, and Deron Bennett / Image Comics/Skybound
I almost skipped on Excellence. The world is full of comics and believe me, I’ve got so many on my reading list that something gets missed every week. But my comic shop guy pressed this comic into my hands with the look of a man changed by a comic, so I gave it a shot.
Dang, my comic shop guy is the best.
Excellence #1 is a chilling introduction to a new reality, the first step into a world that is magical and futuristic, while still being deeply grounded. Oh, it is all Black as you can imagine. I’m talking Nakia in Wakanda reading Native Son, listening to Kendrick and getting her hair braided while someone tries to sell her incense, Black. The references and implications sprinkled throughout tell me this is a book that takes that Blackness seriously. They are going to take us new places, and I can look forward to the trip.
One: Kill The Past
Spencer Raymond Dales is a Legacy. He’s a Black boy born into a line of Black magicians, all members of The Tenth. These magicians are sworn to protect those who are worthy, never to use their magic for their own benefit. But Spencer has some challenges, not the least of which is living up to the expectations of his father. You know how it is when your father is the president of the local (name your favorite fraternity here) chapter, and he’s expecting you to go to Morehouse, but you’re not sure you’re bout that life? Yeah, like that.
In building this world, Thomas and Randolph (co-creators here) start with the fundamentals. A parent-child situation full of tension, the love of a grandmother, a mother who’s protective but invisible, competitive brothers and cousins, and a solid line-up. The aesthetic is definitely Afro-future, perhaps a little too predictably so, with plenty of Art Deco line work and illuminated glyphs. At the same time, the characters are visually unique, carefully styled, and dripping with a next-gen cool that makes the pages fun. The panel work is good, with patterns of panel placement leading the reader easily through the story, despite the panel-breaking magic that rips through some spreads.
This is an issue that leaves you with more questions than answers, but they are answers I desperately want. I want to know more about the magic system. I want to know how the system decides who gets protected and who doesn’t. And significantly, are the “protected” always white? Mostly, I want to know what the deal is with the enigmatic “rules” on the first page.
Thomas and team have an intriguing setting combined with a tale about being a parent and a child, in a world that doesn’t always make sense. It is both futuristic, and perhaps timeless. I’m excited by where it is going.
If you’re reading Black Panther, you need to pick this one up too. This is Black excellence and you’re not going to want to miss it.
7.5 out of 10