By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
In comic book stores May 8th.
Excellence is a terrific comic book series soon to be released by Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment. It arrives in stores a little more than a month after the Netflix program, The Order, debuted. It’s merely coincidence that both are similar. Core to the central tale is in how both heroes are out to disrupt the secret societies they are entering into because of something they did (or now represent). I’m being vague as to not spoil the fun in reading the first issue.
Writer Brandon Thomas (Voltron) and artist Khary Randolph (Noble, Tech Jacket) has been working on their version for the past two years and their work takes a bit of inspiration from here and there. Their story concerns Spencer, a young lad coming of age and thinking he has all the answers. The Aegis are the guardians of humanity, if not the protectors of sacred knowledge. When this lad is about to be inducted, he learns about the things they have done and figures there are better ways to deal with it. However, in what he proposes, not everyone agrees.
I chatted with Randolph about this work during Emerald City Comic Con 2019, and what readers can expect:
Whose brainchild is the comic?
That genesis was Brendan’s. He approached me with this idea about two years ago. He had me in mind when he was laying the foundation and from there we combined our creative juices, got the talents we wanted together and fleshed out the world.
In the first issue, the intro from Brendan saying he had an epiphany. Did you have one too? Or was there something else which inspired you while drawing?
It’s funny. The things that touched me most in this book were not really the bulky sci-fi stuff. It was the quiet moments. There are certain scenes in the first issue, for example, that really resonated with me. The scenes with Spencer and his grandmother, GG, was based on mine.
The scene where she’s cutting Spencer’s hair was based on my times with her. She also owned a hair salon and we had conversations similar to what’s in the book. [As an artist,] you’re always having to figure out how the visuals and the emotions you wish to express are properly laid out for the reader to understand.
Excellence covers a lot of ground, not only in its social commentary but also with a young African-American kid having a lot of problems. What would you say they are?
The book deals a lot with family, with race and with class [social order]. I think it’s these moments lots of people can relate to, regardless of what your background or ethnicity is.
Everyone has relationships with their fathers, their mothers, and their grandmothers that I helped build. And a lot of times, as young men we tend to idolize our fathers. But at some point, you also want (as Bill did in the comic) to become your own person.
In terms of direction, and getting to know Spencer in the first issue, I cannot help but want to compare him to all the problems Aqualad faced in Young Justice. Would you agree or disagree?
I can see that. When we were writing up his bio, I was looking at Michael B Jordan. And we created him before Black Panther, the movie, came out. There’s some influence there.
What are some of the other messages?
I think it’s really about broken systems and how you approach that mess. At some point, as a black person, you kind of float through… You better figure out how to navigate through [the chaos] and hopefully, you try to make the world a better place. What we, as creators, do in the comic book medium is to educate readers when we can.
Not everyone has positive role models to look up to growing up. I didn’t have one when I was young and wished I did.
This book is about fathers and sons. It’s also about how you can improve the future for everybody.
Throughout the series, what can we expect of the hero as he gets to understand this new world?
Issue one provides the spark for Spencer to learn things aren’t right in this world. Issue two will see him intervening. He really starts in earnest trying to fix the world as he sees it. As a young person, you have ideas. You want to jump headfirst into things that maybe you’re not prepared for.
We’ll show Spencer how it’s not quite as easy as you think it is to fix things overnight. He gets beat up pretty harshly. Sometimes, you have to plan. And there are reasons why things are. As they say in show biz, stay tuned.