William Gravel, simply put, is Avatar’s answer to Vertigo’s John Constantine. He’s a little rough, a little crude and sarcastic as well as a former member of the SAS. What he also is, is a warlock, specifically a combat magician which is where Gravel and Constantine differ. Perhaps limited by what he could do with a property not his own, assumably Warren Ellis decided to craft his own character without any restrictions whatsoever, and bring it to a publisher that would let him have the freedoms to do so.
Avatar Press happened to be that publisher and so it was that Strange Kiss and a second series named Stranger Kisses were published. The first series featured a lizard god, the last of his kind, trying to procreate within the bodies of humans and succeeding to varying degrees. Gravel comes to America and meets with an old friend who just happens to be impregnated with the lizard god’s children. Just before he dies, he makes Gravel promise to take care of the matter, which in the end, Gravel does so.
The second series sees Gravel still in the United States and being hired by a former star as a bodyguard for two hours time. The job is more than it seems as they go to purchase what they believe to be snuff tapes or something or some sort of deviant porn but instead, turns out to be more than it seems. It is also here that Gravel starts to really strut his stuff and show just why he is a combat magician and not some parlour trickster. Stranger Kisses indeed.
Ellis and artist Mike Wolfer do a pretty good job at what they are aiming for, but the problem is that the series does not age well. There is really nothing wrong with it at all, but when reading so many good Constantine stories over the years and then coming to this, it is almost like a pale reflection. It is true that Ellis can get away with a bit more than what Vertigo or DC can do, but with these first two series, while they are imaginative, they are almost forgettable. Perhaps if this had been read before Constantine the situation would have been reversed.
Strange Kiss and Stranger Kisses are good stories, but when reading anything from today, whether from Avatar or another publisher, or even stacking it up against Ellis’ other works such as Supergod or Black Summer, they simply do not shine as bright. Still, a great start to a series that continues on further and which hopefully and more probably, gets better. Looking forward to the rest.
4 out of 5