The next two chapters in the ongoing tribulations of Ellis and Wolfer’s combat magician, William Gravel are good, with one far better than the other. Strong Medicine has our hero looking into some ritual killings of children which he soon learns ties into his past. Of course, he is going to have to do something about it. Necromancer on the other hand deals with the flavour of the month – or past few years – zombies. Gravel versus the undead does not really seem like too much of a competition.
Strong Medicine was the better of the two series, featuring some advances in Gravel’s powers, different uses and different types of magic. Bringing in African tribal magic, specifically Muti, was a smart move as it opens the book up to all manner of future storylines. Instead of being just a British-North American type of book, it now has become global. The script was tighter than perhaps every previous entry in the series, and took on a more serious tone. Where the other stories were more like watching old sci-fi movies, the atmosphere of this tale was more like watching an episode of a gritty crime thriller or reading a James Patterson novel. It was a nice change of pace compared to the previous volumes and as of this moment, stands out as the best entry in Gravel’s adventures.
Necromancer sort of felt like more of the same from earlier in the series, and a little tired. There was nothing new or even really exciting going on throughout the book. At six issues, it was protracted and probably could have been condensed down to a three issue series. It was not a bad story, but it seemed like something that was pulled out of the drawer to pad out the title until the next storyline of note came along. Even an average Ellis tale is usually better than most other stuff on the stands, so while not the greatest story, it was enjoyable. If you are looking for a book about zombies, read the Walking Dead and skip this one.
Another great improvement over previous series, particularly in issue two of Strong Medicine, is Wolfer’s artwork. His use of light and shade, and particularly perspective, was miles ahead of what he had been doing before. It is nice to see over the course of a series how an artist evolves, and that is exactly what Wolfer accomplishes issue after issue. Ellis has improved as well, finally getting a better handle on the character even though he created him. Before, Gravel just seemed like a Constantine caricature, but now Ellis has infused him with passion and morals, and frankly made him more human. We finally get to see the man beneath the soldier and it is refreshing to see some character development take place.
If reading any series about our beloved combat magician, the one thing that stands out about any of the volumes, is that they all stand alone. There is no need to read any of the previous issues to understand what is going on within the book you hold in your hands, which is one of the best things that Ellis and Wolfer have done with each miniseries. Out of any of them, Strange Medicine is recommended the most, but in its own right, Necromancer is a little fun.
4 out of 5 for Strong Medicine, 3 out of 5 for Necromancer.