In anticipation of Avatar’s planned relaunch of Warren Ellis’s Gravel, there was an entire series to go through first. Consisting of twenty-one issues, the first volume of Gravel presented three story arcs about Gravel’s rise to the top of all magicians in Britain to his eventual downfall and resumption of his role as a combat magician. It would take Gravel outside of his comfort zone sometimes, but in the end, would advance the character like he had never been before. Featuring art by Mike Wolfer and Oscar Jiminez as well as words by both Ellis and Wolfer, the series actually provided a beginning, a middle and an end which was nice to see and did not leave any plot holes open or unfinished, though perhaps a question or two that would keep readers intrigued should the character ever return.
The first arc details Gravel taking on his former allies in the Minor Seven and reassembling a mystical tome called the Sigsand manuscript. He only does so when he realises that the rest of the seven have replaced him, as he himself was counted among them at one point. Due to his commitments to the SAS and his travels across the globe, the Minor Seven deemed his place forfeit and elected another in his place with the Sigsand as the entrance fee. Gravel of course does not take kindly to this and with a mysterious benefactor so to speak, he eliminates them one by one.
The second story sees Gravel elected to the Major Seven magicians of Britain and his discovery that his accomplice in the killings of the Minor is one of them. It seems the Minor Seven were corrupt and no longer serving the people of Britain, but only themselves and so like any cancer, they had to be removed. By happenstance, it also seems as if one of the Major Seven have also been killed and when asked to investigate, Gravel uses his newfound abilities to not only find the killer, but to elevate himself to the king of all magicians in Britain by killing each and every one of them.
The third and final arc sees Gravel trying to assemble a new Minor Seven and settling into his newfound role. Gravel has two problems that start to show themselves, one being the British government who surprisingly know who he is when they should not, and second, a third rate magic user he turned away from the Minor Seven. Unbeknownst to him, this magician starts murdering people by the dozen, as well as killing the new Minor Seven that Gravel has elected, before taking on the man himself and undoing everything Gravel has worked for and leaving him with nothing.
The ongoing title, or extra-long limited series, has Gravel doing what he does best – investigating and removing anything that stands in his way from accomplishing his goal. The one thing a bit different from the previous volumes is Gravel’s portrayal. Where he seemed more like John Constantine then, he seems a bit more Frank Castle now. He is more calculating and careful of the situations he goes into and his moral compass is a bit more defined. He looks out for the little guy, and tries not to put the public in harm’s way. Of course he still uses magic, and very inventively to do what he needs to do, but it shows a nice evolution to his character that the previous set of books possibly could not do. Another nice addendum to the character was delving into his past and his upbringing which would give us insights into his motivations for being a combat magician. Having an ongoing series really let Ellis and Wolfer explore Gravel more without being restricted to a set number of issues to do so in.
Magic of course features prominently in the book and an interesting fact to this series was how everything about it runs in seven’s. There are three acts at seven issues each, the Minor Seven, the Major Seven and so on. Assumably it was planned this way due to the nature of the number seven and its purported relevance and power in magic and mysticism. There is of course all manner of magic and many different ways in which it is portrayed throughout the series. One girl’s magic works on physical attraction, another by self-harming and some is just your straight-up incantations, but no matter the how’s or why’s, Ellis and Wolfer make it as original as possible and quite often, give us something we have never seen before.
There are a lot of things that this book has going for itself, aside from Mike Wolfer and Warren Ellis. One was Oscar Jiminez on the book who gave us another view of the character which we have never been privy to, prior to this point. Wolfer has illustrated every issue to date, so having another artist on the book helped to freshen it up, if only for a little. It was also good to see Wolfer co-writing as well. He has been at the publisher for many years and having him both write and draw shows some faith on Avatar’s and Ellis’s part. One of those questions the book leaves us with is what happens to Gravel at the end? For a long time, fans were left to figure that out with their imaginations, but soon with a new series on the horizon, they will not have to wonder any longer. Gravel turned out to be a very smart and well developed series both conceptually and in execution and well worth picking up.
4.5 out of 5