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Gravel #4

Posted: Saturday, August 30, 2008
By: Paul Brian McCoy

Warren Ellis & Mike Wolfer
Oscar Jimenez, Juanmar (c)
Avatar Comics
"Ascension by Assassination"

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite comics. You see, I've always had a soft spot for the old modern magician/occult detective trope. When John Constantine appeared all those years ago it was a wonderful day for me. I even enjoyed Clive Barker's film Lord of Illusions (the director's cut, anyway, where things actually made sense) and the short stories that inspired it, involving the character, Harry D'Amour. And the John Silence stories by Algernon Blackwood are very good, too. I've only read a couple of Brian Lumley's Titus Crow novels, but they were entertaining, and I have nothing but praise for Charles Stross and his Bob Howard stories (for a variation on the theme offering an IT/espionage flavor).

I remember the first time I stumbled across Bill Gravel. It was the trade for his first adventure, Strange Kiss, and it was severely disturbed. Stranger Kisses was either just being released or was about to be, and I knew I had to have that too. And it was even more bent. Not only was it just disturbing and disgusting, but the idea of a "combat magician" was brilliant. I'd never heard of such a thing and fell in love immediately.

So Gravel now, finally, has an ongoing series and we are four issues in to the first seven-issue arc. Ellis has three seven-issue arcs planned as the first book. Then another 21 issue run is planned to follow that, I believe. So far, each issue has been better than the one before it.

Even though the story had the potential to become repetitive and possibly boring, Ellis and Wolfer have made sure to give each issue a singular quality and make each of Gravel's confrontations with the other magicians of the Minor Seven distinct and surprising. And after a scheduling problem that caused a lot of delays, the title seems to be back on track with the arrival of artist Oscar Jimenez.

Jimenez' name sounded familiar, so I looked him up and it turns out he's worked with Ellis before. Over ten years ago, in fact, on Stormwatch. He's also responsible for the art in Grant Morrison's JLA eight and nine, which brought me back to that book when I had dropped it due to being just bored with the first storyline.

His artwork here is pretty different, as he's inking his own work. At times it's just fantastic, while at other times, he goes a little overboard with the shading lines. If this were a black and white book then it would work fine, but since Juanmar's colors are providing shading and textures, the line work isn't really necessary in all the shots.

If you've only ever seen Wolfer's version of Gravel, Jimenez' work may come as a shock. It's extremely realistic and, in my opinion, brings the book to a whole new level. A large portion of this issue is a long fight scene between Gravel and a number of acolytes of one of the Minor Seven, and it's very nicely choreographed, with only a panel or two, out of around sixty panels, being unclear. Yes, I said around sixty panels. This fight goes on for eleven and a half pages and it's awesome.

Buy this book. Buy the previous issues if you've missed them. This is just the fourth issue so it shouldn't be any hardship. Especially with all the variant covers Avatar publishes of each issue. There should be some around to be had. It's a good, brutal, and refreshing take on the concept of the magician in modern comics, and with each consecutive issue it becomes one of the best ever.



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