"The Old Straight Track"
The second book of Gravel is underway, as William Gravel finds himself part of the Major Seven and charged with figuring out who killed Avalon Lake, the magician he is replacing. She was the historian for all of Britain, "the very heart and soul of England," murdered and dismembered in her Place of Power--which should have been impossible to accomplish.
This second chapter is densely written, as Ellis and Wolfer give us Gravel's life story in his own words. For a comic that has been characterized, in both this series and each of the minis that came before, by ultra-violent action and sickeningly bizarre imagery, this one is surprisingly straight forward and character driven.
Gravel is accomplishing something that I was just complaining about in Bendis' Dark Avengers: it is treating magic as a system that must be learned and utilized as such. There's no pointing at an enemy and firing magical lasers. Each magician has a specialization and an armory of spells requiring incantations and sigils for their use.
I read this comic and know that Ellis and Wolfer have thought all of this through. They've cared enough about the crafting of their story, and respected the intelligence of their readers enough, to really pay attention to the details--from the histories of each character to the ways in which each of the Major Seven are tied to an aspect of England. There is quality practically dripping from every page. The good kind, that you can lick off your fingers and savor again and again.
Wolfer's art is maybe the best it's ever been. There's a nice contrast between the realistic scenes taking place on the street, in a shop, and at a diner, and the more fantastic scenes taking place in the Body Orchard and Avalon. Nothing is overdone or exaggerated. Every element is meticulously detailed, from the shelves in the shop to the grotesque "flowers" where Gravel leaves a present for other British Combat Magicians to find.
This book is one of my favorites, and this issue is one of the best written of the series. It has a little bit of everything one wants from an issue of Gravel, and leaves us with a bloody violent cliffhanger that actually took me by complete surprise. It's not often that we seen Gravel on the receiving end of punishment, and this time it's pretty serious. I guess this is what happens when one is drafted to the Big Leagues.
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