Current Reviews


Gravel #1

Posted: Monday, March 3, 2008
By: Michael Colbert

Warren Ellis & Mike Wolfer
Raulo Caceres
Avatar Press
“Strange Killings” makes a badass jump to regular series, body count already piling up.

Warren Ellis has a long history of writing cantankerous badasses; it’s one of his best modes. Midnighter from The Authority declared with a smile “I love my job” as he used a giant spaceship as a battering ram. His John Constantine wallowed in melancholy, misanthropy and magick. Spider Jerusalem would back up his rants with a gun called the bowel disruptor, which does exactly what you think but with settings ranging from watery to tsunami. These characters and others have no qualms about dispatching naughty folk in nasty, violent, bloody ways and usually follow up with quips that include words such as “arse-rape”, “dog carcass”, and “weasel”. It’s all good fun, if you’re so inclined to gleeful mayhem and one liners that would make Bruce Willis jealous. A curmudgeon is entertaining; a curmudgeon that can freeze you solid, smash you like glass and then say that your shattered body pieces should be fed to rabid wombats is hella entertaining!

Then there is William Gravel. William Gravel is a special forces or MI6 or some secret black-ops dude who combines guns with spells, knifes with incantations, C4 and arcane texts. He harvests bullets from an etheric world called The Body Orchard. He can do gun fighter moves that puts Neo to shame. He can be inside a room slicing you from balls to chin before you even know he’s there. He’s a combat magician. It’s a bloody mash-up of ideas that is so obvious after the fact that it’s a wonder it’s taken this long for it to be a comic book.

Is Gravel cantankerous? You bet. Is he a bad ass? No debate. The one thing that sets him apart from other Ellis characters of this type is he’s not as chatty. This, smartly, brings the high concept action front and center. And what action we got; issue #1 has Gravel visiting a small village and squaring off against some hideous crocodile/rattle snake/cuthulu type monster whose very presence on the material plane is killing birds right out of the sky and poisoning the ground. But that’s not why he’s here. The bigger story is Gravel collecting a magic book called The Sigsand Manuscript; a book so powerful that the circle of magicians Gravel was part of (The Minor Seven) have broken it into 7 sections to protect the fabric of reality. It’s a given that he is going to cut a bloody path through his fellow magicians to unite the book.

The concept is great and executed with the level of quality you’ve come to expect from Ellis. He shares script credits with Mike Wolfer, and it’s pretty seamless, maybe that explains the absence of colorful descriptions of violence you usually get from an Ellis joint and the restraint works for the character. The voice you hear with his internal monologue sounds like a gravely whisky soaked voice calloused over by years of hardcore-seen-it-all violence. His spoken dialogue is more blunt and to the point. Completely in line with a battle hardened killer magician.

Raulo Caceres’ art work has a distinctive indy comic feel, or at this point it might be an Avatar look, but this is not a bad thing. Every panel drips with baroque detail that enhances the creepiness and atmosphere of the title. “Mom” the monster is chilling in a way that gets under your skin and the sequential action is staged clearly so that the high concept logic doesn’t get lost. Greg Waller’s colors also enhance to atmosphere and pervading sense of dread that is necessary for this title to work.

Gravel isn’t a quantum leap in Warren Ellis’s catalogue but really this a character type that he dives into with relish and seems to get the most fun out of writing. The action/horror hybrid rarely works in any medium. Gravel is the rare exception delivering ass kicking and chills in equal measure. He may be a tight-lipped cantankerous badass but as long as this title keeps delivering creepy fun, I’m willing to visit Gravel every month.

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