Comic Picks By The Glick

Gravel vol. 3: The Last King of England

November 27, 2010

The first volume, “Bloody Liars,” was a lot of fun.  It was about Combat Magician William Gravel killing some very, very bad magicians in imaginative and gruesome ways.  That’s not the highest aim in the world, but it was done with such style and efficiency, and a few clever twists that it didn’t matter.  The second volume, “The Major Seven,” was more of the same, only without the same sense of focus or purpose.  Ultimately it seemed to be about getting Gravel into position as king of England’s magicians for future stories.  Now that we have these stories in volume three, I think that co-writers Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer should’ve quit while they were ahead with the first volume.

Now I liked the first half, which focuses on Gravel recruiting more street-level magicians to be a part of his “Minor Seven.”  We also get some nice threats of the veiled, in the form of government emissary John Bull’s conversations with the magician, and overt, with Bible John’s antics, kinds.  Based on this solid foundation, you’d think that we’d be set for a fairly entertaining supernatural action series.  Imagine “Hellblazer” if John Constantine started packing heat and gave serious thought to training the people who come to ask him about magic instead of scaring them off or getting them killed.

That’s not what happens here as this setup utterly demolished by the end of the volume.  In all honesty, I can see the logic in the series of events that gives us this ending as Gravel has never been about creating things:  He’s a man who destroys pretty much everything he comes in contact with.  His previous adventures have shown ample evidence of this.  Unfortunately, that has the end result of making me go, “Well what was the goddamn point of it all?” with this volume’s conclusion.

Effectively, these three volumes of “Gravel” have accomplished nothing with their chronicle of its main character’s rise King of Britain’s Magicians and subsequent fall.  As a man who lives only to destroy, it would’ve been far more interesting to see him try to create something instead.  That’s why the first half of this volume actually worked.  If Ellis and Wolfer were aiming for a sense of tragedy in Gravel’s failure to transcend his destructive nature, then they needed to build him up more.  By cutting him down just as he was getting started, it’s hard to care about anything that he has lost.

While the end does leave the (small) possibility for more “Gravel” stories open, I really don’t see where else they can go without rehashing what has been done before.  They had an interesting character with Gravel, but now his potential has been ground into dust.  If you haven’t read any of his stories, then I’d recommend you just pick up “Bloody Liars.”  The ending does lead into the second volume a bit, but you’re better off just imagining what those stories would be like than actually reading them yourself.

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