Last week, it was announced that Warren Ellis’s “Gravel” has been optioned for a film with Ellis tapped to write the initial screenplay and executive produce the feature. This week, the ongoing version of the title reaches the conclusion of its second story arc as William Gravel, former Sgt. Major and current combat magician/member of England’s magic ruling class the Major Seven, reveals who killed his predecessor in the group and deals with the consequences.
If there’s been one recurring element in the pages of “Gravel,” it’s that everyone always underestimates William Gravel. He’s just a dumb soldier, they think, always secure in their own abilities because they’re of a higher class or breeding or education, failing to remember that he is a combat magician, someone who specializes in using magic to kill people. This issue presents that idea, but also subverts it, providing a reveal of Lady Avalon’s killer that isn’t entirely surprising where the motivation for the killing is. Not only that, we find out exactly how the Minor Seven came to think Gravel dead before the series began, setting the events that have carried it to this point into motion.
Now, no one goes into this issue thinking that Gravel is going to do anything but win, which is why Ellis and Mike Wolfer cleverly give him his victory and use it to put Gravel in a place where he doesn’t want to be. It’s almost like one person’s actions have determined that he would end up where he is and, when he realizes that, he can’t help but react poorly. All he ever really wanted was some peace and quiet, and the occasional pint, and that’s far from what he gets by the end of this issue.
For all that, though, this issue is a little anti-climactic as Gravel doesn’t really struggle here. He’s grown so powerful and confident over the past 13 issues that this final confrontation comes off as effortless on his part. It’s nice to see Ellis and Wolfer throw a curveball, but there’s also a feeling that more is needed, particularly given Gravel’s opposition.
“The Major Seven” story has been an improvement on the first arc, mostly because of Wolfer’s return to the art. With him acting as Ellis’s co-writer already, fleshing out Ellis’s ‘scriptments,’ doing the art as well makes this a much smoother, more harmonious read. There’s a less a need for the words to spell things out since Wolfer has a clearer understanding of what the script intends and how it should be paced. Beyond that, no one draws William Gravel quite like Wolfer, the character’s original artist.
Ending the second story arc of the series, “Gravel” #14 does a good job of putting what came before behind it while also building on it for the next story. This book has brought the character a long way from simple SAS officer who moonlighted as a combat magician for beer money and the next arc looks like it will be even more surprising.