At the end of last issue, William Gravel, combat magician, found himself the last of the Minor Seven standing after he killed the other six. The Minor Seven were “occult detectives” and, after they thought him dead, replaced Gravel. When he returned from an SAS mission in Afghanistan and demanded his rightful place, they refused; he eliminated them one by one. After killing the final one, he received a phone call informing him that he had passed the test; he was now a member of the Major Seven.
That’s where we pick up this issue as the second story arc of “Gravel” kicks off with a lot of surprises, including the return of Mike Wolfer’s art. Wolfer drew every story that Gravel appeared in prior to the start of this ongoing series and, since the first “Strange Killings” mini-series, has also written the book with Warren Ellis, expanding Ellis’s short scripts into complete stories. While Oscar Jimenez was doing career-best work on “Gravel,” it’s very nice to see Wolfer return to the character he created the visuals for. He even returns to the strict three-tiered, two panels per tier page layout of his previous work on the character.
It’s also a fun change of pace to see Wolfer’s art in color, since all of the previous mini-series were black and white with grey tones. The color is utilized particularly well when Gravel meets with the other six members of the Major Seven in a magical place where the sky is a psychedelic mixture of neon greens, pinks, and white. The splash page that has Gravel arrive there is jarring since the book usually has very muted, dark colors.
The art isn’t the only surprise here, as the Major Seven are nothing like the Minor Seven. At least, so far. While the previous story had Gravel continually encountering corrupt, pompous snobs who looked down upon him as an illiterate thug from the unwashed masses, his initial encounter with the Major Seven has him welcomed as an equal. He’s told, “There are no second-class members of the Major Seven,” which is a drastic change from what he’s used to.
Ellis and Wolfer deliver a surprise here, since in nearly every other story featuring Gravel, he’s been looked down upon in one way or another. He’s the constant outcast that people only keep around because he is a terrifying man of many uses. He’s been treated that way for so long that he’s not just uncomfortable with the Major Seven, he keeps waiting for the catch. They don’t want him to grovel for admission or buy his way in. He’s just accepted as an equal, and he doesn’t know how to react. Nor do readers know how to react, since the magicians in the Major Seven are nothing like those in the Minor Seven or, even, magicians in books like “Hellblazer.” They’re so secure in their abilities and selves that ego doesn’t seem an issue. It’s refreshing, but does seem a little too good to be true.
This issue is a great jumping-on point for readers, with a new story that recaps and builds on the previous one, and the return of co-writer Mike Wolfer on art. “Gravel” continues to be a surprising, witty, and fun read — “Hellblazer” were an action story and all John Constantine wanted was beer money.