Even coming to Gravel completely fresh, never having read Strange Kiss, Stranger Kisses or any of William Gravel's early titles, it's pretty easy to tell that he's one mean bastard. Haunted by guilt, Gravel has buckets of bad blood under his bridge, most of it brought there by him, because he decided that someone deserved it. But as a combat magician and resident mean bastard, it's not terribly surprising when readers learn in the opening pages that there's folk out to kill him.
What makes Gravel #2 an interesting read is that Ellis & Wolfer have setup layers of conflict. Gravel is out to reclaim his position in the Minor Seven, a group of magicians and occult detectives who are servants to the Major Seven, a group of more powerful magicians. While much of this revolves around a powerful manuscript called the Sigsand, magic, guns and violence, the authors have made it as much about class warfare as anything else. England has always been a place of commoners and lords, and that conflict plays out in Gravel as the earthy and practical William finds himself shut out of the Minor Seven not so much for any misdeeds, but because his "betters" find him to be embarrassing. This provides some interesting commentary as well as more than a few fun jokes.
The plot does seem to come a bit undone at the end as Gravel and his adversary for this issue, Joanna, predictably end up in a violent bout of conjuration and prestidigitation. Having summoned her horses, or nature spirits, to do away with Gravel, Joanna quickly finds the beasts turned against her as Gravel pops onto ones back, gives a short speech about soldiers and horses, then bops one on the head and takes it over. Apparently, the nature spirits have no loyalty, to Joanna or each other, as whatever bond they had to their mistress is far too easily broken by a man that just killed one of their own number.
The art in the book won't be for everyone, but this reviewer enjoyed the strong attention to detail. While the expressions of Joanna occasionally seem very off, it just as often hits the head with its emotional communication. The best bit, in this reviewer's opinion, is a frame of a young Gravel standing in front of the cavalry, looking happy, pudgy and ecstatic to be near the horses. Given what a hard, nasty man he grows up to be, it's almost heartbreaking.
Gravel #2 should be a good, fun read for any fan of Ellis. It sets up a nice developing plot that promises cussing and violence as well as Ellis' usual entertaining commentary on what is and what should be.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the authorís work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com
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