Now here’s an interesting case: an ongoing series spun out of a series-of-mini-series that’s been going on for a decade now. “Combat magician” William Gravel debuted in the three-issue Avatar mini-series Strange Kisses by Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer in 1999; he would go on to star in five more mini-series over the next several years. Finally, Ellis and Wolfer (co-writing, rather than drawing) and artist Raulo Cáceres launched the ongoing Gravel at the end of 2007. Clearly, there’s something intrinsically cool about this character; otherwise, he wouldn’t have stuck around for as long as he did before the regular series appeared. Let’s look at the book, and why I think it’s a great Change of Pace.
Gravelly Character: William Gravel comes off as Jack Bauer if Jack Bauer were Dr. Strange. I love the mix of badass military man cut with mysticism. It’s not a typical pairing, and Ellis and Wolfer pull it off with flair. The early minis set the basics of the tone, but you can step into the ongoing without ever having read a single prior story and get who Gravel is. To me, that’s a hallmark of a great continuing character: they may be exceedingly complex, but you “know” who they are almost right away.
Twisted Narrative: Ellis and Wolfer (along with their rotating artists) like giving us a road with a lot of reversals. The initial arc of the series was clearly inspired by quest motif, and it gave us the chance to know Gravel. The readers learned information along with him, and it made us appreciate him more. It would be easy for the writers to make Gravel just a badass, but they’ve made him intriguing in terms of his motivations and the standards of his ethical codes.
Supernatural Appearance: The art on the series has been uniformly great. Cáceres set the bar high with some extremely detailed pages, and that care continues. Every artist has shown strong sensitivity to the unique nature of Gravel’s world. The book always looks terrific.
Creative Exchanges: Ellis and Wolfer map out a new arcana for us to follow, blending aspects of myth, occultism, and magic into a system with its own rules and prices to pay. Gravel’s military layer is ruthless when it comes into play, and it marks a nice ongoing contrast.
Sifting Through: If you want to go back to the beginning with the character, there are trades for each mini. One volume for the ongoing exists so far, and, as a I said, you don’t necessarily need to have read the earlier stuff to get it. The $3.99 price tag per issue shouldn’t raise any eyebrows these days.
The Bullet: Sometimes, it really is that simple: Jack Bauer is Dr. Strange. Gravel doesn’t read or look quite like anything else on the stands. It’s got action, great art, and is shot through with mordant, ironic humor. Though its occasionally graphic nature won’t be to all tastes, for a reader used to subsisting on titles from the Big Two, it makes a perfect Change of Pace.