With no word on the future of “Gravel,” issue 21 looks to be the last. Concluding the third seven-issue story arc of the series, and the large three-part story arc that was built from each smaller arc, William Gravel finds his position as King of Magicians in England not so secure after a crazed magician has killed his allies, destroyed his places of power, and left him seemingly defenseless. As always, people underestimate Gravel and they pay for the mistake with their lives. It’s a pretty simple pattern, but it’s driven the series so far, and allowed Gravel to be engaging as he consistently rises to the challenge, most often through surprise and skill. Even with everything taken away from him, he’s still as good as he was in the first issue when he began his quest to take down the Minor Seven.
Gravel’s nemesis, Bible Jack, only sees the Gravel that he became at the end of the second story arc: the new King of Magic in England, not as the simple combat magician that slaughtered his way through the supposed best and most powerful magicians in England. This final issue drives home the basic ideas of the series as Gravel confronts the class issues he’s run up against all throughout the series. He’s just a working class guy, so that means he must be limited, both in mental faculties and in how far he can advance within society. He’s judged on where he was born, not his abilities, and that’s a big reason why he’s still alive, even at the end of this issue.
Mike Wolfer’s impact on the last two arcs of the book has been largely positive. While the art on the first arc was good, Wolfer helped create Gravel with Ellis back in “Strange Kiss” and through the various “Strange Killings” minis, and it doesn’t feel right without him on art. His dialoguing skills are good enough that this book reads like Ellis wrote it himself; Wolfer expands upon what Ellis provides and nails his voice. It’s hard to tell where Ellis leaves off and Wolfer begins.
On art, Wolfer lends the book a rough energy, drawing Gravel as a thick, brute of a man, while Bible Jack is as disgusting and crazy as his name suggests. Much of this issue hinges on the fight between the two, and it’s engaging and interesting. Often, extended fight scenes in comics can be a bit dull, but Wolfer shows it as a progression as each man attacks and counters, responding to what was done. Wolfer isn’t a master stylist, but the level of competency and craft he brings to the pages matches the writing perfectly. Gravel is a brutish working class guy and the art has the same flavor.
I’m sad that “Gravel” is ending as this large story has been some of Ellis’s most engaging writing of the last few years. A basic quest story with obvious obstacles, how Gravel has overcome them provided a lot of entertainment. More than that, the book has been a continuation of some of the ideas about England that Ellis has approached elsewhere, most notably in his short run on “Hellblazer.” “Gravel” was rooted in England and its culture with old grudges based on location raised, and the lead always looked down upon by his ‘betters.’ Even if the character never returns, the ending here is a fitting one and, to be honest, where do you go after King of English Magicians?