The key line to this issue is asked by William Gravel with a look of dismay and disbelief on his face: “Are you seriously telling me I’m the landed gentry now?” After several issues fighting against his fellow magicians in the Minor Seven, all of whom looked down upon him for being working-class, the idea that, by killing one of them, he’s now risen in social class doesn’t sit well with him. While previous stories featuring Gravel have shied away from his character, this story is very much focused on defining who this enigmatic “combat magician” is and part of that definition is “working-class.”
After killing fellow magician Royston last issue, Gravel now owns Royston’s estate, considerable wealth, and his group of acolytes, all of whom look to Gravel for guidance with their master dead. Normally, in a situation like this, one would expect the students to be angry or seek revenge, but they accept the situation and try to go about their business as if nothing happened, just like the house does. That idea seems to bother Gravel more than anything: he is now not only rich, but, in a way, owns nearly two dozen people. All he wanted to do was get some revenge and keep a very powerful piece of magical writing out of the hands of people not fit to use it.
The William Gravel in this issue is unlike one previously seen in that he’s not in control of the situation. In the past, he’s been up against big odds and powerful opponents, but he’s always had a plan, and now these acolytes throw him off guard. Despite being a killer, Gravel is not one to kill needlessly, especially a bunch of misguided and stupid kids who don’t know how stupid they are. He doesn’t want to play master to them, but seems unsure as to what else to do.
Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer work incredibly well as a writing team here — in fact, Wolfer fleshes out Ellis’s plot synopsis/script so well that only the credits point to Ellis not being the sole writer. The dialogue is cynical and witty, and the use of captions to gain insight into Gravel’s inner workings help a great deal in fleshing out his character. As well, Oscar Jiminez continues to do solid work despite his style being quite different from that of Wolfer and the book’s original artist, Raulo Caceres. His Gravel is lanky and wears his age and experience on his face. Jiminez’s Gravel looks both tough — almost made out of stone — and like he’s two days away from death, which is the perfect balance for a man who’s spent his life as a combat magician and member of the SAS.
“Gravel” #6 acts as a slight breather after five-and-a-half issues of Gravel fighting magicians, and as a chance to focus on who he is. It’s almost comical to see a man who is not surprised by undead horsemen coming to kill him squirm under the idea of “inheriting” wealth and social class.