Gravel #0, December 2007, Avatar Press
writer/scripter: Warren Ellis
scripter/alternate cover artist: Mike Wolfer
artist: Raulo Caceres
colorist: Greg Waller
Gravel #0 isn't a "number one issue," but it's definitely a first issue, which qualifies it for review during this "first issue analysis" month of A Comic A Day: Year Two. I don't know when the "zero issue" trend began, though I'm tempted to blame DC's "Zero Hour" crossover back in 1994 (which has, I assumed, been retconned in favor of 52's multiverse concept). Even then, when I was younger and a little less embittered, I felt that publishing a Batman #0 was a bit pompous, presuming that any modern generation of creators could actually produce an issue that precedes Bob Kane and Bill Finger's historic Batman #1, even if only numerically. Would the proverbial prologue actually encourage a new audience for comics, and if so why mire them in a multi-title crossover? Certainly dedicated fanboys didn't need another retelling of their favorite characters' origins . . .
But I digress. Having an issue with "the zero issue" is ironic, anyway. Has anyone complained about prologues in real books?
Gravel #0 reinforces Warren Ellis' place as a relevant, politically-oriented writer (along with co-scripter Mike Wolfer), at least in its first scene, in which Bill Gravel, combat magician, takes out a group of Afghan Jihadists quite unconventionally and mercilessly, freeing a captured British reporter in the process. After a year's worth of Taliban tussling, Gravel returns to Britian and discovers he's been presumed dead and replaced by wealthy young upstart Simon Shiranian, whom Gravel confronts with just as little mercy. Simon explains that he earned Gravel's place among the Minor Seven, an elite group of occult detectives, by finding the Sigsand Manuscript and dividing it between them. Gravel's solo series will undoubtedly begin with his supernatural quest to reclaim the whole of this manuscript.
I'm a big fan of Ellis' work, though I admit it a required taste, but I couldn't help but liken Gravel #0 to some of his other recent work, softening its overall blow and potential to impress. For instance, his other, headline-inducing series Black Summer also began with a can't-be-missed zero issue, with a much more potent political context (which, along with his Vertigo opus Transmetropolitan, makes me wonder if Ellis wouldn't take a shot at our President if given the chance), and the latest issue of Doktor Sleepless, released the same week as Gravel, featured a more gruesome stabbing murder sequence. Still, like many of Ellis' more memorable characters, Gravel is a no nonsense tough guy in a world of seemingly shallow, falsely self confident pawns whose only real place in the world is to make our hero look even more tough. This archetype is the superhero of the twenty-first century -- not someone who can fly or shoot fire from their eyes, but someone the reader could genuinely be if he forsook our apparently ingrained need for society's polite approval. Oh, and a global quest for a magic manuscript wouldn't hurt, either.
Avatar enjoys offering alternate covers for almost all of their prominent titles, so I'm often in a quandary every time I pick up one of their issues, but Raulo Caceres' wrap-around cover was gruesomely rewarding, particularly as a first impression of the overall book, when I flipped it over to complete the image. Yes, I think if you're going to do a wrap-around cover, the flip should provide something unexpected, something worthy of the widescreen format. Large "running toward us" shots just don't suffice; I'm not fifteen-years-old anymore, people. If it isn't a group of terrorists getting their heads blown off, stick to the standard "Got Milk" ads back there, okay?
(Those last two sentences are best read with a Dennis Miller-like accent. Moving on . . .)
Of course, $1.99 is an acceptable loss for this twelve page story, considering that Ellis' prologues are often more substantial than any given other comic book chapter, and while Caceres' work is standard fare for Avatar, his pours on the mood and provides the reader a sufficient sense of magic in the real world. I'm eager to see what a full-length issue offers, if Ellis can continue to balance a fair sense of action with supernatural intrigue. If so, it's fair to say that Gravel will rock.
Yeah, I know, but I had to say it.