Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GUNNERKRIGG COURT VOL. 2: RESEARCH by Tom Siddell

The first volume of this series, Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation was last year's Cybils winner for YA graphic novels--and a winner for me, as a fan of fantasy series like Sandman that bring in a wide range of mythological and magical elements that seem disparate but somehow come together. I also enjoyed the blend of science, clockworks, and magic, which gave it a sort of steampunk feel. So I was pleased to find Vol. 2 in my library and continue the tale of Antimony Carver and her friend Kat at a very mysterious school—one which happens to adjoin a wild forest populated by faeries, spirits, animal-gods, and other non- and quasi-human inhabitants.

As before, I was immediately engaged by both the artwork and its visual style as well as the surreal setting and wide range of quirky characters, each with their own story. I love the references to various different mythologies, whose coexistence is never quite explained—at least, not yet. We don't yet know the secrets of this odd place, of this setting which contains magical (or "etheric") elements as well as science. Though fans of school stories like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books would probably enjoy this one, Gunnerkrigg is no Hogwarts. Though it, too, hides secrets everywhere and has a few ghosts hanging about, nothing is quite as clear-cut; there's no easy division between wizards and muggles, no complete separation between life and death and clockwork, between human and faerie.
Antimony has a preternatural connection with the magical realm—but, by contrast, Kat is somewhat of a mechanical gadget-building and robot-repairing genius, so they make a good team. Their personalities play off one another nicely, with the more solemn and reserved Antimony balanced out by bubbly, energetic Kat. And the range of side characters, as before, is fascinating, though not overwhelming—the serial nature of the story means that we don't get too many new people introduced all at once. Each installment brings a new layer to the overall arc, but each one stands alone well. And in this volume, we learn more about Antimony's late parents, and their connection to this place and to Kat's parents. What exactly we learn is a bit enigmatic, but it does become clear that Antimony has a destiny to fulfill—and Gunnerkrigg intends to train her for it.

You'll find a lot of classic adventure-story themes in this one: friendship, loyalty, not judging people by their outward appearance (even if they look kinda scary), learning who you are at the very core, having your mettle tested through unexpected trials. One of my favorite themes from this series, though, is the idea that we can create our own family—our friends and companions, the ones who are loyal to us and care about us, the ones who have our backs when things get hairy or weird. Antimony has lost her family, but she has found a new one in Kat and her parents, in the fox-spirit Reynardine, in the kindly little ghost Mort, in her second shadow. An odd assortment, to be sure, but it's what's inside that counts...

This review originally posted at Finding Wonderland


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2 comments:

Biblibio said...

I'm pleased to know that Gunnerkrigg can be found in any library! This is definitely my favorite webcomic and one of my favorite ongoing series of any kind, no matter the medium. Great drawings, brilliant storytelling, wonderful writing and characterization... yep, Gunnerkrigg Court has it all!

aquafortis said...

It really is a great series. I especially like that it has appeal for both guys and girls--it's just a win all around.