Comic Strip Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 3: Reason by Thomas Siddell
After Antimony “Annie” Carver’s mother Surma dies, her father Anthony drops her off at her parent’s alma mater, a strange boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court. The court is an enormous place, looking rather like an industrial city, but large portions of it seem to be abandoned…by humans, at least. There are robots advanced beyond anything in the outside world, bizarre events are commonplace, there’s a creepy forest just across a long bridge students are forbidden to cross, and Annie notices that she’s picked up a second shadow.
This noted fantasy webcomic has been running since 2005, beginning here (happily, the art style drastically improves over time.) It’s got an intricate plot with many details planned well in advance. (For example, in an early strip Antimony tells us it will be two years before she sees her father again.) The Court’s architecture is somewhat based on the city of Birmingham in England.
At the beginning of this volume, Annie is in training to possibly become the Court’s Medium, an ambassador between the school and the magical Gillitie Wood. The other two candidates, Andrew Smith (with the ability to bring order out of chaos) and George Parley (whose father expected a boy, and has the gift of teleportation) argue a lot but turn out to be attracted to each other. This interrupts two simulations.
Then it’s time for a camping trip to a park that is actually inside the boundaries of Gunnerkrigg Court. Campers start to disappear, and Annie and her best friend Kat (Katherine Donlan, daughter of two of the teachers who were friends with Annie’s parents) must solve the mystery.
After that, Kat, who is beloved by the Court’s robots due to her technical skills and repair abilities grants the king of said robots access to the portrait of Jeanne, the ghost that haunts the ravine between the Court and the Wood. In return, he reveals the existence of a robot that has memories of Jeanne, and the very early days of the Court. Those memories reveal a dark secret of the past.
In the next chapter, Annie visits the Wood and learns more about Ysengrim, the wolf with tree armor that is the current Medium for their side of the river. Coyote, the trickster spirit that is in charge of the Wood, gives Annie a gift for reasons not fully revealed.
Then the subplot of Jack, who’s been acting increasingly erratic since he was exposed to the mass hallucination projected by a girl named Zimmy, comes to the fore. He coerces Annie into accompanying him to a power station that might have something to do with why he can’t sleep.
This is followed by a spotlight chapter for Kat, who hasn’t been able to process her emotional reaction to learning what the Court did to Jeanne. She’s finally able to recover her equilibrium with the help of an abandoned baby bird, and Paz, a classmate who can talk to animals.
Further research with the help of Andrew and Parley reveals some of Jeanne’s story from her point of view, and convinces Parley to be honest about her feelings.
Finally, Annie’s second year at Gunnerkrigg Court comes to a painful close when she and Renard (a fox spirit living in a stuffed toy) quarrel and reveal some very painful secrets to each other. This leads to her choosing to spend the summer in the Wood rather than with friends.
At the end are some art pages and bonus strips about “City Face”, the pigeon Kat rescued.
The mood swings wildly between chapters, some being very comedic while others go deep into dark territory. While we get several important revelations in this volume, the jigsaw nature of the overall plot means that many items don’t pay off until future volumes–I do recommend starting from the beginning.
As is often the case with webcomics collections, the material is all available on the internet for free, but if you like it, please consider buying the print version to make the creator more financially stable.