While all of Tom Siddell's Gunnerkrigg Court series is available for free online as a webcomic, it says something significant that the work is compelling enough to create a real desire to own it in a hardcover format as well. While this story ostensibly seems to be the J. K. Rowling-esque adventures of a few kids through a giant, mysterious castle that brims with both the supernatural and the technological, it has begun to evolve into a subtle and semi-philosophical commentary on the roles of the spiritual and scientific dichotomy our lives.
All of this happens at a young-adult reading level, which makes the story even more interesting and accessible, so don't let any of this scare you--there are still tons of robots, monsters, specters, mythological beings, an ornery talking doll that houses the spirit of an alternately benevolent and destructive dragon, and everything in between to keep you completely entertained.
In this second installment, Annie's inherited ability to act as a medium between different spiritual planes begins to manifest more strongly, though all of this is addressed as stoically as ever by the unflinching protagonist. While this apparent cool indifference on Annie's part might come across as an inability to write children accurately, Siddell makes it clear that he can definitely write kids, introducing more boisterous, interesting classmates into the plot. As we meet more characters from both the past and the present, both young and old, each presents a strong, unique voice. The plot thickens, and we gain insight into the traumatic (and a bit shocking) circumstances that brought Annie to where she is now.
There's a great deal of emotional depth to these relatively simple stories, which still continue to surprise me with each page. I'm not a fan of webcomics, but this one has me entranced. Little visual references to Hellboy certainly don't hurt my opinion.
The style of art is sometimes reflective of a comic that needs to be cranked out at a rapid pace, so certain pages are very attractive while others are simply functional, but Siddell rarely needs more than a few lines to communicate exactly what's happening perfectly.
Be aware that the death of a parent is an issue that is strongly implied in this collection, in addition to a word of profanity that is cleverly half-obscured, though any child who watches TV past 7 p.m. should be able to complete for you--hopefully not loudly. An extra 10-page strip that focuses more on gags is included at the rear of the book and briefly mentions "drunk humans," so proceed at your own comfort level.
Gunnerkrigg Court is a solid work that I genuinely look forward to reading, as well as sharing with my 4th-grade niece (who has been begging for volume two since well before Christmas). If you are uncertain, you should check out the website where these comics originally appeared, but I have no doubt that you'll be quickly convinced.
-- Collin David