Gunnerkrigg Court vol. 5: Refine (Archaia HC 6″x9″ edition) – Thomas Siddell

4 out of 5

Thomas Siddell continues to prove that he’s a frustratingly reliable genius, which also continues to make me realize that I’m completely worthless.  I mean, except for my swank DVD collection, obviously that bumps me up several notches, and, like, I own Motorama, so maybe Siddell and I are on even footing after all.

Volume 5 is bizarre and creepy as heck.  As per Siddell’s genius gimmick, though, that somehow doesn’t prevent him from continuing to add in well-timed notes of hilarity – whether through direct dialogue / interactions or background bits and bobs – and dense and wonderful dramatics and character building.  Kat and Paz grow closer; Antimony and Andrew have their first forest / court medium experiences, with a fantastic chapter in which Siddell gives us the forest dwellers’ point of view on things – appropriately titled Tall Tales – and then a chapter which has us saying goodbye to a character, cementing (if it needed further cementing) the richness of Gunnerkrigg, as said character could very much have been a one- or two-off gag, but turned into much more.  Plus, it gives Siddell the opportunity to further his world-building lore down a different avenue from the Coyote / etheric business that has a lot of focus, and it’s goddamned fascinating as all get out.

So why the docked star for this outing?  The book’s final chapter, The Torn Sea – apparently one of the longest chapters of the series at this point – is immense, conceptually, and it admittedly gets to a point where the visuals can’t truly serve the wild ideas.  That’s not necessarily a knock on Siddell, whose art skills are perfect at this point for all the various moods his strip exhibits, but his ideas, as scripted, simply exceed what can be compressed onto a page.  Expanding the story probably could have helped this, but I understand that it was already pretty long to begin with; as it is, there are some panels where I really just can’t grasp what’s happening, beyond intuiting through context, but I’m not sure that’s ideal.

But I would, of course, always prefer a comic that’s jam-packed with such wild ideas than one shorting us on them, and while I had some page flipping back-and-forth, The Torn Sea didn’t diminish how exciting the overall concept was, not to mention the vast majority of the book.