I’m embarrassed it took me so long to fall in love with Mouse Guard… But like everybody else who has read David Peterson’s fantasy series, I have, and you will too if you pick up Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #3.
The idea is pretty simple: Mouse Guard is hard fantasy, but with animals instead of humans. And there’s some mysticism, but magic (other than the talking animals thing) is by the wayside, if there at all. Also? Though Peterson constantly creates adorable characters throughout, they are hard-core. Characters die, are maimed, and heartache happens non-stop. Basically, Mouse Guard is Game of Thrones, but with cute little animals.
Black Axe is (I believe) a stand-alone adventure following a member of the Mouse Guard – Celanawe – and his long lost relative Em, as they search for the fabled weapon of the title. Last issue, the duo (along with a very Han Solo-esque boat captain) were washed into the ocean. We pick right up, with Celanawe waking up on the beach of a strange land. Unlike the previous two issues, this time out we’re mostly dealing with talking and emotion, rather than action… But Peterson knows how to amp up the tension in scenes, as well as make you connect with characters who often look like tiny little fuzzballs. So you won’t even notice there’s less swordplay than usual… And don’t worry, there will be plenty more next month.
What really does make Mouse Guard something special is Peterson’s deft and beautiful illustrations. They walk the line between illuminated manuscript, children’s book, and comic, while never fully embracing any particular form. Mouse Guard is all the better for it, as it defies simple characterization, and becomes something new.
And as mentioned, there’s the characters. With just a pixel’s difference (though the books are traditionally illustrated, mind you), Peterson manages to make the eyes of a mouse show fear, alarm, anger, and a bevy of other emotions. The anguish in a ferret’s face, for example, by the end of the issue is a masterpiece of character acting. That’s a pretty neat trick, to make you not just feel for a ferret, but understand his inner life with a few simple lines.
For readers not familiar with Mouse Guard, or who haven’t read the previous two issues of this series… Well, you’re missing out. But also, as long as you know Fantasy at all, you should be able to jump right in, and enjoy.
Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #3 is currently on comic book stands.