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Peterson returns to his prime and shows why he’s the only one that can truly craft the world of Mouse Guard. The Black Axe raises the stakes of not only his storytelling, but also his art style.
The last series of Mouse Guard – Legends of the Guard – was a series of short stories written and drawn by some of the top talents in the comics industry. The problem with the series was that it was to carefree and lackadaisical. The world of Mouse Guard is one of danger and death and Legends never seemed to capture that element.
With the – The Black Axe – David Peterson (Creator/Writer/Artist) reminds the readers that the mice are not in charge. They are the most socially evolved and civilized of the wild animals roaming the forests, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any match against the likes of rats, weasels and foxes.
The first issue begins with a narration from a Guard Mouse named Celanawe (pronounced Khel-en-awe). He begins narrating the events that brought him to meet an elder lady mouse by the name of Em. She has discovered that they are related by blood and that they are the last of their family lineage. Em has the ear for talking to “beasts without fur”, which is a playful way of saying feathered animals.
Em mounts a blackbird and flies to the shore outpost that Celanawe is stationed at. As she lands she attracts a pack of weasels that wear trophies of their prey as clothing. Celanawe and Em are able to escape, but not without the sacrifice of her blackbird. Being able to understand the bird, Em hears every dying word spouted as the bird curses her for its death.
Em and Celanawe continue trekking through the forest avoiding the hungry weasel’s still looking for them. Finally they mount their escape as Em calls for a duck to transport them. Once out of range of the weasels, Em explains that their lineage has a higher calling and the Celanawe is hers to command.
The most noticeable difference of this volume of Mouse Guard is the narration. Peterson has the character Celanawe narrating the events from the future. He has already gone through this story that is unfolding before us and is able to foreshadow events to come. Peterson’s writing no longer seems strung together, but a complicated thought process with an endgame in mind.
Artistically, he has opened his color pallet to include light browns and shades of blue. The book in general has a much lighter look and tone to it. Even in the shade covered forest, Peterson doesn’t drown out the pages with black and shadows. The look is very natural and the lighting realistically resembles a forest canopy. The addition of birds to the book is a nice touch and shows Peterson’s skills when it comes to drawing animals.
If you’re a Mouse Guard fan this book is a no brainer. It not only continues the amazing story of the previous series, but improves upon them. If you’re new to the franchise then fear not, every single volume of Mouse Guard starts with new characters in a new story making it accessible to anyone to pick up.
I would like to take a moment an address an issue with this book. Not one for me personally, but one that effects retailers and new comic buyers. The format of this book is not one of typically comics. The book is basically a square and resemble a children’s book more than a standard comic. Because of this, retailers hate stocking it. They can’t store it easily if issue fail to sell and can’t offer bags and boards for it (actually they could by stocking both golden age or magazine size bags and boards). Because of this they don’t really push the sales on this book which is unfortunate. I’ve heard from two different shops that that if the format of the book were to change it would sell twice as many issues.
To that I say, “Pull your head out of your ass.” It saddens me that not only do retailers not want to stock and take a chance on this book, but that readers also don’t want because of the awkward size. What it really boils down to is that the format is what I’m buying. The convenience isn’t what I’m buying. I’ve never read a book and thought, “Well this is simple to store with my other comic books, and I must keep buying it.” The fact is that I’m buying a story and art. I’m buying an experience and the size and shape of the book do not change the story inside.
Story – 10
Plot – 10
Format – 10
Art – 10
Color – 10
Overall – 10