Issue: Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1
Release Date: June 3, 2010
Additional Pages: David Petersen
Publisher: Archaia Comics
I have a look at the first issue of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, a bookend mini-series with contributing stories in the Mouse Guard universe by Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, and Alex Sheiman.
Ever been able to pay your bar tab with a story? Neither have I, but such forms the premise of the new Mouse Guard mini-series by David Petersen. Much like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Legends of the Guard is a bookend story that takes place in a local tavern. When the proprietor expresses her disdain over the fact that no one has paid his tab, she offers to forget the debt in exchange for a good story. Thus begins the first tale.
However, the individual stories are not done by Petersen himself, but are told by three handpicked creators who each put their own human perspective on the world of Mouse Guard.
Story 1: “The Battle of the Hawk’s Mouse & the Fox’s Mouse”
Art & Story: Jeremy Bastian
With story and art by Jeremy Bastian, the creator of Cursed Pirate Girl, this story is one that takes place before the Guard’s existence when mice served as protectors for larger predators. In the story, each predator sends his protector out into a field to do battle and rid the field of his enemy. However, something occurs during their fight that changes the history of mice forever.
Bastian’s, being the lead story, sets a high mark for those that follow. Visually, it appears more like an old manuscript than a comic, with muted, earthy colors and ancient calligraphy. Truth be told, the way he does speech bubbles reminds me a lot of old 18th-century newspaper comics: not perfect ovals and coming right out of the characters’ lips like steam on a cold day. His narration takes its artistic liberties too, and on one panel you might find yourself turning the book 360 degrees to read properly.
Story 2: “A Bargain in the Dark”
Art & Story: Ted Naifeh
The next story comes by way of Courtney Crumin creator Ted Naifeh, and it is the personal story of the mouse who tells it. It starts off much like the old story of “The Scorpion and the Frog,” but, in this case, the narrator mouse finds a bat with a broken wing. The bat merely wishes to return to his people, but the mouse is suspicious of the bat’s treacherous nature. Of course, you may be surprised by the ending, which results in a very humbling lesson for the narrator.
Naifeh’s style reminds me a lot of Mike Mignola in this story, very shadowy and relying on few colors (though more than Bastian, in keeping with the period of the tale). Naifeh’s story reads more traditionally than Bastian’s, and provides a very sympathetic view of both characters in a very short span of pages.
Story 3: “Oleg the Wise”
Art & Story: Alex Sheikman
Colors: Scott Keating
The third story from Robotika creator Alex Sheikman also delves into literary similarities with another mouse relating the tale of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It starts with Oleg, a powerful king who hears the prophecy of an old, blind seer mouse and unknowingly follows it to his doom. I can’t really say anything further about the plot without giving it away, but the ending may surprise you in how the prophecy is realized.
Arguably, Sheikman’s art style finds the closest similarities to Petersen’s own. Every page has something of a reddish hue to it, perhaps Sheikman’s own way of invoking times past. Oleg and Staretz, the seer, clearly stand out from the other characters, who either have few lines or simply are not named. The creator provides a great use of text within the story, making the prophecy front and center of two different panels and drawing the reader’s attention to the most important words.
Overall, this mini-series is off to a very promising start, and David Petersen has chosen his co-collaborators well. Each story fits nicely into his established universe and fleshes it out while relying on entirely new characters with whom previous readers will be unfamiliar. Further, because of this new readers will certainly find this issue to be an easy way to jump into the Mouse Guard universe without having to worry about the previous stories’ continuity. Personally, the former educator in me can’t help but find the allegories to other famous works, and that can certainly translate well into a classroom for anyone teaching The Canterbury Tales, Aesop’s Fables, or Oedipus Rex. Make sure you get to your local shop and pick up a copy.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars