At long last, Mouse Guard has returned! The last issue of The Black Axe came out in May, and it has been a long wait to see what happened to Celanawe, Em, and Conrad after their ship was capsized in a mighty storm. But despite the delay, David Petersen shows us once again that every word, every panel, every meticulously-drawn ferret and mouse, and every beautifully-colored landscape is worth every second spent in the last six months.
The Black Axe, at the core, is a hero’s journey. For those who might not have read a Mouse Guard book before, first go back and read my reviews on the last two issues. Or better yet, just go ahead and get those issues. It’s definitely worth it. If you enjoy the kinds of epic storytelling that mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about in his work on monomyths, you’ll find that Petersen is telling a similar story here. Celanawe, who we know from the original Mouse Guard book Fall 1152 as the crusty old legendary hero, is still learning what it means to be a good guardsmouse, much less a legend. He and his cousin Em are on a journey for a family relic/weapon. Only they find the hallowed black axe in a very surprising place.
In perfect form, Petersen ups the ante in the quest for the axe, adding a layer of adventure upon the already exciting adventure Celanawe was traversing. This issue goes in a direction I didn’t see coming, but makes me salivate even more for the next issue.
Not only is the story solid, but the art is among sequential art’s finest in recent years. Part children’s book, part ancient scripture drawing, part fantasy illustration, Mouse Guard‘s visual storytelling continues to surround the reader in a world where you almost forget that these are talking animals. The ferrets are drawn primitive and yet regal, the mice are dangerous and yet cute. His colors give a timeless feel, not flashy, but subdued, and calming. Somehow the consistency of Petersen’s work from the first issue of Fall 1152 to today remains steady and strong.
This series will certainly be excellent in collected form, yet since this is my first venture in reading Mouse Guard in issues, I have to say, Petersen does a great job of making the reader comfortable. Even though this is the middle of the story, someone could pick this up and still enjoy it. You don’t have to know much about what has happened to enjoy the direction this issue takes.
Besides all of this, perhaps the most wonderful thing I can say about Mouse Guard is that it’s mice…with swords…being completely badass. What more could you want out of a good story?
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