Saturday, 22 February 2014

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe review

The Black Axe is a both a prequel with a bit of sequel rolled into the mix. It’s a smart move by Petersen as The Black Axe is the third complete Mouse Guard story both written and drawn by Petersen. Although I’ve enjoyed both volumes of Legends of the Guards, anthology comics in which Petersen writes and draws the framing sequence but invites a host of other comic creators contribute stories to the world of Mouse Guard, I’m thrilled that last year gave us another volume entirely by Petersen. The main Mouse Guard stories are written and drawn by David Petersen. The hardcover collections collect the six issue storylines often with a prologue as well as an epilogue and supplementary material. As Archaia Entertainment often does, the hardcovers are works of art in their own right. Excellent binding, luscious cover art, interior design that is pleasing to the eye and it’s all done with quality printing, the Mouse Guard hardcovers hold a prized spot on my bookshelves. None of that would really matter if Petersen’s story wasn’t good. Thankfully, it is. The Black Axe is only the most recent proof.

I was a bit disappointed when I found out at the end of Winter 1152 that Petersen’s next Mouse Guard story would be the legend of the Black Axe, specifically Celanawe’s tenure as Black Axe. I was expecting nothing more than an extended flashback sequence that while providing an interesting and well executed story, wouldn’t add much to the story of Lieam, Jaxon and Kenzie. After reading the story, I found out I was right but I also underestimated Petersen’s skill as a storyteller. The story is a flashback sequence framed by Gwendolyn’s account of a looming threat and our Mouse Guard trio’s separation. It doesn’t offer much in the continuation of the story began in Fall 1152 but it does help to make the wait for the next volume a bit easier to handle. As for Celanawe’s story, it’s not only fascinating but helps to enrich the world of Mouse Guard.

Not only is Mouse Guard Archaia Entertainment’s best series, it’s one of the best comics being published today. A new volume only appears every two to three years but so far it’s always been worth the wait. Petersen is crafting a surprisingly well thought out fantasy epic in tiny proportions. His careful attention to detail helps to transport the reader to a world where danger is literally hidden behind every bush and the size of our heroes isn’t representative of the courage of their hearts.  

The Black Axe is a legendary weapon as well as a mythical warrior. Many brave mice have held the mantle throughout the years. The descendants of Farrer, a metal smith and one of the founders of the Haven of Guilds in Shorestone, are entrusted to find worthy candidates to wield the axe and uphold the legend. Like the stories before it, the plot of The Black Axe is simple but Petersen handles it with such care and attention to character and the details of his world, it never feels slight. I might be incorrect in describing his plotting as simple or even deceptively simple. In truth, it’s probably more of an indicator of how good of a writer he is. He makes a complex story feel and appear simple but that’s only because he took the time to polish his story. It’s all in the execution and Petersen continues to deliver, volume after volume. The story begins with Celanawe (pronounced Khel-En-Awe), a mouse of the Guard, being visited by his last remaining relative. She imparts him with a mission, to find an ancient weapon which Celanawe accepts only because the Matriarch of Lockhaven and leader of the Guard commands him to do so. His journey is transformative in more ways than one. It would be a shame for me to spoil any more of the story because it’s such a joy to read and discover first hand.

As with the previous volumes of Mouse Guard, the world which Petersen is slowly reveiling is equally impressive as the story of Celanawe’s quest. With each continuing story, Petersen further develops the culture of the mice and their cities. Aside from the interesting story of Farrer and his genealogy, Petersen gives the reader the opportunity to explore the Port of Sumac and the world of seafaring mice, the island of Ildur the Ferret kingdom of Ebon and Shorestone and the Haven of Guilds along with the four founders of the main guilds: Omarr (stone masonry), Farrer (metal smithing), Thurston (mathematics), and Locke (carpentry).

With Mouse Guard: The Black Axe, Petersen continues to impress. I was certain that this volume would feel like a lull because it pulls away from the storyline of the first two volumes but the use of the epilogue served the dual purpose of letting readers know that Petersen is conscious that he’s moving his focus away for a volume and to introduce the extended flashback sequence. I would honestly prefer if the stories were published more quickly but I wouldn’t want the story of the art to suffer. I’m content to wait if it continues to give Petersen the time he needs to keep the stories at the same level of quality as the stories release so far.


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