Overview

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1

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Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1

Credits

  • Words: Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Alex Sheikman, and David Petersen
  • Art: Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Alex Sheikman, and David Petersen
  • Colors: Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Scott Keating, and David Petersen
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Jun 2, 2010

The June Alley Inn of Barkstone, a quaint town situated on the western borders of the Mouse Territories, is a charming and cozy haven where tales are told. There, all amateur bards must meet three conditions: every story told must contain a little bit of truth, a little bit of jest, and most importantly, a lot of originality.

These rules belong to June, the sassy barmaid of the tavern, and they must be obeyed if the winner who weaves the best yarn is going to have his tab cleared. This is the premise to Archaia Studios Press’ new release, Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, and it sets into motion an unforgettably original and engaging miniseries that will be loved by readers of all ages.

I’ll admit that I was wary of Mouse Guard creator David Petersen handing over the proverbial keys to the kingdom for this project, but the premise of the book works well. The guest creators collaborating on this four-part miniseries are free to play with their creativity outside of Petersen’s canonical Mouse Guard mythos due to the stories being a blend of some fact and some fiction. They can do what they want within the world without misdirecting Petersen’s future stories. How ingenious.

The premiere issue gets the contest rolling with the first three stories in June’s challenge. Beginning is “The Battle of the Hawk’s Mouse and the Fox’s Mouse,” written and illustrated by Jeremy Bastian. The title of the short story says it all: before the Mouse Territories were founded, mice were hired out as mercenaries by some animals, while enslaved as soldiers by others. Here a hawk and fox are vying for total dominion over a hunting field, and two mice are employed to battle as proxies for their masters. Bastian’s illustrations are regally drawn, capturing Petersen’s feudal spirit while adding details completely unique within his own tale. And the story doesn’t employ word balloons, but rather captions of prose that run alongside the artwork, creating a magical storybook effect.

The second tale told is “A Bargain in the Dark,” written and illustrated by Ted Naifeh; this story calls up memories of Darkheather from Petersen’s Winter 1152. A lone mouse travels through the darkness of the weasel kingdom where he encounters a dying bat. The bat promises to guide the mouse safely out of Darkheather’s halls if he delivers him to his winged kin. Is this the bat stabbed by Saxon? I’m sure we’ll never know—such is the trouble with legends.

The final tale is “Oleg the Wise,” and it’s a cautionary tale filled with narrative tricks and sleights of hand. It’s written and illustrated by Alex Sheikman with special colors by Scott Keating. The great warrior-king Oleg is the center of this legend; in it he’s warned by a blind seer that his beloved ferret-steed will be the death of him. He parts from the creature sadly, but never forgets him and eventually seeks him out to be reunited. I won’t say whether or not the seer’s prophecy comes to pass, but this is the most lively and adventurous of all the tales told in the issue; both Sheikman’s story and artwork are thus far the most unique to the Mouse Guard universe.

In between the intermissions of the first three stories are asides in the June Alley Inn written, illustrated, and colored in Petersen’s unforgettable style. It’s clear from looking at these pages that he’s no stranger to tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons; the entire comic book sets the mood of an adventure created entirely within the imagination, which is the primary requisite of any pen-and-paper RPG game. Don’t forget: the first Mouse Guard spin-off product was a tabletop RPG guide book created by Petersen. 

I’m usually wary of anthologies—they never hold up to the original premise established by the creator. The Hellboy anthologies spring to mind almost immediately. But Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard is a rare gem in this regard. It’s interesting that all of the guest creators are their own writers and artists; perhaps this allows them to fully conceive and realize their stories without any outside interference. It’s clear from the final product that everyone involved has invested a lot of time and love into their tales, just as Petersen has done over the years.

At a time when the American comics industry is woefully malnourished, we’re given the feast of Mouse Guard. It’s a title that gives me hope: with a lot of passion and devotion to the craft, great comics are possible. Petersen proved it, and Archaia proved it by supporting and publishing the project. And now we have the work of Bastian, Naifeh, and Sheikman to add to the roster. What a fully realized world of the imagination we have here—and these gentlemen are to thank for it.

I cannot recommend Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard enough.

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