A worthy addition to an already accomplished and critically lauded franchise.
Mouse Guard: The Black Axe, from Archaia Studios Press, collects the six-part limited series of the same name written and beautifully illustrated by series creator David Petersen.
A prequel to the two preceding volumes in the Eisner-Award-winning Mouse Guard series, The Black Axe follows a character who will be familiar to readers of the previous books. Celanawe, the titular “Black Axe,” is a young warrior of the Guard who winds up meeting Em, an unknown distant cousin under orders from the Guard Matriarch to accompany Celanawe on an expedition to an unknown land. It is on this voyage that Celanawe will come to possess the weapon that gives him his name, and uncover the truth behind the tale of Farrer, the mouse who forged it.
While the story moves along at a brisk pace, the characters of Mouse Guard are truly the focus of this book. On the frontline of the Guard’s struggle for survival against the frontier’s vicious predators, Celanawe inadvertently finds himself rooting out the secrets of his own family lineage with Em’s help, and we are able to see him slowly grow into the legendary Guard champion seen in later years. Long-time fans will surely enjoy watching as the backstory of this enigmatic hero of past books is fleshed out.
Petersen’s artwork, as always, is graceful and stylish in its simplicity, forming the backdrop for a well-crafted story that is strongly reminiscent of the best of Richard Adams. The subject matter is violent from time to time, though there’s nothing here that’s any more graphic than the sort of fantasy conflict seen in earlier installments, and the series’ all-ages nature, a major source of its appeal, remains intact.
It might seem strange to describe a book about sentient mice as authentic, but that word actually goes a long way toward conveying the attention to detail Petersen has put into this installment in the Mouse Guard series. While this version of the High Middle Ages is populated by gallant mice and warlike weasels, the book manages to take itself just as seriously as it needs to, and not a bit more. Though imbued with a fairy-tale-esque sense of minimalism, the narrative is as richly detailed as some of the most popular works of high fantasy.
Those who have come to love the world-building and character development so central to the series will not be disappointed, and newcomers of all ages will be sure to find themselves caught up in the magic of Mouse Guard before too long.
David Petersen (W/A) • Archaia Entertainment, $24.95, July 10, 2013