Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe

Writing and art by David Petersen

            I never really cared for the Redwall books as a kid.  It’s nothing against the series, it just never caught me while all my friends were obsessed with it.  I guess to fill in that whole of medieval series starring animals, I’ve ended up becoming a Mouse Guard fan, and The Black Axe is a great spot to jump on.
            Taking place before the previous two volumes, The Black Axe focuses on Celanawe, a member of the Mouse Guard who is visited by Em and finds out that they are the two remaining descendants of Farrer, the forger of the Black Axe.  The weapon itself has been lost, and it’s up to them to find where it has gone and choose a new wielder for it.
            Petersen’s greatest strength is definitely his majestic storytelling that pairs with his art.  The mice are the size of actual mice, and because of this, everything is a danger.  This lets him script some fantastic scenes.  The two descendants, along with the captain Conrad, voyaging across the sea is a highlight, expertly showing the length that it takes them to cross.  The actual distance for humans is never measured, but it doesn’t matter because they might as well be going across the Atlantic.  There’s also Celanawe going inside a bramble patch to hunt down a fox.  It’s perfectly tense, with the brambles becoming an apparently inescapable maze, only to release in a great action scene of him having to fight something far bigger than him.
             Along the way, he also weaves a story about what it takes to be a hero and a legend of the Black Axe’s caliber.  Celanawe has to keep up the legend of being an immortal hero, rather than just one in a line of heroes called the Black Axe, and finds the difficulty in that.  This is particularly shown in the final chapter.  After 5 chapters of heroic journeys and battles, the sixth calms things down to a point that shows the actual loss and troubles associated with the Axe, especially in finding a new wielder for it.  It shows how good this comic is that calming things down loses none of its momentum.
           There’s also plenty of extras to be found here.  A prologue and epilogue have been added which, respectively, fill in what’s going on after the last volume and fill in a story hole that wasn’t explained in the chapters.  There’s art of the major locations throughout the story which also feature descriptions that fill in the world and its backstory.  And finally, a collection of pin-ups by various artists which were included with the individual issues.  With a series that has one artist on it all the time, it’s always nice to get a glimpse of other artists’ takes on it.
            Whether you’re already a fan of Mouse Guard or just want to pick up something new, The Black Axe is a great read.  High-action and tension easily trade places with quieter moments to weave a fascinating tale that adds more to the world.

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