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Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #2 [Advance Review]

MOUSE GUARD: LEGENDS OF THE GUARD 2

For much of human history the most useful role filled by mice has been that of a crunchy bite-sized snack. The problems they caused, on the other hand, included devouring some of our food supply, defecating on what they couldn’t eat, and then leaving behind disease carrying parasites. And yet somehow there’s still something deep inside us that always finds it adorable when they twitch their tiny noses and scamper around on their itty-bitty legs. And then, for some bizarre reason I can’t explain, the next thing we decide to do is construct elaborate fantasies where they either pilot riverboats or wield little mouse-sized swords while wearing little mouse-sized clothing and armor.

David Petersen’s “Mouse Guard” series, published by Archaia Comics, is one of the two critically acclaimed rodent epic fantasy books currently hitting the shelves (the other being Bryan Glass and Michael Avon Oeming’s “Mice Templar”). Petersen, who both writes and illustrates the series, has lovingly crafted a world of medieval mice. And with the “Legends of the Guard” series, he’s inviting other creators to join in and add to the tapestry of his world. The second issue of “Legends of the Guard” carries on the overall framing story for the four issue run. A group of mice at an inn are have been issued a challenge by the innkeeper: whoever can tell what she judges to be the best story will have their bar tab cleared.

I’d like to stop for a moment to lament the fact that such competitions have gone out of fashion in the past few centuries. I’m all for bars reintroducing storytelling competitions as an occasional variation from the usual trivia nights. On the other hand, that inevitably starts the sort of slippery slope that ends in it becoming an acceptable practice to pay writers in the form of alcohol instead of money. This is exactly the kind of idea that would be all too enthusiastically accepted by a large number of writers at first, leaving very few in any state to consider the long term drawbacks.

But now I shall return from that digression to “Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard” #2, which features stories by the artist/writer teams of Sean Rubin & Alex Kain and Gene Ha & Lowell Francis, as well as a shorter piece both written and illustrated by Terry Moore, with Petersen providing the connecting sequences taking place at the inn. Rubin and Kain’s story is the first and most impressive of the group. Rubin’s no stranger to the mice with swords genre, having provided covers and illustrations for Brian Jacques’ long-running “Redwall” series of novels. And it’s his art that most differs from Petersen’s usual style, preferring a subdued palette of browns and grays while taking great care in showing the textures of the tree that houses small community of Barkhamsted and the enormous bear that’s attacking it.

Rubin also excels at showing the action and sense of scale necessary to convey Kain’s story of a single mouse defending the settlement from the enraged bear. Ha and Francis tell an amusing tale of a banker mouse out to catch a thief who ends up needing to use his intelligence to defeat a predator troubling a savage, isolationist group of mice and in so doing earn their trust and his goods back. Ha’s art is a closer match to Petersen’s usual style and Francis’ story endears the reader to the solemn, business-like approach to heroism taken by Worley the banker-mouse. Terry Moore adds a brief but fun two page short piece in between the longer ten page stories.

The care David Petersen has brought to his series in both its art and its writing is one of the major reasons for its success, but it’s also encouraging to see other creators be able to step into his world and add delightful tales of its own. “Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard” is a fun anthology series that’s both rewarding to fans and a good jumping on point if you’re unfamiliar with the world of “Mouse Guard.” And since the stories of each issue stand on their own issue 2 isn’t a bad place to start, with Rubin and Kain’s entry in particular providing all the excitement you’d expect from the premise of one lone mouse armed with sword, cloak and rope fighting a bear many times his own size.

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