Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 Review

On my weekly friend comic-run (I go at least twice a week to the comic store. Once on Wednesday by myself to pick up my monthly titles, and on Sunday with my friends) I generally pick up trades that spark my interest and this past week it was the paperback for David Petersen's Mouse Guard Fall 1152. Now the premise behind this book is simple enough, yet it's so incredibly charming. But let's make this simple, we'll start with:

What was Good.

The concept. What a fun idea. Admittedly it isn't that unique (for those of us who grew up loving the Secret of Nimh) but the execution is wonderful. In Mouse Guard we are ushered into a world within a world. Mice are so small that they've developed their own culture right under us. Their cities are built underneath fallen trees or within rock quarries; they cannot live in the open for fear of becoming easy prey for owls, foxes, snakes and other natural predators. The Mouse Guard serve, not only as protectors of these cities from these outside threats, but also as the brave soldiers who take on the task of traveling between cities as scouts, messengers and trailblazers. Plus these mice wield swords, and who isn't slightly curious to see the little buggers doing that?

The artwork and atmosphere. Petersen has such a crisp artistic style that, though he's working within a very fantastical realm, is anchored quite firmly in reality. These mice, aside from the cloaks they wear, look like real mice. The only drawback to this is the fact that, aside from the difference in fur color between each mouse, it's virtually impossible to tell them apart. Looking at the above image of the cover we see, from left to right, Lieam, Kenzie, and Saxon and you can see there is little to physically distinguish them. The atmosphere is dark, as one might expect in a world inhabited by mice, but it also reflects the year the story is set in. This was the year of Henry II of England and Louis VII of France, long before their more famous successors, Henry VIII and the Sun King Louis XIV. This is a world deeply set in what we anachronistically refer to as the "middle ages" or the medieval period; it is a culture that is in a constant struggle to exist.

The plot. Without offering too many spoilers, a small band of guardsman, while on a routine mission to find a mission grain merchant, uncover a plot to overthrow the Mouse Guard. Along the way they encounter a lost hero of wars past, as well as lose a valuable ally and stalwart friend. At the heart it is a story of betrayal and redemption. Of bravery and sacrifice. It is the makings of an epic on the smallest of scales.

What I felt could use improvement.

The dialogue. Or, to be fair, the lack thereof. I love comics, don't get me wrong. The blending of words and images is probably the best concept invented, but for me I place the words on a slightly higher plain than I do the images. I read Mouse Guard in about 15 minutes, and it's 200 pages. There just wasn't enough dialogue for me. Petersen certainly tends to rely more primarily on images to convey his story, but I feel that more dialogue would have given a far more distinct voice to each of the main characters, who at times came off as cliche. Lieam as the impetuous youth, Kenzie as the cautious and experienced guardsman, and Saxon as, well, another impetuous individual. It wasn't until close to the end where I felt Lieam's distinct personality started to surface. The sequel to this, Mouse Guard Winter 1152, which takes place shortly after the events in this book will be wrapping by the end of this summer, and once the trade comes out I'll offer another review, and hopefully in Winter 1152 the characters will be a little more fleshed out.

All in all I highly recommend this book. My friends were very surprised by my choice to pick this book up since I generally stay within my comfort zone of tights and capes, but there's a certain charm to the book that will make most willing readers instantly fall in love.

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