Review – Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1

My affinity for the world of mice presented by David Petersen and published by Archaia Entertainment is well documented on the site. The mini-series of short stories in Legends of the Guard was varied, well written and displayed the artwork of many different people. I’m excited for this new series, Mouse Guard: The Black Axe, if for no other reason than to really get an idea of what Petersen can do with an entire issue that is all his own.

As you can imagine, the story opens by introducing us to a couple of mice that happen to be the last in the line of their families. An older female mouse elder, Em, has sought her relative, a younger member of the guard named Celanawe. We find that their matriarch, Branwyn, has requested that the two mice undertake a quest to recover a legendary weapon revealed to be – as the title would imply – The Black Axe. This first issue tells of these mice meeting and the start of what will be a dangerous journey.

Celanawe is in his final days as the guard-member watching the Frostic Outpost. His former student is taking over and to prepare the area the mouse has constructed a rather impressive post just offshore on the coastline. We quickly find the reason for this outpost could be safety. Fishers and other large mating predators are beginning to show up in the area and being on the water will allow a safe watch to be kept.

Unfortunately the journey to the Citadel of the guard to surrender the post is interrupted when an elder mouse named Em lands on the beach riding a crow. She has learned to understand the language of birds and can communicate with them easily, a task Celanawe is impressed with. Unfortunately the commotion attracts two pairs of fishers to the area, and while the mice flee Em is devastated by the cries of the suddenly trapped bird.

The issue continues as the mice lead the ferret-like predators on a game of cat and mouse. Just when all hope seems lost and these vicious predators seem to have gained the upper hand, Em’s talents come in handy again and the mice are guided safely out to sea. It is here that we learn of the quest for The Black Axe that Em has brought to Celanawe on behalf of their matriarch Branwyn. After a brief conversation a plan is set into motion. An excellent pinup of The Black Axe drawn by Alex Sheikman closes the issue and leads us to believe this could indeed by some kind of epic weapon.

Thus our story of The Black Axe and the guardsman named Celanawe begins. The artwork is incredible. The battle scars and ornaments worn by the fishers really give off a sense of their evil intentions. Hunters and killers with no sense of remorse contrast with the emotional and thoughtful mice. They have to make up with brains what they lack in physical superiority. It is amazing how something as generic as a quest to recover an ancient weapon can seem fresh in this new context. Petersen has already written enough background to invest the reader in the two mice through some history and back story about their personal character.

I love that an issue this interesting has one driving force behind it and there is something to be said for having one writer match him art and storytelling together. I look forward to the next issue in this series. Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, have a look at the interiors below and look for this first issue in stores.