Legends of the Guard review

What Did I Learn?

Mouse Guard

Today’s review is brought to you by a Border’s liquidation sale. The title is Mouse Guard: Legends of The Guard Vol.1 by David Peterson, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Alex Sheikman, Sean Rubin, Alex Kain, Terry Moore, Gene Ha, Lowell Francis, Nate Pride, Guy Davis, Katie Cook, Jason Shawn Alexander, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl, Mark Smylie and Joao Lemos. This book won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Anthology.

If you hate evocative art or stories about mice doing heroic deeds – like the Rats of Nymh or Redwall then just move on. This review ain’t for you. There are soldier mice called Guard Mice who have fought off the predators and keep the various towns and their travel between safe. They go on all sorts of missions with their swords and flashing cloaks.

Peterson’s art is elegantly simple, as I’ve pondered on before. (Or thought I have – I reviewed both the Fall and Winter 1152 books but I don’t seem to have posted those reviews. How infuriating. I’ll find them and get them posted.) In any case, you can see a preview of his art here.

This is the art which sandwiches the works of Bastian, Naifeh, Sheikman, Rubin, Kain, Moore, Ha, Francis, Pride, Davis, Cook, Alexander, Rousseau, Kerschl and Smylie, plus an epilogue by Lemos. Some of these are comic industry professionals with familiar names, but all have provided excellent work. You can see some of the art and a little peek into each of their processes in this blog post from Peterson’s blog.

The story is of a tavern keeper who declares that her patrons must each tell a good story or pay their tab within seven days. One will be the winner, who will have their tab cleared. Each story that the bar patrons tell comes to an end and the other patrons squabble about the tales told before the next insists that their story is the best and begins to tell it. It all ends, of course, with the bar owner choosing the best tale.

In each story, you get a change of art, font and style. One story is told by a minstrel who tells his tale accompanied by music and in rhyme. Another is told in an ancient legend style with parchment and faded colors. Yet another is penciled lines and color and still another is told without dialog. Some are narrated. One is based on one of Aesop’s Fables and yet another on Poe’s Raven poem.

This struck me as an outstanding way to collect the works of various artists together. One could adapt the idea in various ways – the technique is not limited to flashbacks or story telling sequences. Imagine an MST3K comic, for example.

Before I read this book, I’d never have believed that a mouse could best a creature hundreds of times its size. If mice used swords, then it was illustrated in such a way that I could believe it – all in just 21 panels. This might seem expected to you in a comic, but the Guard Mice do not always live happily ever after. They often have to sacrifice themselves and pay the ultimate price in order to protect the towns and their friends. There are thirty odd towns, three of which have fallen in the last 42 years. Nothing is safe. The territory borders, the towns themselves, the mice in the towns. It’s a fragile world, held together by sheer determination and heroism.

What Did I Learn?

Mouse Guard is all about character. The mice are far bigger than their furry pelts do justice to and the world they live in needs to be explored further than these 13 stories give.

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