When I first heard of the Mouse Guard series, I immediately thought of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books. Like the Jacques books, David Petersen’s series features mice as heroes carrying swords and performing deeds of derring-do. One of the biggest differences is that Redwall is prose (except for the DVD adaptations) and most of the imagery is supplied by the reader. With Mouse Guard, Petersen provides the story and the pictures in graphic novel format.
The artwork is dark for the most part, as is much of the story, but it suits the tale extremely well. Petersen is a craftsman when it comes to telling and showing his story. Most of the images get the point across really well, but many of them are incredibly striking as well. I love how he draws the characters and the action, but I love the world-building he puts into the book most of all. I want to go visit the places he draws. I want to wander through those houses and buildings, and across the varied landscapes. He brings wonderful depth to his imaginary world.
This initial story, gathered from issues of Mouse Guard released as comics, is an old-fashioned swashbuckling tale. The main characters – Kenzie, Lieam, and Saxon – could well be the Three Musketeers. They have the same sense of honor, the same taste for adventure, and skills that make them fierce warriors.
The story feels a bit like a modern day espionage story with a bit of Indiana Jones thrown in. Our heroes have to track down a missing merchant and uncover a threat to their home, Lockhaven, as well as surrounding territories. As they follow up the clues they find, they stumble onto the mystery of the Black Axe, once a famed warrior that disappeared without warning some time ago.
I loved the enemies the mice had to fight, and the fact that they would be deadly to real mice. The fight with the crabs was a stroke of genius because I would have never thought of mice having to battle with crabs. The dialogue and narrative is sparse, and Petersen only puts what’s needed on the page. Where he really excels, though, is in the art. I felt the towns all around me, and I could hear the slap of leather sandal on stone as the mice walked through the streets, and I could hear the murmur of other mice that saw them as strangers.
Petersen already has a second graphic novel on the shelves. I’m picking it up as well. I’d recommend this book to any reluctant young reader, or to a swashbuckler of any age that believes in the fight of good versus evil.