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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (review)

Collecting the first six-part chapter of the Mouse Guard series, Fall 1152 introduces three of the titular soldiers who protect the many hidden cities that make up the mouse kingdom during medieval times. The trio are in search of a missing merchant who was taking precious supplies to the city of Barkstone, only to find that he has been devoured by a snake. More importantly, he was a traitor, carrying a detailed map of their home city Lockhaven to persons unknown in Barkstone. As the Mouse Guard investigate, they discover a plot to unseat their leader Gwendolyn and even the reappearance of a military hero believed long dead may not tip the balance in their favour.

This Eisner Award-winning series shares some similarities with Brian Jacques' Redwall series of novels, featuring talking mice that have formed medieval human-style communities and battle against other animal foes. David Petersen's take on this theme however, seems to be that the mice are one of the few species to have civilised societies, formed as a defence against the bigger predators who clearly have no need for such niceties. It is mentioned that generations ago, the Mouse Guard originated from a band of soldiers who rose up in rebellion against a tyrannical Weasel Warlord, but it is the mice that this chapter is primarily concerned with.

Petersen has created a strong back history and civilisation for his characters, showing how the ordinary citizens go about their daily lives and play their part in keeping the cities running. We also discover that these strongholds that protect them are also their prisons; only traders and the Mouse Guard dare venture into the outside world. It is this that leads to the plotted military coup by those who resent the Mouse Guard, believing that they are pawns of the merchants and peasants and no longer serve a useful purpose. Such a situation is all too familiar and believable, yet Petersen feels no need to hammer the point home by turning his characters into humans with fur and tails. They are still recognisably mice and although at first they look cute, there is nothing cuddly or cosy about the world they inhabit. Just like our medieval ancestors, their lives are a constant battle against the elements and starvation, with political machinations and various enemies a close second in terms of threat. Petersen's full-colour art is beautifully rendered, from his animal characters to the towering forest backdrop and intricately detailed cities.

The collected Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 provides a perfect introduction to anyone new to the series. As well as the complete story, additional material includes an eight page epilogue, maps of the Mouse territories and guides to the cities of Barkstone and Lockhaven, plus a piece detailing common mouse trades. For those looking for a grown-up 'furry' comic, Mouse Guard is definitely worth trying.
Melissa Hyland

(* Copies of the original Villard Books edition of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 can be ordered through in hardcover and softcover (only second-hand copies of the latter available at present); there is also a UK hardcover edition (ISBN 978-1845766603) under the title Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152. The follow-up volume, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, should be available in November.)

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