Sunday, August 14, 2011

REVIEW: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by author/illustrator David Petersen, is a soft cover graphic novel collecting the first six bi-monthly issues of the Eisner-award winning Mouse Guard comic book series published by Archaia Press.

The story centers around a society of anthropomorphic mice living in a medieval England-like period and setting. Specifically, the protagonists of the story are the titular Mouse Guard - a sworn brotherhood of mice who originally served as soldiers in a war against weasels, but now fulfill a variety of other roles - scouts, pathfinders, weather watchers, bodyguards, etc - for the civilians in mouse society. 

The Mouse Guard have no authority in the towns and villages, only on the open road between settlements. They are guardians and guides, ensuring peace between the various settlements and safety for travelers on the roads. We are introduced to the Guard through veteran pair Saxon and Kenzie, and newcomer Lieam as the trio are dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a traveling merchant on the road. What starts out as a simple investigation soon grows more dire as evidence of a treasonous conspiracy is discovered - a conspiracy which threatens the end of the Mouse Guard itself.

The race to stop the conspiracy before its too late makes up the rest of the story, and along the way we're introduced to a few other key protagonists - Gwendolyn, the leader of the Guard, and Sadie, another newcomer to the Guard, who is dispatched by Gwendolyn on a mission of import and discovers additional elements regarding the conspiracy in play.

I found the writing to be somewhat straightforward and almost minimalist - a brief prose narrative introduces each chapter, setting the stage and tone, or filling in some of the blanks between chapters, while the dialogue carries the rest, buoyed by the art. Some of the panels are devoid of any words, sounds, or dialogue at all - with the story carried exclusively by the art. Sometimes such a narrative risk pays off, sometimes it doesn't. In this case, I found the art compelling enough to move the narrative along even without sound effects or dialogue.

The tropes explored by the story are timeless for the medieval fantasy genre, though the art and the particular protagonists and antagonists perhaps open them up to a younger audience not yet immersed in the larger mythical narrative tradition from which this story hails. The presence of a pair of strong female characters that serve as more than just damsels in distress adds to the work's appeal, and makes this a collection that I would not hesitate to introduce to young readers of all genders. My one critique of the collection is that I felt it could have been a bit more layered and complex in characterization and plot, but as it's just the opening salvo in a longer series, such a reservation can be forgiven and a more accurate judgement cast upon a review of the work as a larger whole.

On a side note, there's been a role playing game made from the Mouse Guard setting, and I can see how easily the series would lend itself to small or silver screen animated treatment. A revised boxed set version of the RPG will be issued in January 2012, and I'll definitely be getting it and reviewing it here after I've had a chance to read more of the stories set in this world and then tell some of my own. 

RATING: 4 out of 5

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