Mouse Guard, vol. 3:The Black Axe gathers David Petersen’s well-written and superbly illustrated, six-part limited series of the same name, reprints the “Free Comic Book Day” story as a prologue, includes a twenty-two page section of maps, and starts things off right with a foreword written by Monty Python member, Terry Jones. In other words, so much goodness is packed inside this collection of tales about anthropomorphic mice living in a medieval society, that even those who have collected the individual issues would do well to snatch up this hardcover collection. Those who are approaching the Mouse Guard series for the first time might want to at least skim either of the preceding volumes, Fall 1152 and Winter 1152, to understand the gravity of the back story being provided, as the story of Black Axe is a prequel to those two volumes.
In The Black Axe, we follow the early adventures of young Celanawe, who is oath and duty-bound by the last of his kinsfolk, Em, to accompany her in a quest for the legendary weapon, the black axe. It is on this voyage that Celanawe will come to possess the weapon that gives him the name readers are familiar with and finally sheds some light on their mysterious descendant, Farrer. Em and Celanawe sail across an ocean, encounter a tribal ferret king, and deal with ravening foxes in this bittersweet quest that pulls no punches as characters root out the secrets of their family lineage. The story is terribly exciting, and David Petersen should be applauded for producing a rich world populated by gallant mice and war-like weasels that is frankly one of the best fantasy comics titles of its kind.
In addition to Petersen’s superb storytelling ability, his artwork is also to be commended for its graceful elegance. It seems so few people have the gift to be both an excellent writer and illustrator, but Mr. Peterson is a member of that special club that includes such luminaries as Stan Sakai and Ted McKeever. Many panels reminded me of Gustaf Tenggren’s animal fairy-tale illustrations, which forever captivated me as a child. While Petersen’s art serves as an excellent backdrop and support for the narrative, I oftentimes found myself entranced by the art itself.
Mouse Guard is an example of excellent high fantasy in the vein of Bone and Elfquest. Peterson’s stories can be read and liked by all age groups, but adults and teens will also appreciate the tremendous effort put into the complex story and art.