Mouse Guard : The Black Axe is a prequel to David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series; it tells the mouse Celanwe’s story prior to the events of Fall and Winter 1152. This graphic novel compares well to other quests in mythology. Petersen has yet to write a Tristan and Isolde medieval styled romance, but this is his Golden Fleece, as Celanwe departs by sea and returns with an inspired MacGuffin indeed. Celanwe is oath and duty bound by the last of his kinsfolk, Em, to accompany her in a quest for the legendary eponymous weapon itself, The Black Axe. Em has spent much of her life seeking for the Axe and when she finds Celanwe, she recruits him to do the family’s work. Long ago, a mouse named Farrer forged the Black Axe, and the last of his kin, Celanwe and Em, are bound by blood to find the axe and pass it on to worthy bearers. They sail across the waves, have dealings with tribal ferrets, and sally forth against ravening foxes in their quest for the Black Axe. Although the quest concludes in this volume, everyone loses something in the course of the story, so it is not a tale of sweet victory.

To be clear, there is one certain victor: David Petersen. Mouse Guard : The Black Axe may be his best work yet–a tale of heroism infused with rare melancholy and mice possessed of a humanity that dwarfs that of superheroes. Mouse Guard marries the thrill of “four color” pulp fiction to a fully realized world with a host of brooding mice striving to survive in a world with a vast appetite for mice and no pity for their cuteness. While not quite as voracious as George R. Martin’s Westeros, the dangers in the Mouse Territories are many and most tower over the rodents. There are only a few fantasy worlds this detailed in sequential art: Cerbebus’s Palnu and Iest, Bone and Thorn’s Atheia, Elfquest‘s World of Two Moons. Petersen has plans for the fourth and fifth Mouse Guard series already, and it is never too late to jump on board this ambitious comic book fantasy.

Mouse Guard : The Black Axe is published by Archaia Press. It is available in comic book stores and from quality booksellers, including Amazon. It is also available on comiXology as a digital edition. However, if you buy the hard bound edition, you will be treated to tons of extras, including the story from 2010’s Free Comic Book Day edition, 22 pages of maps, location guides and ships, and a foreword by Terry Jones of Monty Python.

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