David Petersen brought along some friends for the next chapter in his masterwork. Lee takes a look.
Credits & Solicit Info:
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1
Published by Archaia
Released on June 2, 2010
"The Battle of the Hawk's Mouse & the Fox's Mouse"
Written and Illustrated by Jeremy Bastian
"A Bargain in the Dark"
Written and Illustrated by Ted Naifeh
"Oleg the Wise"
Written and Illustrated by Alex Sheikman
Colors by Scott Keating
Inside the June Alley Inn, located in the western mouse city of Barkstone, mice gather to tell tales, each trying to outdo the other. A competition, of sorts, begins. The rules: Every story must contain one truth, one lie, and have never been told in that tavern before. Legends of the Guard is a new Mouse Guard anthology series featuring the work of artists and storytellers handpicked by series creator David Petersen.
Great literature has been emulated since the dawn of time. Mouse Guard is not unaware of its influences. The book has been compared to Redwall and that makes sense. Here we see it take on the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer has seen its homages over the years in the likes of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. Even comics have paid its respects; the current House of Mystery began with a set up not dissimilar to the framing sequence here.
Legends of the Guard is an anthology book that sees different artists and writer’s take on Petersen’s beloved world. These stories are tied together by a contest proposed by a barkeep that has tired of the tabs running out of control in her establishment. In an effort to get the bills paid, she announces that stories will clear the tab of one skilled storyteller. The rest must pay their tab within seven days or answer to the law.
There are three rules that she invokes which must have some bearing on how the series will unfold. The rules are as follows: The story must not be completely true, it cannot be wholly a lie, and it must be new to the ears of June, the judge and barkeep that instigated the process.
So, Petersen connects three stories in this issue through this framework and the reader gets to see glimpses of what Mouse Guard would be like from other creators. Often times, genre properties can lose something when others attempt to recreate the magic and, while not every story here is perfect, the book captures the magic that has made this series so widely loved.
The most remarkable is the first. Bastian gives his tale the kind of storybook look that the tales of the 12th century mice world has always felt like. He creates a kind of hybrid that combines the best of picture books with the more standard comic panel story telling. He finds inventive ways to progress the narrative and exposition prose that are intuitive and natural even when they are oddly placed. The book calls attention to when it should be read in something other than left to right, top to bottom. In less capable hands it would be a confusing mess.
Beyond just giving a sort of origin of the idea behind the Guard, he gives astonishingly beautiful artwork that retains the glossy sheen of quality cell animation while antiquing it like O Brother Where Art Thou. It has the same effect making something new and exciting, referential and well imagined, look like something found not made. It is astonishing and I would welcome more back story done in this manner.
This is followed by Naifeh’s piece that feels short and choppy, but is just as effective in its moral. Naifeh tones down his normal art work and provides something that feels more classic. More refined, more comfortable if you will than even Petersen’s outstanding artwork on the series.
Finally, we have Sheikman’s cinematic take on Greek tragedy. When a seer gives a warning to a king, his own reaction dooms him and fulfills the prophecy. In such stories, it is the journey that counts and he makes it an interesting ride full of emotional content and wide angle action sequences.
Legends of the Guard is a testament to the world that Petersen has created and the artists who undertake caring for it even temporarily. It is masterful in its execution, art and is not dumb downed by the mutual respect shown between the creators. Chaucer would be proud, as Petersen and those involved in this project should also be.