Posts Tagged ‘Mouse Guard’

[Review] Mouse Guard – Fall 1152

At the moment, the Role-playing game, Mouse Guard, is all the rage in Denmark. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am looking very much forward to trying it out.

Now, if you know of the Mouse Guard RPG, you probably also know that it was based off a series of comics, written by David Petersen (a very Danish name, but he is American). So, when I discovered that the Danish Library of State had Fall 1152, I felt reading it would be a good way to get an initial taste of what the game would be about.

Cutesey? You want to come down here and say that again?

When I first heard of Mouse Guard, My thoughts were along the lines of: “Mouse Guard – that’s mice with swords. Like Reepicheep from Narnia. Awesome – if a tad cutesey.”

Now, readers of Narnia will know what that chivalrous mouse would have to say to such an accusation – however, even if Reepicheep is not cutesey compared to the rest of Narnia, the whole of that series has a cutesey varnish over a serious story. Thus, the Mouseceteer, Reepicheep, does conjure images of a cute and childish character.

Mouse Guard is not cutesey. The drawings are very pleasing to the eye, and the mice themselves have a certain cuteness to them that would be hard to take out of them. But this is a story of mice viciously killing and being killed. When blood is drawn on the 12th (rather short) page out of 186, you know this is going to be a serious story.

And that is an important lesson to learn from Mouse Guard: there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Brave mice, cruel world

The characters in Mouse Guard are mice. They may be dressed and wield hammers, pens or swords, but they are still mice, that is to say, very small. In Mouse Guard proves to be a brilliant move by David Petersen.

In many comics and fantasy stories, the writer must come up with nasty monsters and scary empires as opponents to give their protagonists someone to fight whom we can believe will provide a challenge challenge. But the mice don’t need to be afraid of huge, imaginary monsters – they can be afraid of small, real monsters, like adders, crabs and weasels. In this way, by making his protagonists smaller and more naturally vulnerable, Petersen has made his world more intense, more relevant. The rather mundane and – to us – not very dangerous animals that the mice fight feel like real threats – more than the fantasic and powerful monsters of many other comics. And when the mice talk about their supplies running short, it seems like a real and important problem. Very handily done, mr. Petersen.

I give you: the story

At this time, I feel it is time to tell you a bit about the story of Mouse Guard: The three mice, Kenzie, Saxon and Lieam are members of the Guard – a force of roadwardens, pathfinders and – when the need be – soldiers that guard the settlements of the mice. They have been dispatched to find a grain peddeling mouse that disappeared on the way between two mouse settlements. In the other end of the mouse terrritories, Sadie, another Guardmouse, is investigating the appearent disappearance of the Guardsmouse manning a distant lookout post. Independent of each other, these two groups of mice discover that a traitor is planning a strike on Lockhaven, the headquarters of the Guard. Now start their races to get back to Lockhaven in time to thwart this megalomaniac.

The story is concluded nicely, while at the same time setting the scene for the next book. Don’t worry – no cliffhanger ending.

There is something odd about the way the story is told. At certain times, the story seems to jump, skipping certain events. It is usually easy to piece together what happened – it is more of a style of storytelling. However, it is a style I’m not quite sure whether I like.

On the other hand, it seems like a part of the artistic project of the comic: the comic is not about realistically telling every little part of the story – instead, it is about feeling the important parts of the story, leaving out some of the less important bits. If this is the intenton, it does work.

Painting mice

Obviously, you can’t review a comic with out a few remarks about the artwork.

The story is done in a sqare format, mostly divided into 1-4 frames. The pages with five or six frames are few and far between – no page has more than six frames. This makes for  very clean, almost minimalistic pages, and provides a very peculiar pacing to the comic. When a spread has three or four frames, each frame feels more important. I guess this fits nicely with the odd way the story is told – the comic shows only the important parts, but gives each moment the “time” it requires.

The drawings, themselves, are very good. Beautiful, colour saturated paintings, often spiced up with images of nature which add imensely to the image of the environment. It is impressive to see how much spirit, Petersen can paint into a mouse – when we close up on a mouse, we can see a little human being staring up at us.

There is still a problem with the mice, however. Many of then are quite hard to distinguish. Especially two os them, who are of the same height and and hair colour, and wearing cloaks of the same colour, are almost impossible to tell apart.

All in all

I’m very pleased with Mouse Guard. The artworks good, the story’s rivetting and served very nicely.

I wholeheartedly recommend the book to any comic fan out there.