When I was a kid, the first exposure to serious, non-humorous, fictional anthropomorphic characters was in animator Don Bluth’s The Secret of N.I.M.H. feature on the big screen. It had light moments, but what always stuck in my brain were the dark aspects of it, especially the images and scenes of the rats juxtaposed against all the other creatures (the Owl in his lair…I still have nightmares). While Disney creators and other artists often tapped into making rodents and vermin palpable, other creators of the 20th century saw the potential for humanizing our animal counterparts to explore story ideas.
“The Mice Templar: Legend #1” is exploring the middle centuries (think King Arthur/Excalibur) sword and sorcery formula. I like Glass & Oeming approach the purpose of this order of brave mice , and really the center of the story, by discussing the need for balance in the “natural world”. Granted, minus human beings, it becomes tough to discuss balance between our fabricated/socially constructed world and a natural world, so the challenge the creators face is focusing on the balance of just the natural world (i.e., nature). The thematic binary that the creators settle upon is light vs. dark, good vs. evil, which is broad and malleable enough to provide conflicts constructed that sow seeds of investing reader interest in the long term. If you are also a fan of straight prose fiction (and in the mood to do some compare and contrast), you can find an anthropomorphic equivalent of this type of story in Brian Jaques’s Redwall series, and some in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
Oeming & Santos artwork is shrouded in the darkness of the deep woods in the late hours, where the world is quiet but bustling with life and activity if you are looking in the right places. Much of this issue is comprised of combat scenes tried in numerous layouts (full single and two page splash spreads) and a playful sense of page composition in regards to panels and placement of movement, narration, and dialogue. This was a relief, because if you are going to construct a big, heroic epic, then the artwork has to match the tone—the artwork needs to sell that this is a big adventure tale that will pull me in with all the elements of a good story: intrigue, action, romance, etc. (wow, this suddenly sounds like a voice over for a bad movie trailer, apologies).
You don’t need to have read previous volumes in this Harvey Award winning series (this is number four). I had not and I was able to sort out all the information and numerous characters that are presented even without using the names and terms short glossary provided in the back of the issue. Professor Tolkien will for the foreseeable future continue to cast a large shadow on all fantasy/mythical adventure, just as Lucas does still upon sci-fi,but those creators who embrace the themes and narrative construction, who understand that it is about not meddling with the foundation of the major thematics of basic story too much, will continue to make stories worth investing our personal time into.