The Mouse Guard series has been on my radar for a few years now, and every time I come back to sitting down with it, I have somehow been pulled away or distracted. So as I am finally able to sit down with this newest issue kicking off an anthology four-part mini-series, my expectations were a bit high based on my own anticipation and positive feedback from others I have read. Sometimes, holding such expectations can be a very bad thing, and you are only going to be let down in the end. This time, I am happy to say, expectations were met and exceeded.
I am a sucker for Medieval and later Romantic-era British literature. What Medieval (and really a good chunk of pre-Medieval European) literature provides is big, grandiose stories of heroes, danger, humor, and heartbreak that help the reader or listener to create context within their own lives even now in the 21st century. The Greeks and the Mediterranean storytellers gave us epic poems that often took place around the idea of the games played between people and gods, but the Brits and middle Europe mapped out different territories for their grand tales. The tales of Europe in the Medieval period were often manifested around nature, specifically in the forests and the land, where magic and creatures abounded. The influence of such tales even worked their way into the plays of Shakespeare who may be one of the first great supernatural writers. All three of the tales in this issue of Mouse Guard are tales of the land, (and tied together nicely with an interstitial device by David Peterson), and while only dabbling in the supernatural, play the ecosystem and the complicated relationships of it in a fanciful and thoughtful manner.
While trying to think about something meaningful to write about the superb artwork from Stan Sakai, Alex Eckman-Lawn, Ben Caldwell, and series creator David Peterson, I, for the sake of brevity and a self-imposed limit on my writing, will choose what I consider to be the best of the batch if my feet were held to the fire. That nod goes to the second story, “Leviathan,” which introduced me to the work of Alex Eckman-Lawn. This artwork is reminiscent for me of the higher quality storybooks of my youth and also has the strongest message about bravery and perception (provided by writer Nick Tapalansky) that often are lacking in stories of late I have been reading about heroism and the ethical or moral choices that can dictate the inner compass of an individual.
One last thing I can say with a degree of assurance about this issue of Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard is that it supplies that feeling of satisfaction one has when you have read a story (or in this case stories), and you feel confident enough to pass on the story to to others so that they may enjoy it as well. That was one component of the oral traditions of the ancient people of emerging societies (also as a means of keeping cultural values alive) who passed down their tales, and this small slice (and I am sure the larger collection will also) amicably situates itself within that tradition.