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TOPIC: [2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe

[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 3 weeks ago #40409

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Reading Club for September 2014
Book:Mouse Guard: The Black Axe
No. of Issues6
Host:jkthemac
Publisher:Boom Entertainment
Creators:David Petersen
Genre:Fantasy
ISBN:978-1936393060
Where to purchase?:Amazon
Read by:September 30, 2014
Host Rating:coming soon
Community Rating:4/5
Published:2013
Host Review:I'll read this with you all & review it here, issue by issue.
Next Host:to-be-announced

Book Description:
Welcome back to the world of mice in the third collected volume of the Eisner Award-winning and critically acclaimed fantasy comic series, Mouse Guard. This beautifully illustrated prequel to the two previous volumes spins the tale of wise oldfur and longtime Mouse Guard member Celanawe, as he fulfills the promise made to young Lieam to detail the day his paw first touched the legendary weapon, the Black Axe. The arrival of distant kin takes Celanawe on an adventure that will carry him across the sea to uncharted waters and lands, all while unraveling the legend of Farrer, the blacksmith who forged the mythical weapon.


From CBR:
"Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #1 is a welcome return of a new mini-series from Petersen. "Mouse Guard" is a comic that will never disappoint you, and this new issue is no exception. If you've never read "Mouse Guard" before, this is a fine place to jump on board for yourself.
From Dorkshelf:
Mouse Guard is an epic tale of minuscule proportions. Literally. The heroes of this series are mice; the aforementioned Mouse Guard are those who protect mice travelling in the wilderness between mouse cities. It’s a fascinating concept that reads like a cross between folk tales, a Greek odyssey, and fables for children. Mouse Guard is not for the faint of heart though: it has brutal moments of loss to accompany each all-too-short celebration. Life is not easy for these small creatures, but they exhibit exceptional fortitude and courage throughout the series. That doesn’t stop them from having the same societal issues that plague humanity: civilization comes at a cost and there are always those who are willing to upset any peace or harmony that has been achieved. It’s a grandiose mythos and this latest chapter, Mouse Guard: The Black Axe, does not disappoint.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 3 weeks ago #40412

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Hi all,
Thanks to 600WPMPO for kicking this off for me, real life intervened yesterday.

Allow me to explain why I have selected this book, as in the tradition of some book clubs I haven’t read this myself, but I have read the preceding volumes.

If I want to chill out; if I need a break from complex marvel continuity; if I need to escape the nihilism of gothic horror, if I need to smooth out my wrinkled brow formed by reading gritty political thrillers; or if I just want a guaranteed great comic, I turn to Mouse Guard.

It is often said that as comics get more commercial and driven by the need to double ship or promote the latest movie, that the art of visual story telling is dying. Well this isn’t true, because there are still corners of the comic book industry that support all that is great about comics, AND remain commercial.

Mouse Guard is one of those books that you will still find decades from now sitting in the bookshop (if they still exist) besides TinTin or Asterix the Gaul, tucked away in the children’s section quietly convincing anyone that discovers it, adult or child, that comics are cool. It has already spawned a Roleplaying game a board game, and an anthology comic as its small but growing franchise develops.

It belongs to the tradition of epic fantasy storytelling, of heroes facing overwhelming foes in a cruel deadly world and so even though it has a childlike sensibility it has behind it the weight of a tradition.

This is not technically the first volume of Mouse Guard, so I will be providing a quick story so far to catch you all up, but this isn’t a book about continuity, so there isn’t a whole lot.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 3 weeks ago #40414

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Brief Story so far

The first two Volumes of Mouse Guard are named after the seasons in which their action takes place, and this in itself is a part of the world building. If you are a mouse then the season is a major factor, your life will be totally different and you will face dangers, such as predators or weather, which are unique to the time of year. The tone and feel of each volume is drawn from this perspective on the seasons.

As Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a prequel, there isn’t an awful lot of continuity to worry about, but this volume has been set up in the previous books. The Black Axe is the name of both a weapon and the Hero who wielded it, and the story is setting it up as a title and a legacy that can be passed on, and there is a dispute over who will wield the Black Axe and what they will do with the title.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 3 weeks ago #40415

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Volume one Fall 1152
A spoiler heavy synopsis of the first book

The story is set in the aftermath of a war with weasels three years previous. In the intervening period the Guard have become less military, acting as the guides to the wilderness. Even maintaining communication, and trade between the hidden and fortified towns is a major operation requiring heroic characters.

Our heroes are Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon, and the pace of the story is gentle, so the most important thing to mention is that our heroes are investigating a stolen map of Lockhaven found in a dead merchant’s possessions and a potential plot against the matriarch Gwendolyn.

Meanwhile Sadie our heroine, has been sent by Gwendolyn to investigate the loss of communication with a Guard member on the coast named Conrad. Where she learns of a plot by a mysterious dark mouse who gave the map to the merchant. Crabs attack and apparently kill Conrad but Sadie escapes with the information.

The search for the maps takes them to Barkstone. Lieam the ‘tenderpaw’, a rookie of the Guard but a proven fighter in the war, stumbles unawares into an order called The Axe, and in the meantime Kenzie the Patrol Leader and Saxon the enthusiastic swordsmouse have been left exposed outside the city and are taken in for interrogation by an ‘oldfur’ called Celanawe who suspects they are criminals.

Lieam is taken prisoner by ‘The Axe’ and they march to Lockhaven with conquest of the ‘territories’ in mind. They currently wield the Black Axe and use it as a rallying cry and a symbol of totalitarian power.

Once Kenzie and Saxon have explained what is at stake, Celanawe (a hermit that was previously keeping the Axe hidden and so is suspected by them of being the Black Axe himself), force marches them to follow the army, despite his age, and they arrive during a siege, as Sadie has had time to warn of potential treachery.

The Black Axe seek to break the siege by using Lieam’s life as a bargaining chip, but he escapes during a rush on the gate.

As only a small contingent of The Axe manage to gain entry, a skirmish decides the battle, and the identity of the leader is revealed as Midnight, and traitorous member of the Guard. Celanawe reclaims his Axe and is about to slay Midnight but Gwendolyn stays his hand and Midnight is instead banished outside the ‘scent border’, lest he become a martyr.

In the denouement, Celanawe has told only Gwendolyn that he is the true Black Axe and is acting as a mentor to Lieam. And Sadie has been encouraged to seek the company of our heroes to distract her from her grief over Conrad.
Last Edit: 3 years 3 weeks ago by jkthemac.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 3 weeks ago #40422

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My review for Issue #1

I haven't purposely read the first 2 volumes of Mouse Guard, as this 3rd volume is said to be a prequel, and can be read as a standalone book. While reading the first issue, I never felt that I'm reading something from the middle of a series.

That said, the book is above average, yet I'm not getting anything in it that would make me reread it some other day. There's not much to the story, but the world-building is excellent. The font used for the narrator's words is tough to read. The art is good, but I have seen better.

The second issue will largely clear my opinion, as to whether I like this series or not. Till then, my opinion is guarded.

I give this first issue a 3 out 5.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 weeks ago #40437

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My review for issue #2:

Here are some of the 'problems' I have with this issue:
  • A lack of story
  • A lack of motivation for the main character. Why, at all, are they going after the axe?
  • Expository flashback
  • A tough-to-read font used for lettering the narrator's words
  • All mice look the same
  • The hero's character is not yet built up enough to be an individual one would relate to

What's good:
  • The art in the flashback scenes is excellent.
  • The sequence of events from the beginning of the first issue to the end of the second follows a constant pace, and is almost like scenes from a movie with perfect continuity.

Some musings:
  • The storm scenes reminded me of the movie 'All is lost'.
  • Why mice? The story is so 'human', so why mice? Why any animal, for what matter? And why only mice? Why not, say, monkeys?

I again give this a 3 out of 5. Future issues have to read better to get any greater ratings from me.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 weeks ago #40451

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My review for issue #3:

Finally, the series gives us its best issue till now. From the first panel to the last, it is a perfect story. The first page itself made it sure that a special story was ahead:

As I pointed out last time, there is an absolute perfection to the pacing of this comic; it is like a well-directed movie. The writing beautifully compensates for the over-simplified storyline. Now 3 issues old, I'm able to see subtle expressions on the mice's face. But still, the main character is still a very dull person... er, mouse.

This was re-readable. I easily give this a 4 out of 5.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 1 week ago #40493

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My review for Issue #4:

Such a simple story, but so well narrated.

This entire issue just tells the story of a fight between a fox & a mouse. Now what could there be to read in such a story? It turns out that not only does the story come out as interesting, but also the possible outcomes constantly weigh on the mind of the reader, fluctuating in probabilities with each turn of the page. Add the cliffhanger at the end, and you've got a perfect tale. I can assure you it's so simple, yet unlike almost anything you'd have read.

I give this a 4 out of 5. Re-readable.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 1 week ago #40495

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must.not.read.other.reviews.

Picked up the first issue, and decided to give it a "quick read", almost certain that I wouldn't enjoy it.
The OCD part of me decided that it was wrong.
The format is wrong. The lettering is terrible. It looks like a Geronimo Stilton rip-off.
Yes, all this is true, yet... I find myself wanting to give issue #2 a read.
I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 1 week ago #40496

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Prologue

The beginning of this third volume begins with a journal entry by the Matriarch, Gwendolyn.
Her tone as always is resigned to her duty, she always wishes she could do more for her loyal Guard Mice, but there is always so much to do to protect the territories. We witness a slow building montage of these duties, illuminating the things that need to be done each spring to keep her people safe. Always the scale is emphasised, how small and vulnerable the mice are compared to the predators and other disrupting beasts, and throughout the montage is the ever present rain. A rain that itself could threaten their homes and way of life.

The rain emphasises duty, in each scene Guards go about their tasks, or support an otherwise defenceless mouse who performs theirs while braced against the weather. You can feel the slow pace of each action, meticulously taken in the adverse conditions, and the solemnness of their tasks. Life is a hard slog for this society, but it holds together when everyone fulfils their role, and a role is missing. The solemnity is partly due to the loss of a hero, a symbol of hope and freedom, Celanawe The Black Axe.

As prologues go this is a lovely start, it is full of the grief, pathos and hardship of a community hoping against hope that as long as they perform their roles things will be ok, but in every scene lies a direct or implied threat, a possibility of collapse. Even as the scent line that marks their territory is remarked, presumably by a barrel of urine from the bear we see in the final panel, it is being degraded by the weather.

The art in the Prologue is deliberately brown and dull, the season of spring, which for us holds so much promise and joy, brings danger and hard work for the mice. The pallet closes in on them but does not dull their bright cloaks and decoration, just as it cannot stop their toil. Petersens, mice as always are efficient minimally drawn figures. All of their emotion is conveyed in their postures and the placement of their eyes. Despite their ball of fur shapes, you always know each figures intent. This is a deceptively hard thing to pull off, and always appears effortless.

I am drawn into the story anew and eager to read more so as a prologue it is near perfect.

Score 4.5
I would give 5 but there are a few figures that seem to float above their placement. Petersen uses a layered style similar to animation cells, and sometimes the layers do not feel totally integrated.

Aside: I will try and finish my story so far sometime soon, and edit it into the one above, but I have a more pressing writing assignment and so I feel it best to concentrate on the reviews for now.
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