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

[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40497

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kenjio wrote:
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 feel it's one of those books which are best read in one sitting, from start to finish; the longer you read, the better it becomes. So, I suggest you to hang on at least till you reach the 3rd or 4th issue.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40498

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600WPMPO wrote:
kenjio wrote:
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 feel it's one of those books which are best read in one sitting, from start to finish; the longer you read, the better it becomes. So, I suggest you to hang on at least till you reach the 3rd or 4th issue.

I'll try my best. I'm currently half way through issue 3, and I'm liking where it's headed
I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40499

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Issue 1

Immediately we are back in time, just as promised this is a prequel dealing with Celanawe. The time period is so very long ago though, Celanawe is visibly younger but not by much, we last saw him in the winter of 1152 and this is 37 years previous! Something supernatural is afoot, mice don’t live this long.

He looks like a mature veteran as he strides out of the water, this is no ‘tenderpaw’. For those not yet familiar with the artwork of Petersen, the more shaggy mice are older, they are drawn with slightly more lines, making their fur look lived in. Never one to leave us disorientated for long the author reinforces this fact, we have a flashback panel of an actual ‘tenderpaw’ being given his cloak by Celanawe, indeed we get the impression Celanawe may be nearing retirement.

The other mouse we are introduced to is Em, who is older. She wears formal robes and rides on the back of a crow. We have yet to see a mouse riding on a flying beast in the main volumes, so this in itself is unusual, but we learn that she can understand the language of birds also, which may be unique. Her precarious pose, standing on the leg of the huge bird reaching into her satchel is a wonderful image. I thoroughly recommend reading this via Guided View in Comixology, because these subtle details really shine when magnified. The panel where Em holds her mouth in horror at the vision of her companion and mount being ripped to pieces is one of my favourite panels in Mouse Guard to date. The simply drawn face displays shock and pathos, while the age lines further detail her character.

After a brush with the nasty brutal weasels responsible, who are drawn with such wonderful menace, our heroes escape and a quest for the Black Axe is begun.

Another panel that vividly displays the talent on display here is the almost clichéd scene of heroes cowering just below and out of sight from a deadly foe. The size of the bloody drool landing next to the heroes gives us a visceral sense of scale, and despite the minimal detail you can feel Em gulping as she stares at it in horror.

I find it hard to mark this issue down at all. Only occasionally, does the visual storytelling drop below excellent, mainly in a couple of the weasel’s poses. On the other hand I expect it must be devilishly difficult to render anthropomorphic weasels drawn with menace and a relatively huge scale. We are not talking friendly animals with waistcoats and cheerful smiles in this comic.

Score 5/5, I have to go with my heart, and that says this comic is the work of an illustrator at the top of his form and an author who can pace a story with ease while dropping in little details and hints that keep you intrigued.

I might be predisposed to adore this comic as it is my pick, but I adore it none the less.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40500

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600WPMPO wrote:
I feel it's one of those books which are best read in one sitting, from start to finish;

The way I read this comic that would take hours! I hope to have time to read issue 2 soon.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40521

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My review for issue #5:

There's a definite lack of story here, very cleverly supplemented by some wonderful writing & good art. At times (midway the issue), I felt like turning the page quickly so that it may finish faster. I always dislike a comic that makes me do this. But then, this is a strange comic in that the way it proceeds simply amazes the reader with its simplicity. This masquerades as an 'all ages' book, while it really is something definitely more than that.

For all its shortcomings & simplicities, I think I'll go with a 3 out of 5. I'm onto the last issue. I do hope it blows me away. :-)
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40523

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My review for issue #6:

What was that?

So it ended with a whimper. From the first to the last issue, I have always complained about a lack of story in this mini-series. There are sequence of events, but there's no compelling tale to tell. We live in times where full-page splashes, nail-biting cliffhangers & menacing villains rule comics. Here there are none. Maybe this simplicity got this series all the appreciation. Maybe I've been so corrupted by sensationalism that I can not appreciate this comic for what it is. The art, by the way, is perfect for such a comic, and stays the saving grace all though the book.

I give this last issue a 2 out of 5. This was a weak issue. I've read better, much better.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40524

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Overall, my score comes out to be 19 out of 30. The average rating is 3.16

With this score, I am sorry to say that this book turned out to be just above an average comic for me. Maybe I read too many high quality books. ;-)

Still, it was fun reading & reviewing it. :-)
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40529

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Issue 2

Recruiting a ship, a little mythology, and an unfortunate journey with a cliff hanger; our story moves into the transition stage between the mundane and the heroic. Petersen is building a mythic story here, the classic journey to the other side, complete with an analogy for death. As always the touch is light, so we don’t have a heavy handed actual journey to the world of the dead, but all of the elements are there for the keen eyed reader.

Although the story structure is still excellent, the story itself is a little clunky here. The textual introduction to Port Sumac is not as good as the pictorial establishment. Petersen builds on his strength with his wonderfully rendered medieval buildings. He always reminds me of Hergé when he draws his exteriors, it isn’t the distinctive ligne-claire style, but the draftmanship is equally impressive, especially here in his cutaway of the tavern.

The scene establishing Conrad, presumably a foreshadowing literary nod, feels a little contrived and Celanawe seems to selfishly manipulate the situation. I like the blood agreement, with its implication that this society is structured by such deals; and I don’t trust that the agreement would be honoured at all.

The journey itself is the better part of this issue, the individual panels are mostly perfect, and the page layouts always serve the momentum of the story, the interspersed extension of the Black Axe Mythology, although only serving to suggest a lineage for the Black Axe wielders, is both simple and wonderfully realised, with the two panels depicting the actual handing down of the weapon crying out for a format breaking double-page layout.

The sea beasts have a subtle hint of Norse mythology, indeed I am not sure if they are intended, but the reference to the ‘world crumbling’ hints at a knowing writer. The final cliff hanger panel is a perfect fade out, we are so familiar with the scene that the panel is almost animated.

Score 4/5, a well worked issue with hidden depth, but a few exposed rough edges.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40530

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Issue 3

I could tell Petersen was building to a mythological core but I wasn’t expecting this, Mouse Guard does Beowulf! Prequels are a tricky thing, readers imagine they already know the story, and there are many pitfalls. Writers can tell the story straight and disappoint all but the most literal reader; they can tell the tale as a secondary plot to a new story, which only works if the story is as good as the original; or they can transform the tale you think you know into a totally different tale, this requires the storyteller to walk a fine line between retcon and originality.

Petersen is choosing the latter, instead of explaining how the Axe has been passed down and how our hero inherited the Axe, he is telling us an origin story. This is not how the Black Axe conveys heroism, it is how Celanawe became a hero and thereby deserved his role. We are over-saturated with this story told badly, since Star Wars almost every script-writer seeks to tell this tale, and they stick so rigidly to the laid out structure that it often strangles the story. It is too early to tell if Petersen will pull it off here, but I trust his writing.

The most important part of telling the story this way is that the tale itself becomes a mythic template for the story that surrounds it (the other volumes of Mouse Guard). This becomes the myth to follow for any future Black Axe wielder, replacing the very simple tale we were previously told, which relied heavily on the circumstances of Farrer.

I won’t tease out all of the Beowulf parallels, because I would just be telling the story panel by panel, suffice to say anyone who has read the first part of Beowulf will recognise it, and everyone else if they are remotely interested in fire-lit halls and tragic kings should just go out and get themselves a good translation with annotations.

So all that being said, the story structure continues to flow perfectly, we are in a foreign land echoing the land of the dead, and we are being given a quest. Clearly the Norse nods from the previous issue were intended, as we are heavily into a Germanic saga now. The uneasy truce, relying on hospitality and honour, hangs above our hero with an impending sense of doom, and the image of Celanawe descending into the ticket is a perfect medieval twist.

Score 5/5 I utterly love this issue to my very core. If I was to commission a comic to perfectly suit my tastes this would be it, so I can’t mark it down. A high water mark for Mouse Guard.
Last Edit: 3 years 2 months ago by jkthemac.
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[2014-09] Mouse Guard: The Black Axe 3 years 2 months ago #40532

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Issue 4

The beast is slain, and our company of heroes is both reformed and divided.

The structure of this fight issue is again perfect, a slow recognition of scale as well as the medieval imagery of the wild dark places that heroes must navigate. Then, from the etherial mists of the morning the, to our eyes quite cute, vixen appears. As is pointed out, a mouse is a tasty snack for a fox, and usually not much of a challenge. The initial sighting is well pitched, such stories are as much about the nature of fear as they are conquering that fear. This simple pacing beat is handled by both frozen fear and the frustration of an opportunity missed. The meet up with Conrad is not necessary for the core story, but it allows the fight that follows much more variety and incident, as well as introducing stakes that matter, these kinds of story elements stop the story becoming a simple and boring retelling of the monster fight that is the core of these stories.

Petersen's visual story telling is always effective, with the pair scampering onto a vine and their precarious balancing above the Vixen's snout, is a highlight among many great moments.

The ending upon return to the hall is both surprising and has mythic resonances with underworld stories. There is also a hint that the decision not to kill the kits, while laudable, was also a subtle break from the bargain with the king, and demanded a price equally subtle. The return and denouement is often problematic for these types of tale, and this provides an interesting turn of events, much like the meeting with Conrad. I am not sure what will happen next, and that is a good thing.

Score 4/5 Masterful storytelling while maintaining the simplicity of the tale. Making this kind of story accessible to a younger audience is tricky and well executed, maintaining sympathy for the victims and depicting believable heroism. For me it looses a point in the language used in the narration, I am always sensitive to over verbose narration, I found myself editing the prose in my head more than once.

Note: I really like the pin-up in this issue, often the guest artists suffer in comparison with the main book, but C P Wilson III's depiction of the issue's story as a musical stage production enhances the notion of this story being a tale within a tale. It is also a lovely piece of art.
Last Edit: 3 years 2 months ago by jkthemac.
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