Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard

Created by: David Petersen

ISBN: 1932386947 (Amazon)

Pages: 144

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard

I was worried that an excursis from the running narrative of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series would be at best ineffectual and at worst a deep distraction from the wonderful story being crafted over the seasons (Fall and Winter of 1152 so far). “Tales from” collections usually present a mishmash of stories varying in quality from good (very rare) to mediocre (very common) to downright bad (uncommon though unfortunately not so uncommon as good stories). My fears were largely unfounded here.

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard sidesteps the major pitfalls of the format nicely. While, as typical with these ventures, there were a number of middle-of-the-road stories ranging from fun to occasionally ineffectual, there were also several good stories and nothing that would fall into the realm of bad. The art and writing, of course, vary depending on creator. While none of the artists exceeds the expectations readers have learned to hold (having experienced Petersen’s vision of Mouse Guard), some of it is downright cartoony and feels out of place in the world we’ve become accustomed to. Fortunately the writing occasionally exhibits more depth. As each of these stories is being told by mice of different histories, personalities, and circumstances, the difference of story texture is absolutely plausible—I think my only complaint here is the art in “A Mouse Named Fox” (cute story, but the art is just too plain).

The standout stories from my vantage were Jeremy Bastian’s tale of the beginnings of the Mouse Guard, Alex Sheikman’s emotionally satisfying story of a mouse king and his faithful steed, Lowell Francis and Gene Ha’s reminiscence of a heroic mouse banker (told, of course, by a mouse banker!), Guy Davis’ wordless entry contesting a critic versus the artist of his scorn, and finally Mark Smylie’s adaptation of King David’s historical epic of treacherous penis-think. Most of the other stuff is fine, but only these stories come close to meriting the erasure of a bar-tab.

But (!) far better for the package than the stories themselves is Petersen’s method for tying them together. Petersen uses the well-worn tavern storytelling trope in which a number of visitors to a tavern spend the evening swapping tales (in this case, the winner will have their bar tab cleared). The conditions of the telling: one tale per customer, the tales have to be partial truth and partial fabrication, and the tavern proprietress can’t have heard the tale before. It would be easy to use this bridging technique and have it fail. Credit then to Petersen’s grasp of character and the life-breath of his small world that the tavern-goers’ interaction with each other is so endearing as it is.

And as an added bonus that most readers will likely skip over but really worked to win me over, Petersen gives summary of the Mouse Guard legend that inspires the art adorning each chapter’s title as well as that of the collection’s cover illustration. And these four episodes (not including that depicted on the collection’s cover) adorn the walls of June’s tavern and can be glimpsed throughout the book’s segues. It’s a light touch that really serves to embellish the world these mice inhabit and give it a sense of history and depth.

All in, an enjoyable break from the main story. I would have preferred the next book in the narrative instead, but these were fun enough that I’ll welcome the next volume of Mouse Guard legends despite its interruptive status.


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