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‘Mouse Guard: The Black Axe – Black & White Edition’ – Hardcover Review

In his introductory note, David Petersen describes Mouse Guard: The Black Axe as a creator’s quest, a text that challenged him to produce more detailed characters and worlds alongside a standard quest narrative. Two mice, Em and Celanwe, discover that they are distantly related and the last living members of their bloodline, and they go in search of the Black Axe – a prized family artifact. Their quest takes them to distant lands and into the kingdom of dangerous enemies, and it is well balanced with character development and worldbuilding.

The setting and tone of the story, both of which are well supported by the art and pacing, are charming and make this text a pleasant read. Celanwe and Em are both compelling characters, and their quest is easy to invest in. Each chapter includes a heading page that features elements of medieval manuscript, such as ornate letter art and calligraphy. These features operate meta-textually, as well; the journey’s success relies equally on compelling secret-keeping and good note-taking, and Em keeps a detailed journal that maintains the same aesthetic.

This particular version is printed in black and white to give readers the most direct experience of Petersen’s manuscript. The black-and-white color scheme is fitting for the text’s setting – a fantasy space that feels a little like England, except this England is inhabited only by non-human animals and generally contributes to the part-fantasy, part-medieval mis-en-scene. Petersen’s selected settings also prove useful for the development of craft; the text includes several ocean and forest scenes that demand attention to detail on the page, and Petersen largely delivers. There are a handful of scenes where the lack of color makes it difficult to discern between foreground and background and sometimes causes characters to blend into the background, but these are few and far between.

Finally, though the premise of the text—a world inhabited by mice!— lends itself to the realm of children’s literature, this text includes multiple deaths and at least one murder, albeit alongside some detailed exploration of ethics, and one especially haunting scene wherein a group of crows mourn the loss of one of their own. Parents may want to give this one a look-over before handing it to their children, if only so they can be prepared to discuss the more difficult material in an effective way.

Creative Team:  David Petersen (writer/artist)
Publisher: Archaia / BOOM! Studios
Click here to purchase.


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