Mouse Guard

Monday, November 23, 2009

(Spoilers for events of the first issue.)

If you were ever a fan of Redwall, you owe it to yourself to check out Mouse Guard.  Petersen's comic tale of mice with swords doesn't always have inspired text, (the poetry in particular is weak), but so what?  The illustrations are what you're here for.  You have to pay attention to keep up, because with only 6 issues of 20-24pgs to tell a story arc, there is very little wasted space.

Now, these are swordsmice.  Trained, disciplined, ruthless in the defense of their fellows.  The Guardsmice are an organization charged to uphold peace and the common good, but during the time we follow them the tiny swords are often bloodied.   The first arc describes a betrayal of the organization, the second, the aftermath.  There is a lot of mouse vs. mouse internal strife, but the really striking images are the tiny mice going up against foes many times their size. 

When I first picked these up, it was because cute mice with swords are awesome.  I cannot tell you enough how beautiful the illustrations are.  See for yourself.  Then in the first issue, the patrol finds a clutch of snake eggs, and shows no mercy.  After that, I was hooked.  (Incidentally, you can see that sequence on the website: Click on Issue One: Belly of the Beast)

The simplicity of the text does allow for a certain gravitas.  This is about as far from Cinderella's comic relief crew as anthropomorphic mice can go.

The biggest down side to collecting Mouse Guard is that due to distribution/time required/unknown issues, they don't come out very regularly. 

What I find most fascinating on a story level is that only a couple species, mice and weasels, seem to have weapons.  These are also the only two species we've seen build buildings, to have civilization.  I like the idea that at some point in the past, a mouse discovered the forging of blades, and this technology is what allows the mice, smallest of prey animals, to carve out a civilization at all.

5 Stars - Awesome Books

Anthropomorphic Society Rundown:
(I know there is a role playing game with more world info, but I'm just going off the comic.)

Overall: Species Specific Civilization
The mice have little dealings with most other animals, because most other animals are out to eat them.  At least one other species (weasels) has a civilization as well, but they are separate from, and at war with, the mice.

Size: Normal Size
This is a case of being very clear just how badass a mouse has to be to take on creatures many times its size.  In the first issue, Lieam kills a snake, by jumping into it's mouth (avoiding a fang), and stabbing up into its brain.  Wow.
Later seen are some animals who are allied with mice, a beetle (the relative size of a dog to a human), bees (relative size of large falcons), and hares, who give them rides in return for protection and food.  The hares are big compared to their riders; bigger than elephants are to humans.  No confusion here about relative size, it's a constant reminder of the danger most other animals represent.

Law and Order: Order maintained by loose alliance of cities, Guards
The Guardsmice patrol the routes between the cities, and the cities themselves seem to have their own councils/internal police.  In Winter, Gwendolyn (leader of the Guards) is putting together a summit of the various leaders to evaluate their mutual defense.

Own language: Unclear, some animals understand each other.
The mice don't seem to have much interest in speaking to other animals, but can understand, and be understood by, bats and hares at least, and can learn to speak other animals' language.

Own religion: Probably, not fully explored
Seem to believe in an afterlife where brave souls go, but it's not gone into in detail.

Other Notes:
I like that the mouse cities (like the rats' dwellings in NIMH) are pointedly underground, hidden, carved out of trees, or into cliffs.  The mice do have doors, tables, cups, and clothing up to a point.  The Guards wear colored cloaks, sometimes armor pieces, high status mice have more clothing/jewelry.  A certain level of science is clearly available as well, they have herbal medicine, spectacles, lanterns, specialists like map-makers and researchers, and, of course, well-forged blades.

Level of Anthropomorphism:  Middling/Growing
They are fairly anthropomorphic, they are organized, and have a relatively good amount of technology, analogous to the late middle ages.  They seem to be only lately removed from their wild roots.

New Week, saving the best for last; rabbits...

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