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Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard #4
posted November 10, 2010
David Petersen, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl, Mark Smylie
Comic Book, Archaia, 24 pages, September 2010, $3.50
This is the fourth and final issue of a spin-off from David Petersen's Mouse Guard
series, that being one of the long under-appreciated performers of the modern comics marketplaces. The framework for Legends Of The Mouse Guard
should be familiar to most fantasy fans: a tavern storytelling contest. The pages depicting the contest feature Petersen's childrens' illustration-reminiscent comics. The stories as told are delineated by the various guest artists.
All three of the cartoonists stopping by for duty in this particular issue provide quality work. Karl Kerschl's wordless story about a mouse soldier encountering a spectacular expression of the natural world while on sentry duty far from home impresses the most with the fluidity of its drawings and the straight-froward depiction of sacrifice, wonder and loneliness. It also leads to the most clever observation in the Petersen section that follows right after, that the tragedy of experiencing something magnificent in the performance of a duty is not being able to share the story. Kerschl, followed closely by Archaia head honcho Mark Smylie in a welcome comics appearance, comes nearest to Petersen's greatest virtue as a cartoonist: the matter-of-fact sense of narrative proportion that makes his fantasies feel authentic and hard-won rather than fanciful, arbitrary or contrived. Rousseau's sotry is more rudimentary in terms of its construction than that of the other two cartoonists, and it's hard to connect it specifically to Petersen's world in a way that's never a problem with the other two tales.
It's always been hard for me to write about Mouse Guard
because I'm not its audience and I think I share little in the way of a common ground with those readers. Their thrills are not my own; my hang-ups barely register with them. It's easy to overpraise Petersen's work for its fealty to the printed page, the craft chops on display and the overall production values in the context of an industry soaked in the cynicism of dropped backgrounds, stylized figures and half-assed movie pitches that one suspects would gladly come in some other form entirely if there were advantage to it. Yet it's also easy to underestimate the way Mouse Guard
has captivated its fans, and the admirably, almost-parental kindliness Petersen displays on issues such as personal morality, bravery, martial skill as tool for self-actualization and choice as a component of achievement. Perhaps because of the format and because I got dropped into the middle of it with little in the way of laborious set-up, this side-series comic worked just fine for me, even more so for a perceived little-kid version of the person I am today. If there were more mainstream comics at this price point and fashioned with this level of apparent care, the comics industry might be a very different place. I'd listen to such a story.