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September 6, 2007

CR Review: The Mice Templar #1


Creators: Michael Avon Oeming, Bryan JL Glass, Will Quintana, James H. Glass
Publishing Information: Image Comics, comic book, 52 pages, September 2007, $3.99
Ordering Numbers: JUL071921 (Diamond)

This is the well-publicized first issue of a fantasy series spearheaded by Michael Avon Oeming, a stylish artist and solid writer who's worked on a number of quality mainstream projects in recent years, most notably the Brian Michael Bendis series Powers. It stars tiny, anthropomorphized mice, designed in the appealing, stylized fashion with which one has grown accustomed in Oeming's comics. The plotline should be familiar to most fantasy fans: the potential return of a down-trodden, former noble warrior caste through a prophecy that seems to target an unlikely subject. This first issue does what the first 15 minutes of a lot of fantasy films or first 50 pages of many fantasy novels do: takes us into a pastoral setting, shows us what they think of the old ways, indicates a possible one or two people beholden to those, and then something horrible happens that sets our hero on his journey. You should also recognize many of the major players: the Chosen One, the Girl With a Crush the Old Warrior, the Mournful Matriarch, and the More Likely Candidate That Turns Out Not To Be The One. It's extremely familiar territory.

The most successful recent comics fantasy, Bone, initially obscured the measure its adherence to some traditional genre structures by offering up an impressive wave of engaging humor and character interplay in the comic's foreground. When the jig was up and the full spread of its fantasy story roots were revealed, cartoonist Jeff Smith kept things lively on a thematic level by folding into his narrative several compelling arguments about different genres and their relationships to one another. I don't think The Mice Templar will give us a story as frequently distracting -- and entertaining -- as Smith's. That puts a lot of pressure on executing story elements with which most readers are intimately familiar. The benefits you get in terms of added resonance when dealing with classic story structures can be lost when readers start to apply matters of personal taste -- and a wickedly focused eye -- on choices of style, presentation and tone. Does the appearance of a giant spider and magical fish shove this story far away from the tradition of "small" fantasies to its detriment? Does what we see of the village make sense giving a culture with metal weapons? Does that matter? Did we see enough to make a call either way? Have we seen enough in the characters to be invested? Did anything truly surprising happen in this first issue? Are there surprises in store? Entertaining art and a classic story made with obvious devotion and care will put a lot of people in The Mice Templar's corner. The barriers to success may have shifted into the details by author's choice, but that doesn't mean surmounting them will be easier
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