Saturday, 25 July 2015

Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 (#1-6)

"We will fight and defend all that is ours" - Gwendolyn

You know, looking at what I have covered this month, it's been kind of bleak.  Rape and incest.  Mass machinegun massacres. Weird alien sex. A future where humanity is almost extinct and those who aren't are mind-slaves.  Undead walking fish and an apocalyptic stench. A village wiped out by those helping to defend it. A colony wiped out by madness, death and alien zombies, yes it's all got kind of depressing.  So it is to Mouse: Guard 1152 that I turn in the hope for something a little more uplifting - it has adorable anthromorphic mice in it 'fer chrissakes it's got to be more cheerful.  Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 is the first miniseries featuring the titular guard, written and drawn by David Peterson and first published in 2006. The Mouse Guard are soldiers dedicated to protecting ordinary  mice from the dangers of the world they live in. This volume follows the investigation by three members of the guard - Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon - of the possibility that there is a traitor in the ranks. The artwork is beautiful, seriously good stuff, the mice are wonderfully expressive and the threats they face everyday marvellously depicted.  The dialogue is fairly sparse as Peterson lets the images tell the story and the whole thing, bound in a lavish hardcover, feels a lot like a childrens storybook, which is no bad thing. So let's continue.

Each chapter starts with a text page.  Chapter one starts with an introduction to the Guard.  The Mouse Guard was formed and after the "weasel war in the winter of 1149 the territories are no longer trouble." The Guard are escorts, pathfinders, weather watchers, scouts and body guards.  The keep the borders safe and lead shipmets from one town to another.

Narration: "Hail those who are able, any mouse can, any mouse with, but the Guard will prevail."

Then the comic begins with an old mouse pulling a cart of grain.  He stops for a while in a wood, then someone or something approaches unseen and he disappears.  We then cut to Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon investigating his vanishing.  Saxon climbs a tree and spots the cart.  There is no blood by it and it is getting dark so they make camp and take in turns to stand guard. 
Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon, our main characters.
The next day Saxon finds a trail of grain, however it leads to a large snake.  Our mice here are the same size as normal mice so a snake is very dangerous.  They try to attack it but it is too much and they retreat to a hole in a tree until it is safe to leave.  Saxon says reproachfully that they could have taken it. Kenzie responds that they couldn't have and "it's not what you fight for but who you fight for."

They venture back out and find a nest of snake eggs which they enthusiastically smash.  But then the snake reappears.  Lieam allows the snake to start swallowing him and once half inside it's mouth he stabs his sword up through the snakes head and kills it.  "We turn around and you're inside a snake" chides Saxon as he and Kenzie pull him out of the snakes mouth.

They slit it open and find the missing grain merchant inside.  They then head to "Barkstone" and Kenzie reveals that the grain merchant was a traitor and was delivering Mouse Guard secrets to person or persons unknown.
Lieam proves his worth.
The next chapter begins by telling us that Gwendolyn, Head of the Mouse Guard has sent to word to Sadie who watches the shoreline and asks her to make contact with a missing Guard member called Conrad who is incommunicado.  So Sadie heads to his shoreline dwelling Calogero.

She sits in a leaf and rows her way to Calogero.  She finds messages from the Guard hidden outside and footprints leading away that can't be Conrad's as he has a peg-leg.  She goes into Calogero and think it abandoned, then Conrad appears behind her and holds a fish-hook to her throat saying "speak if yeh wish to keep your life."  Sadie says Gwendolyn sent her to find him and Conrad relaxes, saying Gwendolyn must know about the traitor.
Conrad surprises Sadie.
When Sadie queries this, Conrad says he'd recognise the voice, but then wobbles and collapses, passing out.  He comes around a few hours later, Sadie has built a fire and made some soup.  A grateful Conrad drinks some up.  He starts to tell her he suspected a traitor "a season ago".  He tucked himself in the ceiling of Calogero with only a bottle of booze for company and saw a merchant mouse pledge his service to one who was shrouded in shadows, and was handed a map of Lockhaven.

He was going to follow but Sadie arrived and he needed to check her voice to make sure she wasn't the shadowy mouse.  Sadie says they will make for Lockhaven the next day.  They wake up and it is mid-morning but the windows are dark, they discover that it is because Calogero is covered in crabs.

They break out through the thatched ceiling but it looks like they crabs won't allow them to go.  Conrad uses his hook and thread to attack and confuse them, Sadie attacks another but loses her daggers in the process.  She is grabbed by one, but Conrad manages to climb on top of it and squeeze it's eye stalks and it lets her go.  He tells her to run as a crab grabs him, they crowd round and we hear but are thankfully spared the sight of him being crunched apart.  "Goodbye brave friend" says Sadie to herself as she runs away in tears.
A nasty case of crabs.
Hey, no!  I loved Conrad.  Thanks mainly to the art I gave more of a damn about him in less than one chapter than I did for the seven main characters in Demon Knights volume one.  A peg-legged, alcoholic, badass mouse?  Awesome.  Conrad, you were only around for a few pages but you made your mark most excellently.

Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam head to Barkstone.  They do not know who the traitor is and don't know what information Sadie has nor about the death of Conrad.  They decide to take the subtle approach in Barkstone. "Saxon knows not from 'subtle'" snarks Lieam.  They cross paths with a black mouse called Midnight who greets them as fellow guards.  Lieam starts to tell him about the traitor, but Kenzie stops him, saying just that the merchant was eaten by a serpent and they were too late. 
The Midnight affably leaves, and Kenzie says they don't know who to trust right now.  They enter Barkstone, a small town full of mice and surreptiously search for leads but come up empty.  Then Kenzie says they have been followed:

Kenzie: "This is not open country.  We are not the law here.  We have no authority"

He then says he has a diversionary plan.  Saxon calls out to the townsmice that there will be a fight between two guard members, a crowd quickly gathers and they start laying bets.  Kenzie and Saxon fight, giving Lieam a chance to anonymously slip off his cloak and sword and get away unseen.

He goes to the map shop and inquires after a detailed map of Lockhaven.  "Come to join the Axe, eh?" says they shopkeeper.  He says he expects delivery of it shortly but that it has been delayed.  He says he has heard there are Guardsmice in the town but with or without the map "We march at dawn".  Upstairs Lieam spots some mice changing into black armour.
Kenzie and Saxon playfight a little too seriously.
Outside Kenzie and Saxon are still battling, suddenly they are captured and subdued by black clad mice using lassos.  They are dragged out of the town and we next see them in a house in a tree.  They are hung upside down in a room with a mouse smoking a pipe in front of the fire.

We find out that Lieam is hiding out in the ranks of the black clad militia, the "Axe". and the old mouse is called Celenawe who dragged Kenzie and Lieam into his house after the guards left them outside the town for dead, "and a dark plot quietly grows."

Celenawe heats a poker and demands to know what "you little theives have done with my axe?" Kenzie says the Guard are not theives.  Celenawe says the axe "stood for all I stood for, what the old Guard stood for."  It was the "Black Axe".  Saxon manages to free himself and he and Celenawe fight.

Still hung upside down Kenzie says Barkstone is corrupt and hiding a plot to over throw Lockhaven.  He frees himself and shows Celanawe the map they took from the dead merchant's cart.  Maps of Lockhaven are not supposed to leave the town's walls.  The fight has caused a fire to break out and Kenzie makes a plea to Celenawe:

Kenzie: "A group is plotting against the Guard.  I believe they have also stolen your axe.  If the guards ancient champion the Black Axe lives, let him help us.  Else, the guard may perish."

The army of black clad mice with Lieam still disguised in their midst are on the march to join up with the rest of the army of the "Axe".  Lieam tries to sneak away, but as he takes off his disguise, he is confronted by two of the Axe.  They attack him with spears but he breaks the ends off.  They beat him with the sticks instead and one grabs him in an armhold and they take him to their commander who is lurking in the darkness of the back of a hollow log.
Lieam is captured.
The mysterious unseen mouse promises to spare Lieam if he agrees to join their attack on Lockhaven.  "No" says Lieam simply.  After threatening to behead him when they reach Lockhaven as a gift for Gwendolyn the Mouse Guard leader, the voice then says to tie up Lieam and bring him with them.

Meanwhile Saxon, Kenzie and Celenawe have escaped the burning tree-home.  Kenzie says they will recover Celenawe's legendary axe.  Saxon points out a muddy trail where the army of the Axe passed through towards Lockhaven and they start to follow it.

Lieam: [thinks] "The Guard has been betrayed.  Midnight, the Guard's weaponsmith revealed himself as commander of the army, the 'Axe'".
Midnight armed with The Black Axe.
Lieam is securely tied up, it's pouring with rain and the army of the Axe draws closer to Lockhaven.  Midnight says he will approach the gates alone and when they open them they'll coquer the fortress together.  Midnight tells Lieam that the Guard is useless, only pawns of the towns and cities:

Midnight: "The territories need one sole leader who can offer peace and prosperity.  One who is not afraid to hunt down our predators.  One who is more than a mere Guard mouse."

And he brandishes the stolen Black Axe, saying he will command every creature with it.  There are then some text pages filling in the history of The Black Axe.  It was taken up by a mouse of Lockhaven, his true name kept a secret, "he took the name of his weapon, The Black Axe."

We then cut to Kenzie and Saxon following Celenawe at a distance.  Kenzie wonders if he could be the legendary Black Axe, but Saxon says he is not old enough.  They also wonder why if he was the Black Axe he gave no help in the Winter War.  "My assisstance was given.  Because you failed to notice it does not mean it did not exist."

Celenawe heads to higher ground and points out a place where he stashed some weapons near Lockhaven.  They find two rusted swords, which Celenawa gives to Kenzie and Saxon saying he will be fine without.
Sadie warns them just in time.
A mouse enters through the main gate of Lockhaven and turns out to be Sadie.  She gives her superior, Rand, the information that a map of Lockhaven has was handed to a traitor.  Rand orders a lockdown and places the Guard on high alert.  They brace the main gate and put archers in the windows.

Midnight: "Our suprise is lost.  Prepare for an all out assault!"

Saxon, Kenzie and Celenawe lurk in the bushes and Saxon makes a plan; kill the leader, save Lieam and conquer the army.  But Kenzie thinks the plan suicide and Celenawe agrees saying three against one-hundred is poor odds.  He then tells them of a secret passageway into Lockhaven that won't be sealed.

Outside, Midnight calles for Gwendolyn or he'll kill Lieam.  The Axe then break down the front door and a group including Midnight and Lieam rush inside.  But then the rusted portcullis is snipped by a mouse and drops down behind them meaning the rest of the army can't yet follow.  In the confusion of battle as the first mice guards start fighting the Axe, Lieam manages to sneak away still tied up.
Ah the Bees, my eyes, my eyes!
The Apiary Keeper is asked if he'll allow his bees to be used as weapons against the Axe and he agrees and the bees start attacking the army outside.  Some of the Guard want to take Gwendolyn somewhere safe but she says "no" she will make her stand with them.  Lieam manages to free himself and grabs a sword and dagger.  He then metes out some payback on some of the Axe in the stronghold.

Midnight confronts Gwendolyn, he accuses her of being a puppet.  He wants to rule everywhere.

Gwendolyn: "Villages and towns will remain free to do as they please, and the Guard will not stand down."

Midnight: "Then they will be forced to comply under the authority of The Black Axe."

Celenawe suddenly appears, followed by Saxon and Kenzie from a secret passage that lead to Gwendolyn's office.  He says to Midnight he has come to claim what's his.  There is an epic fight and finally Celenawe wrestles the Black Axe from Midnight.
Celenawe takes down Midnight.
He is about to kill him when Gwendolyn yells "Stop!"  She doesn't want Midnight to become a martyr.  Midnight is banished instead and the main story comes to an end.  But there is an epilogue that takes the form of Gwendolyn writing in her diary.

She worries about distrust of the Guard and how the one hundred or so warriors of the Axe, simply went back to their old lives.  Sadie has been reassigned to Lockhaven and been denied the retrieval of Conrad's remains.  Kenzie and Saxon remain the best of friends and rivals.  Young Lieam is being mentored by Celenawe who's identity as The Black Axe is being kept a secret.  She winds up by noting that winter is coming and they are dangerously low on supplies and so this miniseries ends.
Gwendolyn wraps things up.
How fantastic is this indie comic?  A great cast of characters, a believable world sketched out in broad detail with everyday creatures shown to be epic threats.  The autumnal quality a prescence all the way through.  An exciting story with cool fight scenes and just beautiful, beautiful art.  There are  more books in the series, Mouse Guard: Black Axe is a prequel.  Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard is a series of one-shots and the one I am most interested in reading is the direct sequel, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, which for some unfathomable reason is out of print and going for stupid amounts of money on Amazon.  I can only offer a plea to whom it may concern to put it back in print so I can enjoy more adventures of the badass little mice (RIP Conrad).  This is also a book I intend to put into use getting my young nephew into comic books.  Although it's not a "kids comic" by any manner of means, it is "kid friendly" and with so few comics nowadays being suitable for children it's nice to have one that can be used to instill a joy of comics at a young age.  Any fan of comics that are a little bit different should have this on their shelves and I absolutely love it.


  1. how do you find these comics!? this looks hella cool, the mice are soo cute :o)

  2. I've got a thick book called "1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die", it's proved very handy for picking out comics I wouldn't normally have known about.

  3. Oh wow, this reminds me of stuff by Robin Jarvis and Brian Jacques, and even earlier stuff I read as a kid with pictures in.

  4. I Googled, and the stories I remember were about Oakapple Wood and Brambly Hedge.

  5. It has a lovely child friendly quality and I do mean it as a compliment, kids can be very discerning. It's obviously a labour of love for David Peterson, the character and world building is helped immeasurably by the artwork. I am hopefully going to cover The prequel before the year is out and I'll just have to keep searching Amazon in case Winter 1152 shows up cheap.