Thursday, 20 July 2017

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe (#1-6)

"A lone mouse, even with the mythic Black Axe was poor odds against a single fox in its own lair" - Celanawe.

Time to return to artist and writer David Peterson's tale of the titular Guard, a fantasy story in which mice have formed a protective organisation made up of fierce little furry dudes who, armed with swords and suchlike protect the common mice from all the dangers life can throw at them. The first two tales were set in Autumn and Winter of 1152, and the correct guard were aided by a grizzled old veteran called Celanawe, who also was known as "The Black Axe" after the mythological weapon he wielded it.  He came out of retirement to help them and died after mentoring a replacement for him in the form of the "redfur" Lieam.  This story is a prequel to that already covered, set in 1115 it tells the story of how Celanawe came to discover The Black Axe and wrote his story into legend.  As well as the main miniseries, this collection includes the Free Comicbook Day prologue, epilogue and maps, guides and cutaways, all of which help with the world building of the series.  So without further ado, we shall begin.

It starts with said prologue set in Spring 1153.  The Matriarch of Lockhaven is writing her diary over images of the mice gathering food and so on.  She reflects on the fact that young Lieam has gone missing, he left armed with the Black Axe after Celanawe was killed in the Winter 1152 story.  She knows Kenzie and Saxon are worried about him but cannot spend the resources to look. Celanawe's death has shaken her, "I did not know the myth was truly protecting us, and when we found out that he was, we lost him forever".   She ruminates that she hopes one day soon the Guard and the common mice can soon once again "have a new hero in which to believe."
We then join the young Celenawe in Spring 1115, we see him doing his chores, while ruminating "it was the day my life would change forever."  He tells us that he had lived alone for forty seasons, working as a Guard Mouse who trained new Guard Mice whose first lesson was locating him.  That day he was returning to Lockhaven, and a younger mouse was going to take over his post.

He readied himself for the three day journey when a female mouse arrived flying in on the back of a crow, while he watched her hidden in the long grass.  He did not fear her or the bird, but he detected larger beasts nearby and we see a pack of armed ferrets.  He calls her into the safety of the grass while she asks if he is indeed Celanawe.  She tells him they are kin, but he cuts her off saying they need to move "for we are hunted."

The crow starts cawing and the ferrets appear and attack, ripping it apart while the female mouse sheds a tear but it gets her to understand the danger they are in and they make their way deeper into the wood.  The ferrets have their scent and pursue them, but the two mice hide in a tree and the ferrets move on and catch and kill a squirrel, wanting to make use of the bones for "adornment".

However the ferrets are still a threat and Celanawe realises their only chance is escape via the water.   He starts to ready a boat when one of the weasels spots him.  But the female mouse makes a duck sound and brings a duck to then. Just in time they leap aboard it leaving the ferrets floundering in their wake.  Celanawe asks if she can take them to a settlement where he can alert the Guard.

She tells him her name is "Em" and she has a letter from the Guard's matriarch saying he must do whatever Em wants.

Letter from Bronwyn: "Celanawe. Em, has greater need of you than the Guard can offer. Treat her words like that of a Matriarch, her commands as mine.  With all my love, Bronwyn".

Celanawe agrees, she says they are related and both have a "bloodline oath to fulfill".  It's across the sea, the duck can't take them that far, so Celanawe says they will go to "Fort Sumac" which has ship builders.  He asks the quest and she says simply, "The Black Axe".
The only way to travel.
They steer the duck to the bustling port of Fort Sumac.  He and Em go looking for a ship and a boat mouse, "willing to sail of of the edge of any map."  Em keeps to herself what she knows about the Black Axe and how she got the Matriarch's blessing.  She tells Celanawe not to mention the axe when bartering.  He grumbles but she says she's sure he will manage.

They go to a seedy bar where everything has its price, although Celanawe has very little cash to work with.   A fight is on the verge of breaking out, and Celanawe is told the Guard has no rule there when he tries to intervene.  Celeanawe fixes on a grizzled old mouse called Roarke  he can play one mouse off against another - "To gain Conrad's service without payment, I needed to make Roarke believe my goals were in his best interest."

Celanawe tells Conrad he can take him and Em across the Northern Sea and if he does he will be braver than the deeds of any Captain's Captain.  Roarke laughs and says if Conrad makes it there and back with "things my eye has never seen, he won't just be on the Council of Captains.  I'll make him Captain of it". So Conrad agrees and he cuts his paw to form a blood agreement with Roarke.
Conrad seals the deal.
Celeanawe squashes the slight guilt he feels for manipulating Conrad knowing he'd be in no more danger than he himself will be facing.  Next morning he and Em board the ship, Em doesn't talk much just sits "silently scrawling in her book". Conrad tells Celanawe his father was Captain's Captain and he suspects Roarke murdered him while Conrad was drunk. 

Celanawe: "I questioned my own judgement that day.  I was blindly following Em off the edge of the world for a mythological axe that no mouse had seen in twenty seasons.  Was I no better than Conrad?  Manipulated into this quest?"

He makes sure a note is sent to Matriarch Bronwyn letting her know what's going on.  And then they set sail.   The first few days are uneventful, once they hit the North Sea he loses track of where they are, though Conrad says he has little time for maps.

They are hit by full on summer sun then at night it pours, on the sevententh day they lose sight of the birds. Celanawe tightens the rations and tries to pry more information out of Em but that proves fruitless.  Until the night of the thirty-second day while Conrad sleeps, Em recounts the history of The Black Axe.
An difficult journey.
There was a farrier who forged The Black Axe due to his sorrows.  He took it to Lockhaver so one mouse could avenge the death of the Farrier's family.  Em says it is no legend, it happened.   After he took vengeance he began a new family and his bloodline continued on in secret.  She and Celanawe are his last living descendents of his line.

According to her research the axe had been forged in 915. Then handed down over two-hundred years until 1086 when it went missing.   She used every tool at her disposal to look for it and her beasts revealed an older brother called Benn who was the last mouse to lay a paw on the weapon.   And he was last seen on the shore across "Storvind Sea".  Which is now known as the "North Sea". She believed he had perished, just leaving her and Celenawe.

Conrad then wakes up and slurs "what are you two whispering about over that book?"  Celanawe says he is just looking at her drawings of the constellations.  After that night, Conrad didn't get drunk and stayed awake most of the time, they have a few close calls with attacks by octopi and squid.  After fifty-six days their larder was empty, but they collect rainwater and catch fish to eat, even getting a free tow by a large one.

Celanawe is uncomfortable eating fish as he had never consume flesh before, "it would take near starvation before I would do it again".  Then they are caught in a dreadful storm and the boat is broken apart.  He scrambles to find some wood to hold onto but is sucked under and his vision goes black as he begins to choke on the salty water.
Celanawe washes up on shore.
He comes to on a beach and feels like he's broken some bones.  He calls for the others and finds Em lying unconcious and he brings her round.  She stills has her book which Celanawe notes is in "impossibly good shape."  It's made of waterproof birch.  They search for Conrad but can't find him and Celanawe silently mourns him.   Then in a stroke of luck they come across a skeleton, and Em recognises the clothes as belonging to Benn, she wove that tunic on her loom and gave it to him a long time ago.  She grieves for him and calls some crows down to them.

The crows tell her that twenty seasons ago a mouse came to the shores with an axe and "marched to the Hall on the Hill".  So Celanawe and Em trudge uphill to a large dwelling, made for something bigger than a mouse.  They push the door open together and inside they find a ferret sitting on a throne, wearing a crown.  He taunts them and asks if Celanawe is here to slay him?

Celanawe says he is just here to reclaim what is his.  The Ferret King says there are no more mice on the land and sneers that Em looks too old to repopulate the place. Celanawe tells him to watch his tongue, Em is kin to him.  The King says if he gives the word they'll be slain.  Celanawe retorts that he'll feel his blade if he does so.  The King says his name is "Luthebon" and he takes only what he needs and two mice are no sport to him.
Luthebon, Ferret King.
He gives them his word they'll be safe for now, as long as they don't give him cause attack them. Celanawe says that's fair, "I take you at your word."  Luthebon sits back and asks why they have come,  Em speaks up saying the crows told her a mouse came to the gates five years ago.   Luthebon remembers hearing about it, but they didn't find him until he came to the hall.

He wanted to murder them all but they laughed at him because he was only one mouse and no threat to them.   The king cleaved him in two and swallowed both parts whole.  Confused Em asks if the mouse had a title and Luthebon says he was called "Merek" and the weapon he raised against him was The Black Axe.

Celanawe politely asks for the return of the axe as it is mouse property.  Luthbon says no.  He has it hanging from his belt as a reminder to all of what will come to those who threaten him.   Celanawe offers his service in return, but Luthebon says there is nothing he can do for him his own kind cannot.

Then a wounded ferret is brought in, and lain at the King's feet.  He is Luthebon's son and he is dead and Luthebon mourns the loss.  He was killed by "the Red Beast".  Celanawe offers to kill the fox for them in return for the axe.  Luthebon tells him he "cannot wander into the lair of that wretch and just will him dead because you boast it."  
Luthebon cradles his dead son.
 As Luthebon's son is burned on a pyre, Luthebon finally agrees he has nothing to lose allowing Celanawe to take on the fox.  Em says he'll need The Black Axe to do it, and she agrees to stay as a hostage so Celanawe won't scarper with the axe.   She trusts Celanawe will defeat the beast in the briar, "your weapon will be that axe.  Mine will be faith".

Luthebon says it's a deal and hands over the axe.  But Celanawe has to do it in two sundowns, or Em will be a tasty morsel for him and they'll hunt Celanawe down as well. So he marches off into the dark, feeling the weight of the axe in his paws.  He walks into the briar patch with trepidation.

Celanawe: "After that storm I had thought I'd awoken on the shores of a glorious afterlife... and now I walked into the thorny bowels of the horror it must be like to die, only to find there is no afterlife at all."

He careful makes his way through thorns reflecting that his oath to the Guard's Matriarch leaves him no option but to slay the fox.  He's hungry, tired and finally lost.

He tries to put himself in the place of the hunter, not the hunted.  He remembers seeing a mink bury itself to snag a bird for its meal, so he digs a hole and waits.  Come the morning it's misty and his vision is almost zero.  He climbs a branch and suddenly the fox walks past him and he freezes. The fox slips away as fear grips Celanawe and he loses sight of it.
A misty reunion.
He returns to the ground and experiments with swinging the axe.  He feels a few well landed blows from it could take out the fox. He starts to follow the fox and bumps into Conrad who made it to shore alive.   Celanawe quickly fills him in on what he's doing.  Conrad recognises The Black Axe and Celanawe says he is now The Black Axe which grants him long life, and hasn't Conrad heard of his deeds which "extend beyond the natural life of any mouse?"

Conrad says teaming up with Celanawe and taking down the fox will surely make him the Captain's Captain.   Celanawe is encourage by his optimism.  Not long after, the fox finds them and battle commences.  The fox bites down at them and they dodge, Celanawe slices it's nose. Conrad leaps on it's face and digs his harpoon in its lips.  As Conrad hangs on Celanawe jumps down onto the fox's head, but it jerks back and he slashes Conrad instead taking off a foot.

They hide and Celanawe apologises profusely, putting a tourniquet onto the wound.  The angered fox comes gnashing down on them but in its rage it tangles itself up in the briars and Celanawe is able to climb onto it's head and bury the axe in it and thus it dies.  Celanawe collects evidence of its death, but then two fox cubs appear.  Conrad says they will be easier to bring down but Celanawe tells him, "I have no lust for their blood."  They won't pose a threat for many seasons yet.
The fox is dealt with.
He feels a little sad when he leaves them, "these kits had done nothing and hadn't asked to be born."  They were old enough to stay alive as long as Luthebon's people didn't hunt them.   He tells them to grow tall before you leave this place and they show they understood.  He and Conrad return to Luthebon.  He presents him with one of the fox's eyes as proof, Luthebon is subdued and it turns out Em had passed away that night causing the King's troubled look.

Celanawe is furious, but the King says he did not hurt her, "I did not kill her, brave mouse" he tells him. A subject of his, the healer, was greedy for a live mouse to study and picked her up accidentally mortally wounding her.  Luthebon killed him for it saying "my word and my honour are worth more to me than the life of one of my own".

He goes on to say they tried to save her but to no avail and she passed quickly.  Celanawe thinks how the Axe's history continued its tradition of being "steeped in the loss of loved ones as surely as it had with its forger".  They bury her at sea, Luthebon and several subjects attend the funeral scattering petals as she floats away and as Celanawe recites a eulogy.
Em's funeral.
Celanawe and Conrad camp out away from the ferrets for a few days as Celanawe reads Em's book on the Axe.  On the sixth day after her death his eyes alight on one passage, he should return to Shorestone and speak to the "Haven Guild, Keepers of the Ideal."  He tells Conrad that although Luthebon has said they can stay and make lives there they should return to mouse territories.

Conrad agrees, he wants to be Captain's Captain, and Celanawe is still a Guard with Bronwyn as his secret love. So with they help of the ferrets, they build a small sturdy boat. Luthebon gives them some sea and star charts and they set sail, following bird migrations to land on small islands to stock up on food.  He and Conrad bond over stories of their fathers.  Conrad's taught him all about the sea and sail. Celanawe says his father cared for him but his sister was his favourite.  When she died young his father never showed warmth again.

Conrad has taken the loss of his leg in his stride (sorry). He becomes obssessed with what will happen when he gets back to Fort Sumac.  Conrad also quizzes Celanawe about the Guard, its operations and symbolism.  He also asks about The Black Axe, Celanawe dodges the questions and peppers his responses with "answers that came from vague legend".  They make their way slowly via the islands and even craft songs about the trip.  Finally they make it back to the lands of mice.
The parting of the ways.
Celanawe gets out just east of Bawnrock while Conrad sails on to his native town. Celanawe wishes him a better life, and also asks him to keep The Black Axe a secret.  Conrad agrees, they shake hands and part ways.   Celanawe gets to Lockhave in two uneventful days.  He sneaks in via the tunnels, he only wants to see Bronwyn.  They kept their love a secret and he climbs the stairs up into her rooms.

He looks for her and to his horror finds a "Decree of Death", while he was away she had died two days before he reached land.  He searches his office to see all trace of him had been removed from the records.  He reads the letter she had Em give him again and realises she never thought he'd come back.

Celanawe: "Alone in that memorial of Matriarchs past, I clung to the axe.  It was all I had left.  Ny kin, my love even my status as a Guard were all the cost of the weapon.  I held it as I would have held Bronwyn, and I wept."

Three days later he arrives at the gates of Shorestone, a place known for its craftsmice, especially stonemasons. He asks where he can find the Haven Guild.  But no one seems to know what that is.  A craftmouse takes him to their archivist to see if he can help.  The archivist tells Celanawe he is speaking aloud of what they keep secret. He takes Celanawe into a secret room so they can speak more openly.
The Black Axe secret keepers.
He says Em must have found him and that he must have recovered The Black Axe.  Celanawe shows it to him, and informs him Em and Benn are both deceased.   The archivist declares him the "last living farrier."  He says the guild had dealings with his family when he was young.  His sister was next in line to wield the axe, but her death prevented that.

He asks if he has the next wielder chosen and Celanawe says it will be of his bloodline, "my burden".  The archivist says that bloodline isn't for the wielder but for the person they choose to wield it.  The axe is passed on to worthy mice by the Farrier's bloodline then returned to them on the death of the wielder to be passed on anew.  Benn passed it onto Merek and over the years eight mice have been granted use of the axe by Celanawe's bloodline.

Celanawe says he didn't know that, thinking for what it cost him he had no plan for the axe to leave his paw for anothers.  The archivist tells him that whoever takes on the axe must "shed their name, duties, life."  They become an immortal legend, leading a solitary life not placing the need of one mouse or town above any other.  Celanawe says it might take some time to find a worthy mouse.  The archivist says he should come and tell them when he decides they'll need to document them.

He departs Shorestone, he walks and thinks about who might be worthy amongst the mice he's trained. Then he thinks Conrad would be the ideal mouse, "he was brave, up to the challenge and his missing leg didn't even seem an impediment. A mouse in need of some subtle forging... I owed a visit to my friend in Port Sumac". 

He arrives there, stowing the axe so no one will know and returns to the shady bar where he finds Conrad drunk off his face.  Conrad moans that no one believes his story of what they did, even if Luthebon himself was there Roarke wouldn't honour his agreement.   Celanawe tells him he's better than this, that he should sober up and make something of his life.

Conrad yells at him saying he cost him his leg and his father's ship, "my life's worse for knowing you".  Even Em died because of the Axe.  He then attacks Celanawe tearfully, Celanawe backs away and hides under the cliff faking a fall off it, deciding he'll hang onto the Axe for now and that Conrad will think him dead.
Conrad attacks and Celanawe fakes a long fall.
We then jump forward in time to 1153, south of Lockhaven.  Lieam has been reading this story to Kenzie and Saxon.  He says he's been doing the job Celanawe entrusted to him and he hands over his Guard cloak to be returned to Gwendolyn the Matriarch.  They are to tell her that is all they found of him.  And the story wraps up with a quote from the last recorded words of The Black Axe: "Death is as powerful a weapon as it is an easy escape,  Heroes can pass into legend, legends fuel new myths, myths fuel new heroes."
There is a two page epilogue, which flashes back to Benn begging Merek not to confront the ferrets, but was then murdered by Merek who saw him as an obstacle for getting revenge for the death of his kin.   A crow is telling Lieam this now.

Crow: "The Axe of Black grants you the method to shape the world.  But not the knowledge or right to do so at your whim".

Lieam reflects that even if history is nothing more than a dream, "I do not believe its moral to be any less true."
Dream crow has all the answers.
And that brings this story to a close.  There are maps, guides and assorted extras bundled into this gorgeous hardback book which really help fill out the mouse society David Peterson has created.  It goes without saying this book looks gorgeous, a real visual feast.  The various animals drawn just the right side of cute that we can also note they are predators that like to feast on little mice.  I really liked the characterisation of ferret King Luthebon.  It would have been easy to make him a moustache twirling villain but he comes off as honourable and generous.  Especially when he helps mourn the loss of Em during her funeral and grants Conrad and Celanawe a safe place to live if they chose to stay.  Conrad is also a cool character and I liked how he and Celanawe became bros, which made it all the sadder when he ended up blaming Celanawe for his woes and tried to kill him.  Celanawe's backstory filled out here is very engaging.  He's brave and clever and it's pretty badass how he kills a fox armed with just the titular axe.  Its history was very interesting, felt properly mythological and the burden of carrying it heavy indeed.  Of course the truly sad thing is with Celanawe's death in Winter 1152 and no offspring mentioned it seems the guiding hand of the Farrier's bloodline is lost.  But Lieam is a fine choice to shoulder the responsibility of wielding it.  All in all this is great stuff.  The agonising wait for Spring 1153 goes on!


  1. After a particular horrendous few weeks that story was just what I needed. Partly because it took me into another world of simplicity and nature. But mainly because I'm very drawn to the idea of solving problems with an axe to the head.

    It's really hard to put into words just why I like this so much; as demonstrated in my previous comment. I'm sure you also see it though. But it truly is almost magical. It's also managed to completely sell me on the premise, despite the fact there's hardly any of the standard world building tropes. Maybe that's why? It doesn't try to sell you the idea. It just drops you in the middle and says 'that's how it is, take it or leave it'.

    I think 'understated' is another word that springs to mind. It's not even that strong a story. But it's just a little slice of mouse life with no hyperbole. He's pretty brave and honourable. But it's a relatively simple quest. His victory is quite impressive but it's not some overcoming impossible odds and defying death dozens of times battling one seemingly implacable obstacle after another. And there's was a bit of a cost. There aren't really even any bad guys. Certainly no one is evil. It's just a few conflicts of interest.

    I am intrigued by the supplementary stuff. Especially the maps. I'm curious as to their world. Is it earth? How big is it? When they say 'sea' is that really just a lake? Etc.

    Tying in with the calendar is a nice touch. Although now I'm trying to figure out their lifespans. Presumably a day there is the same as a day here. Or is time scaled to mouse size too?

    The artwork is superb. Reminds me of the sort of stuff you'd get in some of the hippy pagan stalls in Halifax Piece Hall. The types of places that sell little statuettes of fairies and dragond.

    Everything about this series is pitched just right. I can't think of anything to criticise. It really is flawless.

  2. Sorry to hear you've been having a tough time, if you need to vent feel free! It was definitely a pleasure writing this story up, the only difficulty I had was choosing which images to use because everything felt worthy which doesn't happen often.

    It's definitely not our world they live in, no humans have even been intimated as living there. Also it was definitely a sea they crossed, it takes Conrad and Celanawe nearly a year to do the return journey. Probably not a big sea by our measures, but definitely a large body of water crossed by them.

    You're right about how the stories just drop you in and expect you to take it or leave it. You can tell this is one person's singular vision, having lots of editors leaning over you asking you to explain stuff would kill something like this. And of course I can't squee hard enough about the art. It goes to show that outside of Marvel and DC there is plenty of comics pushing the medium in non-superhero directions and just doing their own thing with class.

    Of course mood whiplash will occur as I am writing up the next Jessica Jones book, so this will be sandwiched between two Marvel MAX titles. Yet despite it's looks, it feels just as grown up as those stories.

  3. Oh it's nothing to get worked up about; just the nature of the beast. I have a nice little niche doing the 'last minute solutions to impossible problems' thing. I really enjoy it. There's a sort of intellectual and tactical challenge that's a lot of fun. I also specialise in shall we say 'challenging' clients. But I've got my chilled stoic thing going on, so it just brushes off. It can be a bit exhausting though. That's why I need the physicality diversions. It's not venting aggression though, more a way of switching my higher brain functions off. Just leave it to my limbic system and amygdalae to run things for a while. It's surprisingly Zen.

    But this story is so relaxing. Also it invokes a lot of the nature pagan hippy vibe, and some great memories. So it's quite therapeutic. If I say it's the same sorts of feelings I used to get when I would fly down to Cornwall to escape London, that might give you an idea. I loved London but I used to really enjoy getting away some weekends. Got an old friend in Oxford and slipping over to her quite regularly recharged my batteries. Now it's the other way. I visit friends in London when I fancy a bit of bustle.

    Looking forward to seeing more Jessica Jones but this story is a charming interlude. Like you say, just shows what great stuff comics as a medium can throw up. It's such a wide genre. But of course no reason it can't be as broad as literature generally. It's just story telling after all.

  4. Cool, know what you mean about needing to get Zen. Because I am limited physically to what I can do, I like to blow of tension playing a shooting or fighting game. That always satisfies my reptile brain.

    I know what you mean about the pagan hippy vibe. My mum and dad were outrageous hippies so we spent our holidays in the late 70's/early 80's staying over in communes and attending huge gatherings like the Albion Fayre. So it has a nice nostalgic air for me too.

    I thought you'd be pleased with more Jessica Jones, I'll be bunging it up in a few days. I think I have had enough holiday now :D

  5. Heh, my client has just sent me a pic of himself with some daft instagram filter. That's like his way of peace offering after he's driven me up the wall.

    Just been asked by mate to proofread a bunch of articles. They're for a website/book series called 'Period'. Does what it says on the tin. Quite eye opening (and watering). Let's just say if I want to smell like lavender I'll just pour a bottle of Lenor down my pants, and the only thing getting steamed round here is broccoli.

    So I'll definitely be looking forward to the diversion of Jessica.

  6. Nice, sounds like you're being appreciated after all.

    Those articles sound... terrifying. Is it about steaming ladybits? That always makes me cross my legs and never want to uncross 'em.

  7. Same here, and I don't even have those bits.

  8. *screams incoherently forever*

    Actually the very worst one was posted on r/badwomensantomy of course which was someone selling oak apples for the insertion in the old shame cave to "tighten" it. Linked was an article title "Don't Put Wasp's Nests In Your Vagina". :D

  9. So if a woman puts fruit in her ladybits it's funny, but when a man puts his bits in fruit I'm banned from Waitrose. Talk about double standards.

    I shouldn't really mock bad medical stuff though, I'm terrible. I basically assume everything can be cured with either activated charcoal or iodine. In my defence a lot of things can. I do tend to ignore injuries until I get a staf infection though. A doctor bollocked me once. "You're lucky you didn't lose your leg". I argued that it's not like we were living in the napoleonic wars, but he responded with the not unreasonable point that "If you ignore 20th century medication you might as well be."

    I had a minor embarrassment when I had to go to hospital with bite marks. Trying to explain that it was a Krav thing but the Doctor said I didn't have to justify myself, they didn't judge people.

    (the girl who did it wasn't radioactive so I didn't get any superpowers, just the septicaemia.)

  10. Putting anything sugary in yer ladybits is a guarantee that you'll soon be visited by the Yeast Infection Fairy. Not very sexy, it's quite easy to upset the delicate floral balance inside you.

    As you know I'm on enough painkillers and mood stabilisers that I feel full when I take my pills in the evening. That said I've had a few manky infected burns on my legs that I probably should have been to the GP with, but I seemed to do OK with sterile dressings and washing a lot.

    That must have been quite the move she did to land you with bite marks that bad! Human mouths are pretty gross aren't they, no wonder you got an infection.

  11. For years scientifists used to correct people who said Komodo Dragons were venomous by pointing out they just had so many germs in their mouths their bites were toxic. But now it turns out they are venomous. I think they owe the dragons an apology.

    We'd been studying the use of biting and defences against same. I'd foolishly mentioned "the only rule in biting is make sure your teeth meet" and she took it to heart. She's French and apparently "English guys taste funny". I am slightly curious as to how she's in a position to make a comparative study.

    I love the line Gaiman wrote for Idris (the personified TARDIS lady) "Biting's brilliant. It's like kissing only there's a winner".

    I got bitten by an adder once. That definitely makes your leg go manky. That was about 8 years ago and you can still see where it bit. Fair dos though; I must have nearly stood on the poor thing.

    Speaking of animals, what other species are there in mouse guard? Is it like everything here except humans? And are they all 'sentient'? (I know our animals are sentient, but hopefully you get my meaning). That world has really drawn me in. I'm musing over all sorts of stuff. Started off with just their general technology but now I'm at the stage of pondering their physics. Like how strong are their swords? Assuming iron and carbon molecules are the same size there as here, forging technology wouldn't be scalable so there'd be a limit on folding the steel. Also how fine are their clothes? Even silk would be like chunky knitwear. And China must be like Mars to them anyway. Where do they get the wool?!?!? Argh, so many questions.

  12. So far in the three Mouse Guard books there's been snakes, crabs, fish, squid/octopi, crows, ducks, bats, squirrels, weasels (mentioned not seen), foxes, tortoises and ferrets. So pretty much the fauna of Northern Europe. All appear to be sapient although they don't share common languages, but we see here that Em can speak bird and the crow that visit's Lieam at the end speaks mouse.

    As for the problems of scale, I think this is a case where you have to give the series a pass :) Interestingly this volume has a very nice forward by Terry Jones saying it's really captured the spirit of the Medieval period.

  13. I'm going to assume the tortoise was on holiday. It is such a beautifully crafted world though. Ironically it's a lot more believable society than a lot of human centred ones in comics.

    Terry Jones is I believe a medievalist. That's why Python was so authentic about it. But mouse guard does seem spot on. Got a very Piers Plowman feel to it. It's a period I don't know much about but I do find interesting. It's often dismissed as the dark ages, but that's far from the case. It was a highly complex and advanced society. One thing that amazed me was a wooden water turbine they found preserved. It looked like it came off a jet engine. Exactly the same design.

    And mouse guard captures all that. As I've mentioned, the story isn't even that spectacular and the characters are pretty normal. But that's what makes it so compelling. You can really believe everything actually happened as portrayed (subject to the fact they're mice). It's all so plausible.

    It's such a refreshing change from all that constantly escalating ever more ridiculous standard comic stuff. Nice to see something that strolls along at its own pace and on its own terms. To use a daft analogy, a lot of modern comics reek of desperation. They have that same in your face please god notice me I'll do anything to please begging characteristic of tm nice guys. Mouse guard might not be playing hard to get, but it's that unapologetic take me as you find me I'm not changing for you buster comfort in its own skin that makes it so attractive. It has an understated confidence in itself. Doesn't really care what you think. It's not there to impress you. And it doesn't ask anything of you either. But if you're happy to be a partnership of being yourself equals then it's a very lovely and satisfying relationship.

  14. Yeah Terry Jones is a big cheer leader for the period, he's done some interesting TV shows in the past all about how the Dark ages weren't as dark as people are lead to believe.

    Mouse Guard reminds me a lot of both Cerebus and a comic I love but which has proved IMPOSSIBLE to write about, Tales of The Beanworld. They just drop you into the world and let you find out at your own pace. I think it's why I am mainly drawn to creator owned stuff, like Saga, Lazarus, Clean Room and Saga to name but a few. I like it when people can create their own worlds and not be beholden to continuity going on in someone elses comic. Shared universes can be fun, but they can be a real roadblock to creativity sometimes.

  15. Tangentially related... The 2017 Eisner Award winners are in* and Saga won a whole bunch this year. Also they truly test my "no pirating when I can avoid it" rule. I mean just check what won "Best Single Issue/One-Shot". XD

    (Sorry for the hive of scum and villainy... I mean Bleeding Cool, link but they had the only full list I could find ^^;)

  16. Shared universe is a weird concept. I remember getting quite excited when some of the 2000AD stories started to inter-relate. It sort of gave a bigger picture that made things more 'real'. Bit like Heinlein's 'future history'. (and there's that Cthulu myhtos that you know far more about than me). Are you familiar with the Wold Newton idea that ties in all the pulp characters?

    It even got to the stage that when a story was clearly in its own continuity I got a sort of sense of 'detachment'. I could enjoy things like Button Man very much. But there was a nagging feeling that stopped me getting absorbed. Like I was always an outside observer reading what was clearly fiction. Weird eh? I had the same thing with the rebooted Dr Who until it became confirmed internally that it was just a continuation of the programme I'd always loved. Judging from some of the Gallifrey Base comments I wasn't alone in that. There was like a collective sigh of relief when that book in Human Nature showed all the previous Doctors.

    And that ties in a bit with mouse guard and beanworld. Mouse guard has really drawn me in. Now I'd never heard of beanworld so I did some Googling. I can see why you like it. I've loved what I've read so far; it's just so surreal. But avoids that weird for the sake of it some stuff has. One thing that helped was the map. It's such an isolated universe but it was like those mediaeval mappa mundi. Sort of 'theres stuff beyond the horizon but here's what we know for now'. It gave it a grounding in reality.

    I've always had a strange thing about stuff like that. I could never watch the Charlie Brown cartoons. I now know it was deliberate to have the backgrounds unclear and the voices mumbled to show this was how the kids viewed their own little world. But I always found it a bit disturbing. Same with Beavis and Butthead. Even though I thought they were moderately funny I found the style a bit depressing. Not making myself clear maybe, but it was that lack of 'a world outside the window'. Thats really highlighted when they did Daria. That did seem to be taking place in an actual wider universe.

    It's probably just some psychological quirk of mine. Wonder what it says about me?

  17. Malitia: Cheers for that. Saga deserves having awards thrown at it. It's a real SJW comic, but I like that it is at its heart simply a story all about Love and the many forms it takes. Warms me cockles it does.

    Alan: Hah, you've had a look at Beanworld, it's great but like I said I have no idea how to go about writing it up. Back in 1989, I painted myself an oversized T-shirt with a Bean jumping for joy on it. I still use it as a nightie to this day!

    I can see why not grounding things in a wider world would be off-putting. I think that's one of the appeals of a shared universe to go the other extreme. You can tell your story and know the Marvel/DC savvy reader will be able to fill in the blanks.

  18. I'm glad Saga won. It's been one of my favourite finds from this blog. And the scene with the cat and the little girl is one of the most moving and powerful bits of drama in in any media.

    But Squirrel Girl is for teens?!

    Interesting what won best commentary. Notice also wonder woman in there. Stand by for mucho whinging about women invading male spaces.

  19. There'll be more Saga either next month or the month after, I've got the most current volume winging its way to me as we speak :)

    Yeah alhough the humour of Squirrel Girl is quite sophisticated I'd have thought it was more "All Ages". I'm planning on using it in a few years time getting my nephew into comics.

    I can imagine there's been some belly aching about these awards from the Usual Suspects, but it's proof to me that modern comics are getting pretty damn diverse despite and there is plenty good both inside Marvel and DC and out.

  20. Ah cool, I'm looking forward to finding out what's next in the world of limited vocabulary cats and CRT headed robots. And with Scalped and Swords of Sorrow madame ambassador you are really spoiling us.

    Surely the key demographic for Squirrel Girl is 40 something Northerners?

    Speaking of which, I'd be curious as to a demographic breakdown of comic readership. Anecdotal evidence suggests in the UK in the 80s it was about 50:50 boys and girls. That's one of the reason Misty folded. The target audience was reading 2000AD anyway. And DC Thompson abandoned their proposed girls' version of Havoc for the same reason, and just ported the planned stories into the existing boys' comic.

    The two biggest comic fans I know are both women. You and my other friend with the same bad back thing. Hmm, maybe it's something in the ink?

  21. I think western comics still skew quite heavily male. But manga definitely skews heavily female, because of the fact there are whole genres targeted at them.

    I'm looking forwards to getting the next installment of Saga. I'm also waiting on two Scalped trades which seem to have got lost in the post, which is annoying as I can't contact the seller for them until August 8th. Ridiculous. Swords of Sorrow is in the works but it's proving tricky figuring out how to approach it, but I'll pin it down somehow.

  22. How popular are Western comics in Japan? And western pop culture generally? I like to imagine there's Japanese kids arguing amongst themselves that Danger Mouse is so much better with subtitles rather than the dubbed version.

    It's funny about other countries' cultures. Just been chatting to one of my USian friends. Did you know they don't have beans on toast over there? What a country! She is a bit of an Anglophile. Especially our legal stuff. She's a member of the American Inns of Court association. She's hopefully coming over next year so I can take her to the actual real ones. And make her beans on toast.

  23. I don't know how popular US comics are in Japan. I know that in the past Marvel did some mangafied versions of their most popular characters and tried to market them that way which failed miserably.

    I did know about beans on toast not being a US thing. When I posted on Television without Pity back when the first series of NuWho was being shown they asked what it was. The advice though was to get British beans and bread, because in the US beans are canned in molasses and the bread has sugar in it, so it would taste disgustingly sweet.