Thursday, 10 May 2012

‘Mouse Guard, Labyrinth and Other Stories’ – Various (Archaia Entertainment)

Ever since I read ‘Legends of the Guard’, way back at the beginning of last year, I’ve been meaning to read more ‘Mouse Guard’ (of which there are two volumes, I think) but all the usual stuff got in the way and I never got round to it. Can’t complain really, I did read some great stuff in the meantime :o)
Thank the comic book gods for ‘Free Comic Book Day’ then! I knew there was a ‘Mouse Guard’ book up for grabs, in certain bags, but when I saw how many people were camped outside Forbidden Planet on Saturday morning (seriously, the queue went right down the street…) I didn’t think I had much chance of bagging a copy. Shows how wrong I was… Amidst the other comics, and ‘Fake Blood’ energy drinks, was a lovely looking copy of ‘Mouse Guard’. Happy me :o)

It wasn’t just ‘Mouse Guard’ though. What I thought was going to be a book all about noble warrior mice was actually about a whole lot more with five other stories making up the rest of a very slim looking volume. I always find it funny how books that look really slim end up being the books that are jam-packed full of story and that was the case here. ‘Mouse Guard…’ wasn’t just an evenings read, it was a read for the commute to work as well and I couldn’t ask for a lot more than that from a free comic book (not really). Anyone else here read this book?

Free Comic Book Day seems to be all about introducing people to comic books by giving them a taster, or preview, of something cool and then watching them go out and buy the rest of the series. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve fallen for that line on occasion…
‘Mouse Guard…’ is no different with at least two of it’s tales clearly set up to leave the reader with questions that could only be answered by parting with cash for the rest of the series. I guess this approach is fair enough although McCann and Lee’s ‘Steps of the Dapper Men’ was perhaps a little too obvious in its intentions, just raising questions and not really bothering to tell a story. Lee’s artwork is lovely but I wanted more than just something to look at.

Jeremy Bastian’s ‘Cursed Pirate Girl: Ramblings From An Old Sea Dog Who Likes To Be Called Alice’ took more of a balanced approach and actually told a self contained tale (that will naturally lead into more) but this time round the artwork really worked against the tale. It was far too detailed, for such a short space, and ended up drawing far too much attention away from what was rather an amusing little plot.

Royden Lepp’s ‘Rust: Oswald’s Letter’ is the only tale that takes this approach and gets the balance right with a self contained tale working alongside sepia art that is gloriously effective because it is deliberately unassuming and modest. This artwork not only complements the slightly bleak tone of the story but also pushes that story to the fore; a boy’s poignant letter to his father. Of the three stories mentioned, so far, I think ‘Rust’ is the one I’d like to see more of.

The other the stories in the collection worked a lot better for me in that they all went to show that you can create interest in a wider series without having to be quite so obvious about it. All three tales are completely self contained with the merest of hints at a wider setting and that worked a lot better for me than being dumped with a cliff hanger right at the end. The following three tales were all a lot more subtle and I want to read more as a result, it’s that simple.

David Petersen’s ‘The Tale of Baldwin the Brave’ took top billing and for good reason with its tale of one mouse who refused to give up despite the odds. From what I can gather, this seems to be the message of the series as a whole and I liked the way that Petersen took the whole microcosm thing one step further by having the story told as a puppet show. It was simple but all the more effective because of this and the tiny hints of things going on around the edges just got me all the more interested.

I’ve always been a big fan of ‘Labyrinth’ so I’ll be completely honest and say that I was all geared up to enjoy ‘Labyrinth: Hoggle and the Worm’ before I even got going. It didn’t let me down though with a twist in the tale (pun possibly intended) that I couldn’t help but chuckle at. Cory Godbey’s art really captured that fairy tale weirdness of Jim Henson’s setting and a large chunk of my reading here was just spent staring at the pictures. Lovely stuff :o)

Nate Cosby’s ‘Cow Boy: Long While Ago’ rounded things off in some style with a tale of the old west that comes with a difference. Old western themes of sin and redemption are played out here against a cartoon background that places emphasis on these grim emotions rather than detract from them. I can see the series possibly getting a little repetitive but I wouldn’t mind seeing how it plays out in the meantime.

‘Mouse Guard…’ has a lot going for it then, even though three of the six stories were perhaps a little too obvious about what they set out to do. If you have a copy waiting to be read then I think you’re in for a little bit of a treat.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten