My children, we have completed our traditional Thanksgiving celebration once again. We have imbibed turkeys and yams and pies. We have endured Uncle Edgar’s racist yammerings. We have watched football, unless we were sensible and avoided football. And it is now time for our nation’s most entirely noxious tradition: Black Friday, when we go out in the wee hours (or, if you particularly hate goodness and decency, Thanksgiving Day itself!) to track down dubious bargains, to battle for mall parking, to press your face obscenely against glass doors and scream at underpaid department store clerks to open the doors right now, and to fight other customers for, I dunno, wifi toasters or something.
But you don’t have to put yourself through that! In fact, there are many wonderful gifts you can get at your friendly neighborhood comics store! Shall we examine a few?
Let’s kick things off with Mouse Guard by David Petersen.
This is a great series taking place in a quasi-medieval fantasy setting where mice are our heroes, facing off against various predator species. Our main characters for much of the series are Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam, who are all Guardmice, dedicating their lives to protecting mouse cities, citizens, and merchants and to combating threats like ferrets, weasels, owls, and snakes — and sometimes, they have to deal with threats from within mousedom.
The action is often jaw-droppingly awesome — after all, these are mice fighting and often beating owls, hawks, snakes, and other animals that are much larger and stronger. But even better is the character work — to our human eyes, one mouse looks much like another, so visually, the only difference we may see in most of them is different colored cloaks. But each of the mice we meet is a very distinct character, with different personalities and styles of speaking. The dialogue is often gloriously fun to read, too.
And a big chunk of the appeal of the story is the background. Each of the collections includes maps of the mouse territories, descriptions of their tiny cities hidden inside trees and rock walls, common mouse trades, and more. And it’s just grand fun to imagine life inside these tiny cities, intricately carved out by tiny mouse tools, guarded by brave mouse warriors, served by craftsmen and merchants.
Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole series is incredible fun, with David Petersen’s amazing art and storytelling running through every major storyarc. Yeah, the action is great, the characterization and dialogue are wonderful — but there’s nothing like turning a page and discovering a whole new setting you never could’ve imagined before, whether that’s an entire city or just a simple tavern or workroom, built and decorated by mice.
It’s a kid-friendly series, but it’s not entirely violence-free — characters are terribly injured and sometimes die, so don’t expect to just drop this in your kindergartener’s lap unless you want to deal with the emotional traumas yourself. But for the right kid — and especially for the right adults — this is beautiful, emotionally vibrant storytelling that you’ll treasure.
About the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s an unusual size for a comic — the books are just about square, so it can be hard to display them in some bookshelves. And there are quite a few books in the series — Fall 1152, Winter 1152, and The Black Axe are the books in the main storyline, while the two Legends of the Guard books are collections of stories from different creators — they’re all greatly worth reading, though. And you’ll also want to look for a new collection called Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales, which is full of Petersen’s incredibly charming Free Comic Book Day stories.
Mouse Guard is a perfect gift for kids and adults who love mice, action, and fantasy. You can find them at many comic shops, and you can also order them online from many different store. Go pick ’em up!