David Petersen's "Mouse Guard" is one of those rare comic series that manages to be fun, no matter what's happening. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Petersen wrote and drew "Mouse Guard: Eating a Delicious Brunch" it would still end up enchanting its readers, due to his skill as a storyteller. That's why even though "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" is off to a slightly slow start, it's still a thoroughly enjoyable first issue.
Jumping back 40 years before the "present day" in the "Mouse Guard" timeline, "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" reintroduces us to Celanawe, now a young mouse in Lockhaven's Mouse Guard instead of the older, grizzled warrior we know from the "Fall 1152" and "Winter 1152" mini-series. What starts as a simple day for Celanawe as he prepares to return to Lockhaven becomes a quest to cross the great ocean in search of the fabled Black Axe.
Petersen is always careful to balance his exposition with action, never letting "Mouse Guard" linger too much in any one situation. So while Em and Celanawe get to know each other, there's an attack of a band of fishers (a cross between a weasel and an otter), a crow being used as a steed, and even a surprise escape route. Petersen's usage of the animal world continues to be imaginative and entertaining, and I love how something as simple as mice having cities and guards can turn into something much more elaborate and textured. Whenever you read "Mouse Guard" it becomes quickly clear that Petersen has an entire world mapped out in his head for his creatures, and we're fortunate enough to get to dip into just the edges of the greater whole.
It doesn't hurt that Petersen's art is beautiful and dramatic. Something as simple as a mouse riding a crow instantly looks breathtaking, but it's his skill as an artist that especially comes to life when we get scenes like the initial attack of the fishers. It comes across as savage and brutal, but without ever resorting to gore or blood. His animals move across the page better than many comic artists can draw people, and what could have looked silly or out of place instead feels as natural as they come. Petersen takes great care of every visual aspect of "Mouse Guard," down to the warrior-inspired dress of the fishers that bring to mind the deadly warriors of olden days like the Scythians and the Picts. Even the lettering is carefully thought out; who knew that a font for a duck's quack could be so expressive?
"Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #1 is a welcome return of a new mini-series from Petersen. "Mouse Guard" is a comic that will never disappoint you, and this new issue is no exception. If you've never read "Mouse Guard" before, this is a fine place to jump on board for yourself.