It's been quite a few months since the last issue of "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe," and so my first instinct was to pull out the first two issues and refresh my memory before tackling the new chapter. But on a hunch, I left them safely stored away and jumped right into the new issue. And, as I suspected, I had no problem following along. Why? Because David Petersen is a firm believer in making each issue of "Mouse Guard " its own distinct chapter, and keeping it new-reader friendly.
It helps that this issue of "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" opens with Celanawe and Em having washed up on shore of an island, their boat having gone down at sea. Petersen gives us a new setting for this issue, and aside from our two main characters, an entirely new cast. Celanawe and Em remind us of their quest for the fabled Black Axe, and from there we plunge right into the thick of things.
Petersen's drawings of the ferret stronghold are great here; from the way it's burrowed into the ground to the traces of a Viking longhouse in its architecture and points, it looks instantly cool and intriguing. (Based on the size of the doors, it makes one wonder if humans originally constructed the building.) And as for the ferrets themselves? They're dangerous-looking from the moment they appear, and Petersen's dialogue only amps up the nervousness you should be feeling for our heroes. They may claim to be honorable creatures, but it's hard to feel like you (or they) can trust them.
By the end of this issue, Petersen's not just set up a new status quo for the story, but he's shifted us directly into a great opening moment for the next issue. The lair that Celanawe is preparing to travel into looks dark and mysterious, and holds a lot of great story potential. With his intricate art and the gentle, subtle shades of colors (it's hard to believe the first issue of the original self-published "Mouse Guard" these many years ago was in black and white), every drawing pulls you fully into the story, and a monster's den is no exception.
"Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" is a great down-and-dirty fantasy epic; it might star mice, but don't let that fool you. These are creatures that play for keeps, and it can get just as violent or gripping as an episode of "Game of Thrones." I know it's halfway through a mini-series, but if you've ever been curious about "Mouse Guard," the current issue of "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" is an excellent introduction to the series. Just be warned, you'll want to buy the collected editions of the first two mini-series as soon as you're done. All things considered, that's not such a bad position to be in. You've got some good times ahead.