Archaia's bellcow, "Mouse Guard," continues to offer new different adventures thanks to the amazingly creative efforts of David Petersen. The chapter included here is "The Tale of Baldwin the Brave," as depicted in the form of a puppet show presented by the Applekettle Puppet Troupe in the Mouse Territories. Baldwin wishes to win the heart of a maiden and must also contend with a boisterous goose and the trouble such a noisy beast attracts. Petersen's art is always the draw for "Mouse Guard" adventures and this tale is no exception. It certainly doesn't hurt that his writing is every bit as good.
The Labyrinth installment, titled "Hoggle and the Worm" is a fun little tale about misunderstandings and mischief. Ted Naifeh and Adrianne Ambrose guide Cory Godbey's art through a fun pairing that showcases the excitement of a common misunderstanding. Godbey's art is fanciful and captures the spirit of a Jim Henson production, locking that spirit into the form of a comic story.
As if "Mouse Guard" wasn't enough of a draw, this book contains a six-page Dapper Men story that leads into "Time of the Dapper Men." If you liked "Return of the Dapper Men" at all, then this yarn will resonate with you quite nicely. If you have yet to be exposed to the Dapper Men, Jim McCann's whimsical other-land will surely seem instantly familiar and bizarrely curious at the same time thanks in no small part to the gorgeous artwork from Janet Lee. The Dapper Men have become almost as synonymous with Archaia as "Mouse Guard" for me. This is a nice appetizer for the next grand adventure.
Royden Lepp's "Rust" is a charming sepia-toned tale that doesn't offer much in the way of plot, but does offer a nice heaping helping of exposition and character defining. In the eight pages offered here, there is just enough information to pique one's curiosity as we meet Oswald while he writes a letter to his absent father. It's not quite a tearjerker, but it is an emotional installment in Archaia's Free Comic Book Day offering.
Jeremy Bastian's "Cursed Pirate Girl" sample is chock-full of insanely detailed art. As the introduction to the story shares, this segment features the "ramblings of an old sea dog who likes to be called Alice." Cajoled into telling his grandchildren of pirates from days past, Grandpa/Alice shares some wild biographies made all the wilder by Bastian's exaggerated, almost surreal drawings. Of all six stories in this book, "Cursed Pirate Girl" is the only black and white story, but Bastian makes up for the lack of color with levels of line art that are simply mindboggling in their creativity and completeness.
Cow Boy is an all ages read much in the same manner as "Tiny Titans." Written by Nate Cosby and drawn by Chris Eliopoulos. It's part "High Plains Drifter" and part "Calvin & Hobbes." Actually, it is a whole lot more "Calvin & Hobbes" than anything else, but even that is not a completely accurate comparison. Boyd Linney, the Cow Boy, is on a mission to bring his kinfolk to justice and the confrontation he finds himself facing in that quest during this offering is fun and witty.
Archaia's Free Comic Book Day offering is a stunningly beautiful hardcover book that will certainly appeal to readers of all ages. Whether you want to read straight through cover to cover or sample it over a longer period of time, " Mouse Guard and Other Stories: A Free Comic Book Day Hardcover Anthology" is at least worth checking out. To borrow a concept from my comrades who give us the "Food or Comics" column, if I could only have one Free Comic Book Day book this year, it would be this one -- and I'd be very, very happy with it.