David Peterson's "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #5 is a slow and sad part of the "Black Axe" story, and it's to Peterson's credit that it's still completely engaging.
"The Black Axe" thus far has been filled with adventure and danger, including a riveting last issue where Celanawe had to kill a massive fox in order to get possession of the fabled Black Axe. In this issue, however, we learn that so much of what he was fighting for is for naught as Em, the last of his kin who brought him on this adventure and put herself up as collateral, is dead at the hands of the Ferrets. Though her death appears an accident and the Ferrets pledge protection to Celanawe and Conrad so long as they are on the island, Em was the driving force of the book in many ways and it takes time for Celanawe to get his bearings.
As a result, this is a quieter issue as Celanawe tries to understand from Em's notes about what he is supposed to do with the vaunted Black Axe. When he pieces it together he and Conrad, with the help of the Ferrets build a boat to get them home. Most of the issue is narration as we follow Celanawe and Conrad on their long journey -- a journey followed by even more death as Celanawe finally returns to Lockhaven and his beloved Bronwyn, only to find her dead as well. This issue, though full of emotional beats, is a bit heavy with the narration and in general is not quite as engaging as previous issues in the series, but as it's issue #5 in a series of six it feels a bit like the horrible quiet before the storm.
As usual with "Mouse Guard," Peterson's art is lovely and he merges his writing and art flawlessly. The unusual format (horizontal and odd-sized) is a wonderful choice for these large detailed panels. Peterson's world building is effortless at this point. Whether he's giving us the materials for a new boat or "uncharted" islands our heroes have never seen before, it all fits together seamlessly with a depth that most comics can only dream of. The fact that Peterson can get me to care about mice (I'm not a fan) still astounds me, but he's given them such emotion and character that it's impossible not to fall in love with them on this epic journeys.
"Mouse Guard" continues to be one of those books that just works on every level, delivering satisfying emotional adventures for a vast cast of characters. The sole issue with the series is that issues can't come out more frequently.