Review by Frank Plowright
Many have fallen for the visual charm of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series, in which the protectors of a mouse society go about their business with tiny swords. This isn’t restricted to readers of the main series, as there are now almost as many collections of material produced by other creators, with three volumes of Legends, as there are books of work by Petersen himself. This is the first of those anthologies.
The care and thought Petersen applies to the background detail of his work is apparent here firstly by a description of the objects used in his cover illustration, and then in the short linking sequences he supplies, thematically uniting the varied contributions of others. He’s constructed an entire inn complete with regular patrons, whom he identifies in the rear of the book, complete with brief biographies.
Totally disparate material is themed via the technique of each tale being told by a patron of the June Alley Inn, with the best as selected by June herself clearing the teller’s bar slate. It should be noted that Petersen’s a generous host. His introduction considers these out of continuity stories, but they supply much to his world.
Some very well known creators are involved, Guy Davis, Gene Ha and Terry Moore to name three, but while their art is among the best, it’s largely the lesser known names who contribute the better stories. Jeremy Bastian’s obsessive eye for detail almost matches that of Petersen, and his tale of two mouse protectors on opposing sides feeds into the larger mythos, opens the book, and is one of the best here. That’s partly due to achieving an emotional attachment often lacking in Petersen’s own work. Others accomplish this via using larger eyes on the mice than Petersen does (Craig Rousseau), or by resorting to out and out cartooning (Katie Cook).
Jason Shawn Alexander and Rousseau choose to adapt The Raven and Aesop’s fable of The Lion and the Mouse, respectively, and their familiarity works against their shoehorning into the world of Mouse Guard. Ha’s story, written by Lowell Francis, and the contribution of Sean Rubin and Alex Kain echoes the threats from other creatures as seen in Petersen’s own work, as does Mark Smylie’s tragic tale, which numbers among the highlights.
The oddest aspect of the framing sequence is that it requires a judgement of which tale is best, awarded to Karl Kerschl’s ‘Bowen’s Tale’, a wordless piece about an epic trip. It’s very good, but any thought that Petersen might be causing resentment among the other creators is dispelled by two further volumes of work by other creators following.
Some series carry an expectation of a fixed look, so those who prioritise Petersen’s style over his wider mythology may be disappointed with Legends of the Mouse Guard. Fans of the world Petersen has created should be very pleased, and there were enough of them to ensure this won an Eisner Award for Best Anthology.
In order that they register on the search engine, the other contributors not so far named, none of them poor, are Alex Kain, Ted Naifeh, Nate Pride, Sean Rubin, and Alex Sheikman.