Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard
written by David Petersen
Spinning off from David Petersen's popular, Eisner award-winning Mouse Guard series comes Legends of the Guard. A collection of short stories written and illustrated by a group of artists hand-picked by Petersen, Legends expands upon the world of the Guard and tells tales of ancient mouse history.
With a rising number of bar tabs going unpaid, June issues a challenge to her patrons—tell a tale she's never heard before. Whoever can tell the best story will have their debt erased, while the losers must settle their accounts within seven days.
It is in this fashion that Petersen constructs a framed narrative for other storytellers to come and play with the world he has created, without impacting the overall narrative and continuity of his main series. Such writers and illustrators as Guy Davis (perhaps best known for his work on the Hellboy spinoff series B.P.R.D.) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise, Echo) make contributions, while Petersen bridges the stories with brief barroom interludes.
As with any collection of numerous collaborators, quality can vary. In Legends, the bar is set high amidst the accolades Petersen has garnered for his central Mouse Guard series, and, by and large, those invited to contribute are more than up to the task, and each firmly embraces the world that has been created.
Each story differs enough to be unique, although several are too brief to carry through with the proper amount of weight they seem entitled to. One story that does exceptionally well is actually an adaptation of another literary work: Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven. Jason Shawn Alexander casts the story in an entertaining way and manages to create a wonderfully tense dynamic between Poe's titular raven and a heartbroken mouse. In a few short pages, it becomes a terrific, memorable tale of loss and grief.
Guy Davis makes a contribution that strays from the traditional route of comic story telling, relying solely on visuals to craft his short piece. Even the brief moments of dialogue are told only through pictograms. His work in gothic horror provides an interesting dynamic when pitted against the sometimes scary world of Mouse Guard, and the visuals of a lone mouse pitted against a parliament of owls is strikingly effective.
Visually, Petersen has established a naturalistic style in designing his world and his guests tend not to stray far from that aesthetic. Unfortunately, while the illustrations by Katie Cook are energetic and fun, her cartoony styling immediately puts her at odds with the naturalistic efforts of the other artists, which dominate the book. That is not to say, however, that she is a bad artist—far from it. Her portfolio is filled with terrific imagery and she is certainly a skilled illustrator. However, Petersen has very carefully and deliberately created a story of heroic mice that are decidedly not cartoony. As such Cook's work here is simply an odd aberration, which disturbs the visual flow of the book by being so cheerily different from the art that precedes and follows her story.
Legends of the Guard works well as a collection of short stories, even if the overall narrative construct of the story is weaker than Petersen's central Mouse Guard series. The barroom bet to see which mouse can tell the best story provides little in the way of narrative conflict for readers to invest themselves in, and exists solely to tie the short stories into a cohesive whole. It works out well enough in the end, and the stories told are entertaining. Perhaps more importantly, the stories are authored and illustrated by people who actually care about and enjoy the world they've been invited to briefly play in. They had a fun time contributing to the book, and it's an infectious enjoyment. While established fans may find Legends to be an interesting detour, it's certainly a suitable jumping on point for new readers ready to embrace a mousy epic.