Writers: David PETERSON, Ramon K. PEREZ, Jake PARKER, Mark A. NELSON
Artists: David PETERSON, Ramon K. PEREZ, Jake PARKER, Mark A. NELSON
Colourists: David PETERSON, Ramon K. PEREZ, Cam KENDELL, Mark A. NELSON
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 once again returns us to the small roadside inn where the landlord holds an annual competition for those in her debt. The rules of her tourney are simple, everyone gets a chance to tell a story and the yarn that is judged to be the best wins; the much sought after prize is the opportunity to have all debts erased. Each year the travelling mice with accounts in arrears assemble in her bar to try win this most coveted of prizes; some play for bragging rights and others because they have no other methods of payment. Peterson’s Mouse Guard is a ornately crafted world inhabited by sentient bipedal rodents set in a vaguely feudal era. Written in manner that is both fun and accessible to almost all ages Mouse Guard is beloved by many. With such a rich world to draw from Peterson opens up his doors to other creators with the Legend of the Guard series as each story is told and illustrated by guest writers and artists.
The first tale told in Legends of the Guard #3 is Nain Rouge and is brought to us by Nelson (Aliens, Green Lantern, Punisher). Nain Rouge is without dialogue and is instead narrated in a very minimalist fashion, this leaves it to the art to tell much of the story. Told in a gallery of snapshots of action Nelson allows the flow of the panels to weave the flow of the story. Nain Rouge is a simple story of courage and luck combining to save a small village from some fantastical Eldritch horror. All this accompanied by some great artwork that tells the story with ease, the colouring in particular pays a huge part in this. While the monstrous creature born of fire glows with a mix of reds and oranges the villagers are mostly draped in a darker hue of dusky blues and greens, illuminated only be the glow of the fires of the creature when the venture close enough. These colours combine to give depth and flavour to this simple tale that could have otherwise felt target flat. With some mild body horror this story could be seen to tread the line of suitability for younger readers however it manages, in good Mouse Guard tradition, to juggle the horror and death well and mix it with a dash of happy ending so as to not be too grim.
The next story to be told is “The Inventor“, written and illustrated by Parker (Lucy Nova, Missile Mouse) and coloured by Kendell. Told by an elder mouse who is perturbed by the moral of the previous story this yarn takes a more cautionary tone. Centring on a great inventor who sees the threat of his peaceful creations being used for war and his refusal to allow this to pass. This story nicely juxtaposes Nain Rouge by suggesting that people (or in this case mice) should not take joy in the death of others even if they are your enemy. This is a good example of Mouse Guards’ ability to raise moral questions in amongst fun adventures. While these moral dilemmas are not always framed in the most subtle of ways they do not interfere with the overall story at any point but are there to be pondered. As the moral complexities of these are never too taxing they are suitable for younger readers. This is beside they are easily glossed over if the reader is too young or uninterested but are approached and handled in a manner that is engaging and accessible if they want to discuss the issues. Drawn in a rather cartoonish style this story also works very nicely in isolation as a story of a single mouse willing to stand up for what he believes in with fun visuals and vibrant colouring.
Rather than delve into further moral questioning the final story of Legends of the Guard #3 “The Tale of Abdiel’s Heart” instead draws upon the more fantastical elements of the first yarn. Written and illustrated by R. K. Pérez (All New Hawkeye, The Amazing Spiderman) this story centres around a legend of folklore set within the Mouse Guard universe. A mix of adventure and fantasy it tells of the legend of a beautiful young female mouse that has been locked away by her protective father. Those who want to win the heart of this beautiful maiden must go through many trials to price both that they are worthy and honest; there are some fairly hefty punishments in store for those that fail. Perez style is often rather cartoon like and energetic but the art in this story is a more muted version of his regular output and is vaguely reminiscent of a more child friendly version of Mignola’s work on Hellboy; the more muted, simplistic colouring also helps create this effect. This style certainly helps build the slightly creepy and mythic quality to this story that is dripping from the gothic lettering that narrates this tale. The Tale of Abdiel’s Heart is a great example of what makes Legends of the Guard so great, it gives a small insight to the folklore and culture in the Mouse Guard universe without needing to rest on previous work or have a direct impact on any other story.
Legends of the Guard #3 continues to retain the spirit of Peterson’s Mouse Guard series through a balanced mixture of the lighthearted and the grim. Helping tie this series to his universe is Peterson’s own contributions. Both as editor and writer and illustrator of the inn based interludes Peterson’s hand in the proceedings is evident. While he is thankful and rightfully confident enough in their various creators he has employed to let them bring their unique styles to the stories his composition of these in the series helps the flow of each issue. By writing and illustrating the interludes he further grounds the individual stories to the realm of the Mouse Guard series with different charterers giving their opinions on the previous tales.
While the stories of the previous issue of Legends of the Guard dealt with the theme of death rather strongly there is not such a prevalent theme in this issue. In a general sense the stories take on a more fantastical element however they are not too far removed from previous tales told in other issues and volumes of this series. A lack of a unifying theme is not necessarily a terrible thing as it certainly helps to maintain the feeling that these stories are told by different mice from various walks of life and different outlooks on life. While the juxtaposition between Nain Rouge and The Inventor creates a nice flow from one story to the next it does not matter that The Tale of Abdeil’s Heart is not such a direct continuation. In fact with the first two stories working nicely in tandem trying to manipulate the third to for the theme for the sake of it would be unnecessary. Legends of the Guard #3 is yet another great entry into this series and whether you are buying this volume issue to issue or waiting for the collected trade it manages to maintain the same high caliber you will have come to expect.