The year is 1152, treachery is afoot, and the Mouse Guard, defenders of all mice, must suss out the traitor in their midst before the Guard is destroyed. So goes the basic plot of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel collection of Petersen’s award-winning comic. And just so there’s no confusion, Mouse Guard isn’t a nickname or colloquialism — the protagonists really are mice, the small, furry rodent kind.
Petersen does a marvelous job of anthropomorphizing the mice without making them cloying or cutesy. It helps immensely that his mice look like mice — just bipedal, clothed, tool-wielding and intelligent. The same goes for the other animals represented: a snake, a passel of fierce crabs. The mice have a tendency to look the same (other than in their colour), so Petersen has taken care to dress or arm them differently, and has gone so far as to give one of them a peg leg. And, admittedly, they have a wealth of charming facial expressions at their disposal as well.
Their personalities are also distinct. Lieam is somewhat impetuous, while his companions Kenzie and Saxon seem more seasoned. Female Guard Sadie seems unflappable, even when she and crusty old Conrad face off against the aforementioned crabs. Gwendolyn, the leader of the Guard, is strong-willed and wise, and the villain … is villainous.
Petersen’s design and artwork are uniformly excellent. He varies the number and layout of the panels on each page — from the usual four panel to full two-page spreads — which adds visual interest and impact to the action. He has a good eye for both nature and architecture, and his backgrounds are detailed without being overwhelming. The colours range from muted to vibrant, always natural seeming.
The pace is fast, as the three companions and Sadie come at the investigation from different paths, leading all of them back to the Guard’s stronghold, Lockhaven, for the final showdown between the loyal Guard members and the traitor.
At the very back of the volume, Petersen has included a full-colour map of the Mouse Territories, and a representation of one of the cities, Barkstone, with key elements tagged. A picture of Lockhaven follows, with an explanation of its significant trades, which Petersen illustrates via various industrious mice. Closing things out are a “pin-up” gallery by various artist friends of Petersen’s, and a gallery of his own.
Petersen won the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award at the Eisners for the Mouse Guard series. It seems well-deserved, based on this first collection, which could be enjoyed by older children (with some judicious oversight regarding the inter-species and internecine violence) and adults alike.
(Villard Books, 2008)