David Petersen, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh & Alex Sheikman
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard is a new anthology from Archaia featuring artists hand-picked by Mouse Guard creator David Petersen to give other artists the opportunity to delve into his fun fantasy world (and give fans a little something to chew on while they anxiously await Petersen's third Mouse Guard mini-series, The Black Axe). Subsequent issues of this mini-series will see creators such as Gene Ha (Top Ten: The Forty-Niners) and Terry Moore (Echo, Strangers In Paradise) take a stab at the characters, but in this debut issue, we get three talented creators bringing this world to life. The series is set up as a group of mice at a tavern who all have hefty bar tabs. The owner offers to waive the tab of the mouse who tells the greatest story, while the others have to pay up immediately. The scenes in the bar are illustrated by David Petersen himself, setting up each of the tales which are written and illustrated by the guest creators.
I was personally excited to see Ted Naifeh take on this project, since I'm a huge fan of his Courtney Crumrin series. As he's known for his goth/dark imagery, he appropriately brings that flavor to this story, featuring a mouse making a pact with a bat in a dark cave for mutual survival. It's the shortest of all of the stories here, and I have to say, a little underwhelming, but it was still nice to see Naifeh dip into this world, as his illustrations were the most un-Mouse Guard like and it's always a treat to see his drawings. "A Bargain In the Dark," as the tale is called, stays true to the Mouse Guard aesthetic, but has that dark look to it that is instantly recognizable as Naifeh's.
My favorite of all of the stories was the first one, "The Battle of the Hawk's Mouse & the Fox's Mouse" by Jeremy Bastian, who I'm not as familiar with as the other artists that appear here. I've been wanting to read his Cursed Pirate Girl for some time, and this will probably end up being my excuse to track it down. Bastian takes more of a storybook/fairy tale approach to his take on the warrior mice, pitting one mouse in service to a tyrannical hawk against one working for a fox. It's a nice story - very dense, but no line is wasted. Bastian's art is very polished, with some pretty creative panel arrangements. His animal illustrations are really just striking and beautiful. He's a very talented artist, and he kind of amazed me with his contribution.
The final offering, "Oleg the Wise," comes from Alex Sheikman, whose work I've enjoyed on Robotika (with colors by Scott Keating). This story is also a simple one, as most of these tend to be since they are all just a few pages in length, involving a prophecy with kind of a cheesy ending that is all too predictable. But I did enjoy the art, which is the closest to Petersen's own renditions of his world of all of the artists here. Overall, I'm happy with the creators that have been involved in this project thus far. This was a satisfying first issue of this anthology mini-series, with some pretty exciting creators still coming down the pipeline.