By David Petersen
192 pages, color
Published by Archaia
It took a little longer than planned due to some publisher reorganizing, but Mouse Guard: Winter 1152—David Petersen’s second Mouse Guard mini-series—has come to a conclusion. With a hardcover collection scheduled for this summer, it seemed like a good at time as any to sit down and re-read all six issues. While Petersen certainly made a splash with his debut mini-series (Mouse Guard: Fall 1152), I have to say I was a little surprised with this second story. As good as the first was, this one feels even deeper and richer than what we’ve seen up until now.
The mouse kingdom of Lockhaven has seen better days. While the army of Midnight failed to destroy Lockhaven or slay its queen, Gwendolyn, they’re running desperately short on supplies. A handful of Guardsmice are out visiting Lockhaven’s neighbors, trying to get food and medicine to bring back to Lockhaven and keep its mice alive. But the combination of a deep snowfall and several hostile species means that getting back to Lockhaven alive and with the much-needed supplies will be considerably more difficult than originally planned…
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Petersen’s original Mouse Guard mini-series; it was charming and fun, and beautifully drawn. Here, though, I feel like Petersen has truly made the jump from just telling stories about mice, to having a fully-fleshed out world in which he’s chronicling. I love that we’re seeing so much more of the other species in the Mouse Guard world. From the abandoned weasel kingdom of Darkheather and the clouds of angry bats who thrive in the darkness, to the dangerous lone owls and the mice-allied rabbits, there’s a beautiful depth of storytelling and world-building going on here. Honestly, the more I read of Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, the more I wanted to just go over to Petersen’s house and have him tell me stories about the kingdoms and species of these lands.
While Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 stars five of the Guardsmice, in many ways I felt like this was really Lieam and Celanawe’s story. Sure, the other three mice get their own moments, and their journey through Darkheather provided some of the most beautiful visuals in the book. But it’s the young apprentice and wizened master relationship between Lieam and Celanawe that grabbed my attention more than anything else. Celanawe’s tough attitude might have grown tiresome in other hands, but I was entranced here. From his tunneling through the snow in order to make it to their destination in one piece, to his attack on the roving owl, Petersen made Celanawe a character that practiced what he preached, but in a way that wasn’t forced or over the top. Watching Lieam continue to grow and mature by listening and following Celanawe felt natural as well; by the end of Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, he might still be a rookie, but he’s clearly much further down the road towards his destiny. I also appreciated that we’re seeing other repercussions of the first mini-series in this story; it’s nice to know that Midnight’s uprising isn’t so easily brushed to the side and done with, and that Petersen’s playing out some of the ramifications still. It helps Fall 1152 and Winter 1152 feel like parts of a much longer story, even though both of them have had their beginning, middle, and end so that it’s a satisfying reading experience.
As for the art, it’s as lush and beautiful as ever. I just can’t get over how well Petersen draws his characters and settings. The underground kingdom of Darkheather, for instance, is ominously dark and creepy, but at the same time its high vaulted ceilings and ancient stonework bring to mind places in our own world that makes it feel that much richer a place to read about. There are so many nice touches to the way he draws the world of Mouse Guard, too. Little details like the old stone cisterns that plunge into the depths of the earth, for instance, or the old wooden doors built into the bases of trees to get into the different mouse kingdoms. And as for the animals themselves, well, it’s lovely. The attacking cloud of bats is a scene that truly deserved its own two-page spread, for instance, with Petersen bringing all their menace and terror to the page. At the same time, though, Petersen’s able to handle the softer side of Mouse Guard through his art as well. When I saw the wrap-around cover to the final issue, with the mice mounted on rabbits as steeds, I almost cheered out loud at the sheer rightness of the image. And with colors so deep and beautiful, it’s almost hard to believe that Mouse Guard was originally envisioned as a black and white comic.
I’m so happy to see the return of Mouse Guard, and even more pleased to know that a third mini-series (Mouse Guard: The Black Axe) is on deck soon. It may have taken a while to see the conclusion of Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, but it was absolutely worth the wait. This is the sort of book you’ll want to buy the hardcover edition, so that you can lay it all the way open and just marvel at Petersen’s talent. Petersen’s an extremely talented creator, and he just keeps getting better. Highly recommended.