This third volume of the Mouse Guard series, The Black Axe is actually a prequel that is set well over 30 years before the events in the first volume. So instead of our young heroes from the Guard, we go further back to explore the story of the legendary Black Axe himself.
And so instead of seeing him as an older mouse, we finally get to see what he was like in his prime. And this also becomes a reminder that even the greatest of legends spring forth from rather humble beginnings - small even for mice.
Synopsis: Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is the third volume of the fantasy comic book series created by David Petersen. He continues to direct the telling of these tales as both writer and illustrator behind the book.
It is 1115 and Celanwe is but another Guard Mouse, but one whose life is more dedicated to the training of new Guard Mice and less about personal adventuring. He's a young mouse yet but beyond the foolishness of youth and his life away from Lockhaven is about to change with the arrival of distant kin, Em. And she brings word of The Black Axe of legend, both a mouse and a weapon lost in time.
It turns out that the Black Axe is less an individual and more a role that is passed on from mouse to mouse in order to preserve the legend. The Black Axe is a mouse who has sworn to dedicate his life to the good of all mice and not just one group or community. And it is through Em, Celanwe and the rest of their family that the responsibility of keeping watch of the Axe and selecting the next bearer has fallen. And now it is down to the two of them, the last of their kin, to sail off into the unknown in order to find out what had happened to the legendary axe and the last mouse to bear its legacy. And with luck, they'll be able to bring it back to the Mouse territories for when it might be needed once more.
At first the story felt perhaps a little too distant from all that we had learned in the first two volumes of stories. We didn't have our heroes like Saxon and we didn't even have noble Gwendolyn leading the Mouse Guard. It is a story of a completely different time and thus feels pretty much like an entirely new story. All we have to cling to in terms of the familiar is Celanwe himself, but even he seems to be a completely different character as he is much, much younger here versus when he first entered the story in Fall. This is not a bad thing at all - just something that takes a little getting use to.
But the story is an intriguing one since Petersen decides to attack the legend head-on with the introduction of Em and her story of how the role of the Black Axe has worked for all those years. From the very start of the book we are told that the legend is a lie and it is really a series of mice that take up the charge. And our dear Celanwe is not actually the one next fated to bear the axe but instead is a member of the clan that helps secure the succession of the. Midway through the first issue, I was more than just a little confused about what was going on.
But that's the beauty of this book - the fact that it takes all your usual assumptions and turns them around and yet manages to create a narrative that is original, familiar and most of all quite compelling. As much as Celanwe does not appear to be mouse meant for the axe, and yet we do see his bravery and his prowess as a warrior. He isn't some superhero or anything of the sort. He is but a humble Guard Mouse who has served Lockhaven faithfully for many years and has the benefit of his experience to serve him best.
So we still get to see Celanwe being all cool and such in the face of danger. But we are reminded that he can be just like any other member of the Mouse Guard - one who is called to greatness through service. And their various adventures as they go in search of the Black Axe does make for great story material and I enjoyed every new encounter along the way. This is a story that takes them beyond the familiar territories of the mice and thus there's quite a lot of interaction with other animals other than mice kin.
Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a great story on its own and one that I enjoyed a lot. It does not require the other Mouse Guard volumes to make sense but it does enhance the experience of reading those other tales. Thus the book gets a great 4 ferocious mammals that threaten Celanwe and Em during their journey out of a possible 5.