From the stack: MOUSE GUARD: BELLY OF THE BEAST #1

When new issues of Paris (SLG) and Polly and the Pirates come out, I’m tempted to say the same things over again – that Paris is lovely to look at and Polly is an engaging, all-ages adventure. Both apply to this month’s chapters, too, but for variety’s sake, I’ll say that both are also true of the first issue of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Belly of the Beast (Archaia Studios Press).

Petersen has a wonderful premise here. The Mouse Guard protects the safety of the citizens of various mouse settlements, forging safe paths between them to allow trade and travel. Once soldiers, they’re more rangers now, though they’re fully capable of handling dangerous situations.

Petersen introduces the Guard with a minimum of fuss. There’s some introductory text that provides an overview, and it’s useful, but I particularly like the way he illustrates the Guard’s function in the story. It’s almost a day-in-the-life tale, showing members of the Guard investigating the disappearance of a grain trader. There’s very little exposition, with Petersen choosing instead to let action and character do the world-building.

It’s a nice balance between telling (the opening text) and showing (the story itself). Neither makes the other redundant, and they support each other very well. Petersen also uses the initial adventure to alert the guard to a larger danger, building interest in future chapters. It’s wonderfully modulated storytelling — a satisfying adventure that feeds into something bigger.

It’s also gorgeous. Petersen does a wonderful job with character design. It’s an appealing mix of realism (they look like mice) and fantasy (but mice with capes and swords). Backgrounds are lush, and action sequences are tense and imaginative. As strong as the illustrations are, they’re taken to an even higher level by Petersen’s use of color. Petersen uses a rich palette to help show the passage of time, from day to night to day again, grounding the scenes and contributing to mood.

Mouse Guard #1 is a really appealing introduction to this six-part series. It’s got the full package – solid story, wonderful art, and imaginative presentation.

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