Having failed to gain much interest in the first two volumes of Mouse Guard, The Black Axe pleasantly surprised me. The story and characters are far more compelling this time around, as were the scope and settings. The art was never a problem, and it maintained that skillfulness, perhaps even exceeding it. It all felt more mythological, more organic, which I always consider a good thing.
The main appeal of Mouse Guard is the fantastic art and the skillful world-building that grounds it. The themes and characters are well conceived and wonderfully detailed. But, like Tolkien, the writing is less impressive. This first story features a complicated plot filled with conflicting emotions and epic battles that this single volume simply doesn’t have time to convey with the same detail it gives to expository things. The cinematic layouts taking up several full pages, while beautiful, don’t help in relieving this rushed feeling.
The story was slightly more character driven than the first but I still suffered from the same hurried perception. There are quite a few characters and their relationships and tensions are introduced and resolved so fast that I felt they fell flat, but not so much that the characters weren’t discernible. However, fantastic action sequences and further world exploration propelled this book past these faults.