Comics

From The Surprisingly Well-Stocked Department Of Comic Book Epics About Chivalrous Sword-Wielding Mi

The cover of 'Mice Templar'

hide captionMice Templar: We can only hope this will be one of many mouse epics.

Image Comics

It's not all that surprising: I mean, there's certainly a precedent for stirring tales of anthropomorphized medieval warrior members of the genus Peromyscus.

There is. You got your Reepicheep, from the Narnia books. Your Matthias, et al, from Brian Jacques' Redwall series.

You got your .... uh, Reepicheep....

Not .... a long list, granted, but enough to have inspired two contemporaneous comic book epics about noble (and ignoble) rodents:

Mouse Guard by David Petersen, the first six issues of which are now collected in a nifty hardcover ("Fall 1152") from Archaia Studios Press, and

Mice Templar by Bryan J.L. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming, the first six issues of which are now collected in a hardcover of coequal niftiness (The Prophecy) from Image Comics.

It's striking how very different these two books feel, despite the remarkable number of surface similarities they share.

NOTE: That's remarkable as in "inspiring remarks", not remarkable as in "get the lawyers on the phone."

The first issue of Mouse Guard hit stands in February of 2006, and Mice Templar debuted in August of 2007, but both books, we are told, had been in the works for many years. (The backmatter found in the Mice Templar hardcover is understandably emphatic on this point.)

So this isn't a Wife-Swap-and-Trading-Spouses type situation. It's more a The Prestige and ... That-Other-Movie-About-Magicians type situation. [Ed. Note: The Illusionist?]

After the jump: Their similarities, their differences, and an answer to the burning question, "Yeah, but which one brings the Cuteness?"

Similarities

Premise: A once-proud order of mice, sworn to protect the mousy populace from enemies foreign and domestic, falls on hard times.

Overall Plot: Old, trusted allies are beset by treason, treachery and big scary snakes. Battles are fought, heroes die, and long-hidden enemies are exposed.

Set Pieces: Lots of mouse-on-mouse violence, as various characters buckle their respective swashes and unleash teeny-tiny cans of whup-tail upon one another.

Map: Both books boast a frontispiece map depicting the settlements and landscapes of their respective imagined worlds.

These maps, it should be noted, are exactly the sort that come factory pre-installed in just about any fantasy novel you'd care to name, a fact which in no way diminishes their deep and abiding awesomeness, no seriously for real.

Differences

Art: Petersen's Mouse Guard devotes itself to capturing the natural world in gorgeous, loving detail. His pages almost glow with an autumn-tinged warmth that'll remind you of watercolors, but his lines are crisp and precise. (Check a few of them out, why don't you?)

Bryan J.L. Glass's art in Mice Templar reflects the book's narrative: it's darker, more stylized, and harder-edged. In the book, the natural world is thrown off-balance, and his unpretty colors reflect that, underscoring the lurking threat faced by the characters.

Tone: It's tempting to think of Mouse Guard as a children's book and Mice Templar as a more conventional comic, but that doesn't quite get there.

True, Mouse Guard's appearance (a single, often wordless panel might take up half of a page or more) makes for a more measured read. And the fact that Petersen concerns himself with the prosaic details of life in a mouse village — beekeeping, blacksmithing, etc — might remind you of Gnomes and similar coffee-table-bestiaries. But there's nothing sugary or inauthentic about any of it.

Mice Templar, on the other hand, is a richer, noisier, denser read. A restless energy propels the story forward, leaving little time to linger. You dawdle over Mouse Guard's pages. You devour Mice Templar's.

Scope: Mouse Guard presents itself to the reader as a series of small, sharply observed moments that gradually cohere into a complex whole.

Mice Templar
positions itself as Elder-Edda-with-whiskers from the get-go. It's classic adventure fantasy shot through with myth and magic; characters are forever getting caught up and tossed around by forces beyond their control.

Mouse Guard eschews magic completely, adopting a smaller, quieter, deeply humanistic point of view.

As it were.

Tropes: Where Mouse Guard contents itself with old school high-adventure storytelling — brave deeds, narrow escapes, dark intrigue — Mice Templar comes with the complete Epic Fantasy Options Package: Conveniently ambiguous ancient prophecy? Check. Wise old teacher? Check. Everything you think you know is wrong? Check. "Could he be ... the One?" Check.

It's got a generous splash of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, more than a little Sword in the Stone, and the requisite overtones of Tolkein.

But if we're talking The Cuteness, and who precisely did the bringing of it: Well I mean take a look. It's Mouse Guard in a walk.

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