When the new volume of "The Mice Templar" debuts from Image Comics next month, you'll notice that not a whole lot has changed -- except for the art team: Victor Santos is now the regular illustrator with Veronica Gandini serving as colorist. Oh, and the lead character Karic is in full swing as an official knight of the Templar, under the tutelage of the emotionally frigid Cassius. Not to mention that Karic now wields the power of Wotan, a mystical God that can wreak untold havoc at the young mouse's command. Plus, the basic tenets of "Templar" have already been establish in the previous volume "Prophecy," so creators Bryan J. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming can come straight out the gate swords a-swinging.
On second thought, a lot has changed. In fact, one of the only aspects that remain constant from the last run to the next is the quality and enthusiasm that the "Mice Templar" creative team is pouring into the July-debuting "Destiny," the second volume of the acclaimed series.
"The biggest challenge in writing 'The Prophecy' was the set-up," Glass told CBR News about the trials and tribulations of "Templar's" first volume. "When creating a new sci-fi or fantasy world, everything is new. In the script, I had to establish the fall of the Templar, and how they fit in with the culture's predominant religion and mythology; introduce our hero Karic as a child, and the tragic event that sets him on his journey - in classic Joseph Campbell fashion - before we could start throwing our various curve balls against traditional expectations. But the biggest difference in starting the new series is that all of the characters that appear in the opening four issues of 'Destiny' have already appeared in 'The Prophecy.' Minimal establishment is required so we can jump right into the action."
"I'm really excited the story is jumping into action now - action that will have resonance because of all that set up," agreed Oeming. "All the things I had in the open outline I gave Bryan way back in the day has so much more weight now. Now it's truly a world instead of a setting."
In Glass and Oeming's epic tale, readers view the world through the eyes of Karic, a young mouse with dreams of joining the ranks of the fearsome and fabled Mice Templar. When a squadron of rats assaults his hometown, all of his loved ones are either killed or captured, and Karic narrowly escapes with his life after experiencing a bizarre hallucination. He's quickly taken under the tutelage of Pilot, an ex-Templar that tells Karic that the hallucination indicates his greater role in a "prophecy." He promises to train Karic as a Templar - only to be revealed as a cowardly traitor by Cassius, another Templar warrior, before being carried off towards certain doom by bloodthirsty bats. Karic, now under the roof of the real Templar warriors, is knighted despite a protesting Cassius, who now must train Karic himself.
"Cassius is my personal favorite character; he's the one I empathize with the most. He's bitter, angry, seeking redemption he knows he doesn't deserve, and distrustful of anyone trying to sell him absolution," said Glass of Karic's newest mentor. "Cassius is the last guy you want to have angry with you, but the primary one you want watching your back. He bestows his trust cautiously, but once bestowed, there is no mouse more loyal."
The hardened warrior will have his work cut out for him when training Karic, due to the pupil's own experiences under Pilot's treacherous eye. "Karic is now wary, Glass said. "His experience with his first mentor Pilot has taught him to accept nothing at face value. 'Destiny' portrays a Karic who understands that he still cannot survive on his own in the dangerous world he lives in - plus he's set for himself the seemingly impossible goal of rescuing his family - but he's making his decisions now based on experience, not hearsay, particularly regarding his training under Cassius. 'Destiny' explores the relationship between Karic and Cassius as one that goes far beyond student and master. For as much as Karic needs to learn the physical prowess to defend himself, Cassius is cut from the Mad Max mold: a broken warrior who needs to learn what it means to live again."
Their relationship is certainly at the forefront - indeed, Karic and Cassius are some of the only pre-established characters to appear in "Mice Templar: Destiny" #1 - but there are many other players struggling through the universe Oeming and Glass have devised, including Karic's own kidnapped family. "Karic's mother, sister, friends and hometown population are captives of King Icarus and imprisoned below the palace in the capital city of the mice, Dealrach Ard-vale," explained Glass. "But Karic understands that he has no hope of rescuing them from their fate without embracing his Templar training to its fullest - he's no Luke Skywalker abandoning his training on Dagobah with Yoda to go rescue his friends on Cloud City - and even then, he wrestles with what chance he'll even have as a lone Templar in a kingdom where that order has fallen."
In addition to mastering the Templar craft, there are plenty of other obstacles in the way of Karic's rescue mission, from flesh-eating mole goblins to mercenary rats to weasels - even a Zombie Cat. "The Zombie Cat is a feline carcass possessed and animated by a Diabhlan spirit, one of the disembodied Nathair spirits banished to the Outer Darkness," Glass described. "That spirit factors into the tale of the Haunted Wood revealed in 'Destiny' #1 - the site of an epic battle between mice and rats where the druids summoned evil spirits to aid them - but Templar priests placed a spell of containment about the entire wood, so that the conjured spirits turned upon those who summoned them. Those spirits eventually drained all life from the wood itself, and anything foolish enough to cross the threshold is theirs to torment and feed upon. The Zombie Cat is one such unfortunate victim of the Haunted Wood's legacy: a roving creature of horror and an insatiable appetite for flesh and souls."
But even if things get too ugly between Karic and the Zombie Cat - or any other creature, for that matter - our hero has an ace in the hole. At the end of "The Prophecy," Karic was bestowed with the ability to call on the services of Wotan, the divine creator of the "Mice Templar" world, in a time of great need. "Karic was given one opportunity to call upon the direct physical intervention of Wotan, the ultimate 'get-out-of-jail-free' card, that one would assume Karic would use in the climactic moments of saving his family - but that isn't quite how it happens," Glass teased. "When and how he chooses to use it comes at an unexpected time, and for a purpose that has profound personal implications for Karic and his relationships throughout the remainder of the series."
Wotan isn't the only higher being with designs for Karic, however. The nefarious snake god Donas has his eyes set on the boy too, for Karic has a role to play for his own benefit. Glass explained: "Donas was the leader of the reptilian Nathair that rebelled against Wotan, and were banished to the Outer Darkness as spirit entities without form - demons known as Dubhlan. Donas appears in the epilogue of 'The Prophecy,' and is addressed by the druid-witch Black Anaius as the originator of any prophecy that Karic seems to fulfill, that Karic as Wotan's pawn will bring about the final revenge of the Nathair. This second volume is definitely about Karic and the snake god on a direct, unavoidable collision course - one might say that each are the mutual 'destiny' of the other."
"Destiny" is truly a fitting name for the new volume of "Mice Templar," as several characters seem to be wrestling with that concept. But it extends outward from the fictional world of "Mice Templar" to the behind-the-scenes action, as well. When the second volume premieres, readers will be introduced to new regular artist Victor Santos and colorist Veronica Gandini. While Oeming will continue to illustrate covers and certain key sequences within the pages of "Templar," the majority of the sequential work is falling upon Santos and Gandini's capable shoulders.
"I've known Victor for several years, beginning with my trips to Europe and Spain for conventions," Mike Van Oeming said. "I've always loved his work. When I saw a few animal sketches he did after he did a pin up for 'Mice Templar,' I knew he was the only dude who could pick up the 'Templar' art torch and expand it while maintaining the spirit of the series. I totally miss [drawing the interiors]! 'Mice' is very close to my heart, one of my earliest ideas that goes back to the earliest days just before 'Powers.' But there are only so many hours in the day and I only have so much energy. I work full time at Valve [a video game development company] and now that 'Powers' is relaunching and 'Rapture' is almost finished, I just don't have the time and energy to practically take on a second title. It means the world to me that Victor is taking over the heavy lifting - he's not only a great artist, but he's also become a friend."
"I was one of the faithful readers of the series since the first issue," Victor Santos told CBR. "I love superheroes and other typical American genres, but when 'Mice Templar' appeared, it was a breath of fresh air. The characters are complex and go beyond the stereotypes of the genre. I was reading the book and thinking, 'As an artist, this is a series I would enjoy drawing, I can feel the love of the authors to the characters.' [When I first started on the series], I was honored and happy, later a little nervous. As I began to work, I feared myself not to be on par with Mike's talent. But when you enter into the dynamics of the work, you only think about the art, not the readers. Now that the book is in solicitations, I suppose the nerves will return!"
For her part, Veronica Gandini wound up in the "Mice Templar" crew through a friend she had in common with Oeming. After successfully passing some test pages, she was given the job as regular colorist on the new volume. "It's been an incredible experience working with so many talented people and in such an amazing story as 'Mice Templar,'" she told CBR. "Everything is organized. I have my own colorist script by Bryan which guides me and helps me find references in past issues, and Mike and Victor are always there to help with any doubt that may arise in the art. It's a great team I am working with and I am really pleased and happy to be part of it. There's a lot of communication between us all."
"Although she's relatively new to the comics' field, Veronica's talent and professionalism shine," Glass said. "Every page she delivers is a wonder. Her colored rendition of Karic invoking the spirit of Wotan to come to his aid is so stunning that my family has asked when will we offer it as a poster! Can't say that's what we're going to do, but it's high praise for a job well done. Really, the whole team - including letterer Jim Glass - is a true joy to work with on volume two, particularly after all the struggles we had trying to keep volume one on any kind of schedule. These guys are simply the best."
With the new art team in place, "Mice Templar" is truly rolling full steam ahead, though that's not to say that there are aspects from the first volume that Glass and Oeming won't miss. "[I'll miss] creating the villain Pilot the Tall, who masqueraded for nearly four issues as the archetype mentor to the young hero - and yet when his villainous truth was finally revealed, readers went back and realized they'd been as duped as Karic had been," Glass mused. "His villainy and manipulation were ever on display, but fans believed in Pilot's nobility because of the traditional role he appeared to fill. That's a storytelling trick one doesn't get to pull twice in the same tale. Pilot was a con man who used just enough truth to make his lies palatable. And he wasn't a liar for the sake of lying; he had a personal agenda that involved surviving first and foremost, followed by maneuvering himself into positions of power. Whatever truth or lies were best suited to fulfill those goals is what he would say in any given situation. Pilot the Tall was the ultimate opportunist."
Creating a villain quite like Pilot might not be possible anymore, but is that to say that Pilot himself can't return? When last seen, Pilot was carried away by a pack of vicious bats, assumedly to his death. That fate is certainly the consensus amongst the book's characters, and even Glass seems to indicate the likelihood of that scenario. "There was definitely a shower of blood when Pilot was carried off by bats in 'The Prophecy,'" he said. "But while the mouse himself may never return, he leaves behind a potent legacy towards the end of 'Destiny' that no one should see coming."
The idea of Pilot's actions haunting Karic and company from the great beyond certainly fits with Glass and Oeming's continuing tradition of breaking archetypal expectations. When "Destiny" begins in July, Glass promises plenty more twists and turns that will shake both new and old readers to the core. That's the advantage of having the preliminary tale out of the way - unlike "The Prophecy," "Destiny" will be able to dive whiskers-first into the action.
"For me, it's simply a pleasure to finally allow the story to unfold," said Glass. "'The Prophecy' was all about set up, exposition. We're proud of that work and the pacing we chose, but that volume did what it needed to do: established the world, introduced our key characters, and maneuvered everybody into position. 'Destiny' starts strong and stays strong all the way through to its breath-taking finale, the mid-point of the larger four-arc series of 'Mice Templar.'"
"The Mice Templar: Destiny" #1 goes on sale July 29 from Image Comics. You can catch up on the story by reading "The Mice Templar: Volume 1," in stores now.