It's taken a little while, but "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #6 brings David Petersen's third "Mouse Guard" mini-series to its conclusion. Happily, it's a comic that was well worth the wait. Petersen's comics manage to both thrill on both historical-adventure and fantasy-extravaganza levels, and this one is no exception to that rule.
What's especially nice about "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #6 is that Petersen felt no need to throw any final big monsters to fight, no huge hurdles to leap as Celanawe finally returns home with the fabled Black Axe in his paws. Instead, what readers get are confrontations that are in many ways even harder to go up against; ones involving honor, friendship, and duty. In many ways, that's part of what makes "Mouse Guard" so good in general. It's fun to see mice use swords and spears to go up against a fox, or ride a rabbit. But there's a heart in the core of "Mouse Guard," and it makes you care about its characters because they carry such strong emotions on their cute little whiskered faces.
Petersen's story and art work hand-in-hand in a way that is impressive. When Celanawe goes over the cliff, the narration explains Celanawe's motives but in a way that isn't just describing what the art is telling us. Petersen understands that each half of the completed page can tell its own part of the story, so he doesn't feel the need to waste narration boxes where the art can bring those ideas across.
And oh, that art. Hanging onto a blade of grass or watching a lantern plunge into the water has never been so exciting, after all. When it comes to drawing mice kingdoms, well, Petersen is the master. Looking at the buildings and halls of Shorestone is almost entrancing; Petersen has a real gift for drawing all levels of construction, from wood-planked walkways to graceful arches of stone and stained-glass windows. I find myself wanting to visit the world of "Mouse Guard" time and time again, if only to see some of these constructions made into reality.
"Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #6 promises a hardcover collection soon, but this is great enough that if you simply can't wait, I wouldn't be at all surprised. This is the sort of series that you won't mind buying twice; each issue because you can't wait for another installment, and then a collection to sit on your bookshelf for easy access. With a smart epilogue that advances the main narrative of Redfur in the "present" day of 1153, "Mouse Guard: The Black Axe" #6 is a satisfying conclusion to this mini-series, and already has me eager for the next mini-series. Here's hoping it's soon.