Mice Templar #1

By | Friday, August 31, 2007 Leave a Comment
I picked up Mice Templar #1 this week. I suspect it won't garner quite as much attention as it deserves, as it's inevitably going to be seen as somewhat in the shadow of Mouse Guard. For the record, I haven't read Mouse Guard so I can't make any direct comparisons to it personally, but what that DOES mean is that you get a review of Mice Templar that provides a view of the book based solely on its own merits.

The story takes place in a town of anthropomorphic mice called Cricket's Glen. Karic, the younger brother of the blacksmith's apprentice Leito, has spent much of his free time studying the legends of the (Mice) Templar and how they mysteriously vanished some time ago. As the younger mice play, they're attacked by a giant spider, and it is Deishun the Blacksmith who eventually destroys the beast, but inadvertently reveals some of his Templar background to Karic in the process. After peace settles into the town again, the quiet is disrupted by an invasion of anthropomorphic rats, who slaughter many of the villagers and burn their dwellings. Deishun again puts up a valiant fight, allowing some of the townspeople to flee, but in the end, he too is killed. Karic returns from an unintentional hiding place to find Cricket's Glen in ruins with only one survivor: an originally unwelcome visitor named Pilot who returned to aid in Deishun's fight. Karic nurses the stranger's wounds, and Pilot vows to help Karic become a hero who can save his people.

Well, I'm impressed. We're only at the end of one issue, and we've gotten at least a dozen character introductions, three significant battles, unbridled carnage, and setting our protagonist on the hero's path. The book is packed; even at 56 pages, there's a LOT going on. It was almost surprising that, with as much as there is going on, it wasn't harder to follow. Several of the characters, at least at this stage, are pretty insignificant, but are still fairly well-defined and individual in both appearance and personality.

The legend of the Templar provides a powerful starting point, I think, and immediately harkens back to legends of the real Knights of Templar, as well as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The attacks of the spider and the rats reinforce the notion that the mice are in relatively constant danger with the disappearance of the Knights, and there's plenty of character interaction to suggest how unwelcome even the presence of one former Knight is. For whatever the reason, the constant danger is more welcome that the Knights themselves, but the children are too young to know why and the adults aren't talking. It's certainly an interesting story perspective, and one that I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing more on that aspect of the story.

I was pleasantly surprised with the overall story. The deaths of a number of characters that had been at least the partial focus of the issue was a departure from the obvious. The characters are used to more fully explain the situation and history of the Templars while still advancing the plot, as opposed to having page after page of straight exposition. It's more powerful and engaging as a storytelling technique, and keeps the reader on their toes.

There was one minor failing, I felt, early in the book when Leito was relaying what he knew of the Templar. The sequence is a little confusing for a few reasons. It introduces Leito and Deishun, but keeps both figures largely in the shadows, making it difficult to tell which is which. Further, several of the panels don't depict very well how the half dozen characters are standing in relation to one another and, with the largely abstract backgrounds, further makes things overly difficult to help explain/introduce the characters. Had the sequence been laid out like that later in the book, after the characters' introductions, it probably wouldn't not have been an issue, but as a means of presenting the characters for the first time, I felt the sequence wasn't very successful.

That two-page sequence aside, the storytelling flowed well and I didn't have any trouble following along. Artistically, it's has an interesting visual overall. There's a good balance of linework to silhouettes/shadows, which suggests to me that this was designed originally as a black and white piece, making the color something of an added bonus. The scenes of the town burning were particularly striking.

I feel compelled to make a comparison to Jeff Smith's Bone. The story is different, the artistic style is different, the tone is different... There's curiously little in common between the two, at least superficially. But Mice Templar left me with the same type of feeling I had when I was reading Bone -- that of talented storytellers telling an unusual fantasy tale that's much, much larger than what we see in any single issue.

The book does have a $3.99 cover price -- 130% higher than most new comics these days. But you get almost twice as many pages and (and here was another pleasant surprise) NO ads. None. Not even a house ad for Image. I would gladly pay an extra dollar for a comic this good, with this much extra content. It'd be hard, certainly, to do a book this big on a monthly basis, but considering the delays we often see on supposedly monthly books these days, I don't think many people would have a problem with that!
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