Or – “Tiny Little Hands and Tiny Little Swords…”

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I have a confession to make.  Even though I’m a comics fan, and a lover of ephemera of all types, I’ve never really had a soft spot for the swords and sorcery genre.  I never read Elfquest as a child, and have only started to appreciate it as a grown-up (and, yes, I’ve been told that I’m a heretic for that.)  I did, however, have a great love of ‘Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH,’ and find the idea of a tiny little mouse culture to be pretty entertaining.  Of course, this is by no means a “cute” kids book…

Previously, on Mice Templar:  Years ago, in mouse culture, there was a secret sacred brotherhood of MT1.jpghonor, a series of knights who served as protectors, as defenders of the innocent and the meek: The Mice Templar.  This brotherhood came apart, fighting amongst themselves, their own worst enemies, until finally the Templars were seen no more.  Years passed, and eventually a young mouse named Karic learns the stories of the Mouse Guard, believing them to be nothing more than fairytales.  But when the local rats get it in their head to start capturing mice to use as slaves, Karic realizes that he must BECOME a Templar in order to save his people from immenent destruction.  Karic manages to hook up with a former Templar called Pilot the Tall (and not Ben Kenobi) and together they face Pilot’s old nemesis, a creature called “The Many,” who nearly kills them both.  While his family is kept in chains, Karic goes before an ancient council to see if he truly is the prophet that they’ve been waiting for all these years.  Will Karic be able to learn the ways of the Templar in time to save his family and his people from the rat tyranny?

We open our story with the now-enslaved people of Karic’s home village traveling in wagons under the watchful eyes (and cruel whips) of the rat soldiers.  After traveling for months, the children are distressed (and it’s pretty telling of the craft of this tale that the sight of the crying mouse children is very moving) and squealing that they want to go home.  Mornae, a young mother, rouses a wounded soldier named Leito, once a Templar himself.  Leito tells a fascinating story of a young mouse named Kuhl-En (reminding me of the way Neil Gaiman used to intertwine narrative into the plot in Sandman) and his interaction with a group of mice who lost their faith, and betrayed their people to the rats.  Kuhl-En sees them come to an end that can only be described as Cosmic Justice, but the grown up mice are angered by the moral of his tale, that the Templar will protect them and overthrow their oppressors.  Leito insists that a mouse like Kuhl-En will rise again, only to get a blunt shot to the head from a rat.

At the same time, Karic undergoes a rite of passage to prove him worthy of becoming a templar, but Pilot doesn’t carry the same weight that he used to among the Templar.  When the tide turns against his new mentor, Karic grabs a sword and leaps into action, and they both escape.  Pilot suddenly rages against Karic, roaring that he’s ruined everything.  “The priests would have never allowed blood to be spilled in their sacred temple!  Cassius knew that!  He was baiting you into reckless action to give himself and excuse to discredit us both!”  Pilot is swept up by a bat, crying that Karic has doomed them, when his political rival Cassius leaps into action, protecting Karic himself, and calling down owls to fight the bats.  Meanwhile, Karic’s family arrives at what used to be the royal palace of the mice, and are horrified to see that one of their own has thrown in with the rats, their own king.  Back in the Great Ash Tree temple, Karic is called before the Templars again, and told that he may become a knight of the Templar, but Karic insists that Pilot already made him one.  Cassius smacks him (save him, then beat him up?  Nice…) and Karic cries out that Pilot is the one who explained the Propehcy of the Promised Liberator of Wotan.  “There is no such prophecy,” intones the Templar master to Karic’s horror.

I’m not a big fantasy guy normally, but I was drawn into this story immediately due to the unique art (courtesy of Michael Avon Oeming of ‘Powers’ infamy) and the versimilitude of the story.  It’s familiar, echoing ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Lord of the Rings,’ and other sources without feeling like something we’ve all seen a million times before.  The political intrigues of Mouse versus Rat are fascinating, and Karic’s naive belief in the Templars is palpable.  These aren’t humans, but their tribulations are very human, and the story moves quickly from point A to point B, ending with a painful moment that really resonated.  I’ve never read an issue of Mice Templart before this, but I’m definitely going to read more afterwards.  Mice Templar #5 is a well-done package, nailing a 4 out of 5 star rating, and really impressing me with it’s complexity, while remaining very accessible…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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