By Bryan JL Glass and Michael Avon Oeming
Art by Michael Avon Oeming
Byran Glass was raised with two siblings in a Philadelphia neighborhood known as Fishtown. Originally he wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking but was pulled into the world of comics instead; first by providing photo covers for various comics and becoming a writer in the early 90s. While he did work for the big two (Marvel and DC) he kept returning to independent comics. His most famous work is likely the comic series Powers, on which he worked alongside Michael Avon Oeming. This wasn't the first time they worked together but it was the most famous one. Powers would win several awards and become a television series. Today he lives with his wife Judy in Pennsylvania. He first started work on Mice Templar in 2003 when Michael Avon Oeming brought him on board to help flesh out the story and concepts. Michael Oeming got started in comics when he was 14, starting as an inker and it was as an inker on Daredevil that he got his big break. Afterwards he would work on a number of titles both for DC and Marvel as well as Indie comics but his work on Powers that gave him the influence to try out an idea. Inspired by the secret of N.I.M.H and Watership down (although ironically he never read a single Redwall book) he wanted to try telling a mythic fantasy story using mice. The first volume of Mice Templar was published in 2009 by Image comics after years of toil. It would go on to win a Harvey award, named after Harvey Kurtzman and founded in 1988 to take over the Kirby awards which were discontinued in 1987. So let's take a look at volume I.
Once upon a time, in the Dark Lands, the night time dwelling of mice, a warrior priest named Kulh-en rose up to unite the mouse tribes and founded a warrior order to protect mice and other creatures from the many, many predators that hunted them (Editor who studies predation: rodents, the potato chips of terrestrial ecosystems like ducklings are marsh pringles). They were called the Mice Templar. Like all mortal creatures Kulh-en died, but the order he created endured. It was tested and triumphed but triumph brings its own tests. The doom of the Mice Templar came not from it's many external enemies but from within. Greed, disunity and the politics those things bred led to a civil war within the order, where Templar fought Templar and the order was shattered. With the fall of the order, came the fall of Mouse Society, now each city and village turns away from each other and the ties that held mousekind together fray in the face of corruption and cruelty. Faith in their god Wotan is falling and in its place rises a new religion worshiping the very creatures that devour them, led by an order of rat Druids who have allied themselves with the last Mouse King. A king whose lust for power has driven him mad. It's in this world that our main character Karic was born and raised. Now a young mouse on the verge of adulthood, he is pushed into the center of events that he doesn't really understand when an army of Rats attack and destroys his village and takes his family into slavery. Karic is driven by visions granted to him by Wotan and other ancient gods and the belief that he is being called to carry out a purpose. A purpose that no one else understands and that most of them don't believe in. Whether it be the mouse who trains him Pilot the tall, the very priesthood of Wotan or the ragged remains of the Templar order, still lingering over their self inflicted wounds.
Nor is Karic the only figure in this story. His family has been dragged away to slavery or even worst fates in the one-time capital of the Mouse Nation, among them his best friend Leito. Like Karic, Leito is carried forward by his fate in Wotan, but unlike Karic Leito doesn't have mystic visions to sustain that faith. In a lot of ways, I'm finding Leito to be the braver character, and one I can understand better. That said Karic isn't hard to grasp. He, like a number of characters I could point to in the Bible or other stories, is filled with self doubt over his suitability to serve as vessel for his god's will. Meanwhile is pulled in different directions by competing factions who either see his faith as something to use for their own profit or a symbol to rally people to their own ends. Karic has to struggle to become a Templar in order to achieve the purpose laid upon him and free his people. While Leito has to struggle to maintain his faith and the faith of those around them, to keep them from turning on each other if nothing else. Both these struggles are small pieces of larger battles around them, many of which were started before either of these mice were even born and are propelled by forces that will be present when both of them are laid down to rest. This really helps make the whole thing seem more real. While Karic and Leito both provide a face to what is happening to their society as a whole, it remains clear that their own struggles are symptoms of greater problems and overcoming those personal issues is really just the beginning for both of them. While this is their story so far, there are a large number of other characters, such as the Rat Captain Tosk, the Templar Cassius and others. While well done, these characters are clearly players in Karic and Leito's story.
The world of Mice Templar is drenched in deep myth, like Black Anais the witch, to the tales of the wars between bats and owls, even the existence of night and day take on mystic significance. The world and the story blend together elements from Arthurian myth, the Old Testament, and Norse myths to create something new but solid feeling. So I have to state that I think Mr. Glass and Mr. Oeming have done a fine job of world building and making characters to inhabit the world they made and to tell a story of faith and struggle. There were parts I found somewhat questionable, for example I'm not entirely sure what Pilot the Tall thought he was going to accomplish and Cassius doesn't seem to have a lot of self control. Additionally the book ends just short of what I could call a complete story, which knocks it down a notch in my view. That said, I'm interested and hoping to get to Volume II soon. I have to admit that when I picked up the book, I thought I would be looking at a copycat of the comic Mouse Guard but this book is a completely different story on many levels. It's more mythic and tied up in themes of faith and belief. The core of this story is the struggle of faith in trying time. I give Mice Templar by Bryan Glass and Michael Oeming a B+. Give it a try.
Next week, we return to Cyberpunk with Snowcrash and then I venture forth to Ready Player One. Keep Reading!
This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.