Saturday, 26 November 2016

Saga Book 6 (#31-36) NSFW

NSFW WARNING:  Penises! Boobies!  Vulvas! Pubes! Hot homo humpin'!

"I've found that cultures often clash for the same reasons that people do.  It's not because we're so different from each other... but because we're all so godammned alike" - Hazel

Saga is getting so epic and full of characters it's now pretty impossible to sum up in one introduction.  So you'll have to read some of the previous entries, go on, shoo.  But I'll give you the premise and bare bones so far.  This is the story of a family trying to make its way in a hostile universe.  The reason the universe is so hostile to them is because the parents are from either side of an intergalatic war.  Alana is from Landfall and sports a pair of wings, her husband Marko is from Wreath, Landfall's moon, and has horns.  When Marko was taken prisoner, Alana fell in love with him, they fled and she got pregnant and the story began with the birth of their daughter Hazel who immediately became a target of each side who didn't want the union of two of the warring sides made public.  Hazel narrates the story from some unspecified time in the future, right now she's just turned four.  Wreath and Landfall have been at war for a long time and this war has dragged many, many planets into the fighting. The most notable being Landfall's major allies the TV headed Robot people.  At the end of the previous volume, the two year old Hazel was kidnapped, and the ending showed her in a Landfall prison school for the captured Wreathian P.O.W's kids, now a couple of years older after a time skip.  And thus we continue the story as we find out what happened next as Marko and Alana keep looking for their missing daughter and what is happening to Hazel and the rest of the colourful cast in the meantime.  Brian K Vaughn writes, Fiona Staples draws.

We begin with the kids and their various drawings. Hazel has drawn a "giant foot man with very bad gas". Which amuses the rest of the class.  Noreen, their insect-like teacher says she wanted Hazel to draw something that made her feel sad, Hazel that does make her sad much to the continued merriment of the other kids.
Hazel and Noreen.
Their lesson over they leave, but Noreen asks Hazel to stay.  She tells Hazel if she ever wants to talk about "things" she can trust her.   Also she brought her a book called "Leave Me Be" this sends Hazel into the first tears she's shed in two years.  We flashback to when she and her grandmother were kidnapped by the terrorists who were in the process of selling Hazel to the Wreathians, Marko and Alana weren't onboard they were fighting the terrorists outside it.

The ship they jump into space with is crippled though as the power unit was taken away in the previous book.  But they jump right into the path of the Robot Kingdom ship that was hunting Prince Robot IV who was off tracking down his son.  There is an altercation on the terrorist ship, one of them (a Wreathian who becomes like an auntie figure to Hazel in jail) tells her to look away as Hazel's enraged grandmother, Klara, crushes the head of the other terrorist aboard.  Then they make up a story to tell the Robots that they were female slave labour.

This convinced the Robots who handed them over to Landfall detainee centre.  They are led to get checked up medically but a pig shaped alien doctor stops them, saying they can't be stripped just like that and treated badly since they have been "comfort women".  The Landfall guard leaves him to check them over and he turns into Izabel, the spirit girl bound to Hazel who can only come out at night. 
Izabel gets them out of a jam.
They haven't seen her in a while because the planet they were on before had no nighttime.  There is a joyful reunion and this way, Hazel's wings and dual nature won't be discovered. Lexis the terrorist appreciates Hazel getting them out of immediate trouble, but Hazel is a "timebomb".  How long can they keep her secret?

Then we're back in the present, and Noreen gives Hazel a cake to celebrate her fourth birthday. She tells Hazel if she doesn't end up part of a prisoner exchange she is welcome back into her programme as an "explorer".  This excites Hazel who rushes off to tell Klara.
Petrichor, a new character.
She runs into the showers and is greeted by an adult Wreathian with breasts and a penis and testicles.  She speaks the non-Wreathian language brokenly.  When Hazel points out her "outtie" she says "in here I be girl" and points to her head (which is why I'm using the female pronouns for her).  She says everyone here sees her as a "freak of nature".  Hazel says because the Landfallian's put her in with the women maybe they're not so bad afterall.

Next time she meets Noreen, Hazel asks what she thinks of the "Wings" (slang for folk from Landfall). Noreen says they pay on time.  Hazel says she doesn't remember much about her parents, but she knows how her dad smells and that her mum is a bad singer and gave her that book when she was younger.  She takes her top off, and undoes the bandages round her chest revealing a beautiful pair of large wings, also from her mother.  Noreen faints dead away, banging her head on the table as she falls. "Oh fart" says Hazel.
Hazel's secret.
Then we check in with Marko and Alana.  They have broken into Variegate the financial hub of the coalition's vast prison empire.

Hazel: "Despite the persistent sense of loss, united by a shared obssession my parents once again brought about the very best in each other."

They hadn't even kissed since they were reunited, they would never again perform the act that created Hazel until they had her safely back, or so they vowd.

They get further inside and make their way to the records room.  Marko uses his magic to create a key to get inside.  Alana makes him promise not to teach Hazel magic, but Marko hopes Klara has already taught her the basics.  They root through the paper records until Alana finds a sheet that tells of a wrecked ship of the type they are looking for and three females found aboard.  Including a senior citizen and her grandaughter.
Marko and Alana find out Hazel is alive.
The sheet says after processing they were taken to a detention centre on Landfall.  Marko thinks that's not right, they wouldn't allow his people on their soil.  But Alana said she had heard of the camps, hidden amongst the population to deter Wreath from all out attack. Then three security guards which seem to be made of fire appear.

They try to arrest Alana and Marko but Alana tells them they have fired a missile at the planet and look out of the window.   This panics the security guards as Alana says she is "destroying the red tape that holds this unjust world together!"  But actually it's their wooden rocket home coming down for them.  As the security guards scarper, Alana breaks the window and jumps out using her wings to hover.

She can't hold Marko for long because unlike Hazel, her wings have been clipped as is tradition for female Landfallians, but he jumps out and grabs her and the two of them land together in the rocketship.  They tumble in each other's arms, then kiss passionately.  Then have a bout of sex because really this was wonderful news. As Hazel tells us, "until they found that scroll, my parents had each been secretly convinced I was long dead."
Vows are made to be broken.
They now realise they are going to need more help, and we cut to ex-Prince Robot IV teaching his son "Squire" how to hunt.  Ghüs, a little mole like alien riding Hazel's pet Friendo, comes to tell him Alana and Marko are coming.  Robot IV wants to run the hell away from them saying "their pathetic aside in my life came to its natural conclusion long ago".  Squire appears holding a dead bird and asks what they should wish for.

We then check in with Upsher and Doff, the homosexual couple who are a newsteam.  Upsher the writer, Doff the photographer.  Upsher is elated because he's received news that The Brand (who belonged to an organisation of all-purpose enforcers) died sometime ago.  And this means they can revisit the story she warned them away from which was the existence of Hazel.

They start travelling to check out leads, the first one is that Alana worked on "the Circuit" which is a theatrical broadcasting entertainment system.  Doff says the Circuit people won't talk, but Upsher says he has a "secret weapon" in the form of Ginny. She left a classified ad that said:

Advert: "To my brave warrior from Wreath, this is your favourite dance instructor from Gardinia, hoping for good news about your beautiful daughter?  You have my number.  Please call..."

So it looks like Private First Class Alana and her lover spent some time on this planet.  Doff seems unsure about carrying on with this story.  Maybe they are just two people who like to screw and others think they are gross and immoral.
Upsher and Doff are back on the story.
Upsher realises he's talking about the homophobia on their own planet.  But he says their relationship wouldn't send shockwaves through the rest of the universe.  Upsher says their subjects made their bed, "it's our job to go through the dirty sheets."  And Doff gives in.

They arrive at Ginny's house, who now has a husband.  She talks to them privately about Marko who came to collect her grandfather's sword and shield.  She wants an alias because they were good friends but she doesn't want her husband getting the wrong idea.  She tells them she saw a Robot with a colour screen in the vicinity of the Circuit and Upsher asks if she thinks a member of the Robot royal family abducted a child?

Upsher asks when was the last time he heard from Marko.  He phoned a year ago from a planet called Outcome.  He said he was on Hazel's trail and hopefully would be able to return her grandfather's gear soon.   The two journalists leave to travel to Outcome and their new lead.
Sexy pillow talk (!)
Later they are having sex in a motel and discussing what they know. They decide to fly out to Outcome because beyond it is cold ice so Doff can use the heat signature detection on his camera to look for a trail.  Upsher says Doff is "horny for the story" now.  Doff says:

Doff: "It's not just the story Up. There's a little kid out there who might need us."

Upsher frowns and asks if his biological clock is ticking?  Doff says no, but if there are going to be words about her, he wants them from someone like Upsher who cares.

Later they are flying in the ice belt as Doff scans it with his camera.  He picks up footprints on a nearby planet and they land to go check it out.  They find the crashed skull ship, and flowers called "violents" which only grow where there is bloodshed.  They follow the tracks and are suddenly faced with bounty hunter-cum-enforcer, The Will.  He was brother of The Brand and has her companion, the dog Sweet Boy now.  He elongates his sword and spears Doff through the shoulder.
The Will and Sweet Boy.
Sweet Boy jumps on Upsher. The Will says he knows his sister gave them a second chance.  Doff says "you mercenary assholes got no right to intefere with legit reporting".  The Will says he doesn't give a damn about their muck raking, then he pauses and talks to thin air. Then he demands to know where Prince Robot IV is, which they have no idea about.  So he decides to keep them around, "you fuckers work for me now."

Back with Hazel, she is still standing, wings out over the unconcious body of Noreen when the hermaphrodite woman who is called Petrichor finds them.  She tells Hazel to quickly cover up, while Hazel explains what happened. Petrichor helps her and says her father must have been a Wing who forced himself on her Wreathian mother.  Hazel wants to correct her but had learned thus far when it's a good idea, "to shut your fucking mouth".

On the planet where Robot IV, Squire and Ghüs are, Marko and Alana have arrived. Robot IV welcomes them by aiming an arrow at them and telling them to get lost.  They ignore him and warmly greet Ghüs, Squire and Friendo.  Robot IV gives up and asks them what they want.  They tell him they want to break Hazel out of a Landfall prison.
Robt IV, Squire, Ghus and Friendo
He says he can't help because he has no standing in the coalition since being disowned by his father. Ghüs and Squire guilt trip him into considering agreeing though and when Marko and Alana subtly threaten to tell the Robot King where he is, he has no choice left but to assisst them.

On Landfall, with the help of Izabel's ability to disguise herself, Hazel has got inside the infirmary where Noreen is.  Noreen is concious and amazed that Hazel is also soul-bound to an astral shifter.  "Child how?  How the hell did you come to be?" she asks. So Hazel tells her graphically that her parents had sex and she was the result and Klara really is her grandmother.  She'd be mad if she knew Hazel had told Noreen about her wings.

Noreen asks why did she tell her? Hazel says it's because she doesn't talk to her like she's a baby.  Noreen tells her in essence she's what she's been employed here to do, educate a Wreathian child who doesn't hate Landfall.  But if the Landfallians found out she existed... but she won't tell anyone she promises Hazel.

Hazel then brings her a book by D.Ozwald Heist, the one that her parents bonded over.  Klara loves it as well.  She says it has a few too many grown-up parts for her.  Noreen thanks her for her kindness.  Hazel asks if she thinks he's the best writer ever.  Noreen says writers shouldn't be ranked like racehorses:

Noreen: "And no offence to the rest of your family... but anyone who thinks one book has all the answers, hasn't read enough books."

Hazel reminisces that of all the things her teacher taught her, "that's the one that stuck."
The Will hallucinates The Stalk.
We rejoin The Will, he is talking to an imaginary companion, his dead lover The Stalk.  The two journoes walk fearfully in front of him realising he isn't quite sane.  He's chewing a drug called "Heroine" that lets you see your first love.  A drug with a vicious comedown.

Suddenly a huge snake bursts through the ice and attacks The Will.  Upsher and Doff pray it kills him, but he grabs it's open mouth and breaks its jaw.  Upsher then decides to rebel saying he'd "rather die a member of the free press than live another minute as this fat fuck's employee".  But before The Will can kill him, Doff blurts out that he knows a way to find out where ex-Prince Robot IV lives.  So The Will keeps them alive for now.

In the Landfall jail, Klara and Auntie Lexie are reading stories to the other inmates and they are all having a laugh.  Petrichor thinks Klara is "friend up us with all the no-horns" and this could be bad news. Then Noreen appears and calls Hazel away saying she is very worried about her, Hazel says she will keep her secret won't she?  Noreen says "actually, I'm going to help you escape."

Imprisoned on The Will's ship, Doff calls his source regarding Robot IV.  The man says he was paid a boatlaod not to reveal it to "nosey pricks like you". Doff says he can double the money, but Zlotev says he's Ok for cash, what he wants is dirt and he has a way of knowing if he's being told the truth because he has Lying Cat, The Will's old animal companion.

Lying Cat, yaaay!
Doff reluctantly outs a councilman who goes to underground gay clubs and Zlotev is pleased to find out that person is a "poof". It checks out, so he tells Doff that an acquaintance of his once trailed the Prince to a pocket world on the underside of the Serpentine Belt.  The imaginary Stalk tells The Will to go kill the man who offed her. As for the journos he decides to keep them breathing while they check the lead out.

Robot IV is sitting in the wooden rocketship and being filled in on the plan to get access to Landfall.   The planet is protected by a field that prevents Wreathian magic working through it.  But the field inteferes with the Robots so when they arrive it has to be briefly dropped.  Marko will then use a teleport sword and helmet to create a tear they can bring Hazel and Klara back through. 

Prince Robot IV will pose as a lesser member of the aristocracy to ask for the field to be dropped.   Robot IV is disusted by the inference that all Robots look alike to the rest of the coalition, nevertheless he goes along with it.

In the prison, Noreen is making plans to get Hazel out by carrying her out in a box.  Then Lexie, Klara and Petrichor appear and demand to know what is going on.  Hazel says Noreen knows the "true stuff" about her and she told her because she's a good person. Petrichor says it's unsafe for Hazel in the prison, especially with the unrest fomenting Klara is up to with the stories.

Klara says Petrichor might have been designated a woman, but she still "lectures like a man".  Klara asks where Noreen would take her, Noreen says somewhere she could be cared for safely.   Klara wants to know why she wants to help, she isn't Hazel's blood. "I .. I don't know exactly" says Noreen but it has to be now.
Robot IV gets them access to Landfall.
On the wooden rocket, Robot IV calls in a request to lower the field to a bored Landfallian who barely looks at him before complying with his request. Robot IV is pissed about being considered an example of the lower aristocracy.  Then the rocket ship runs into a mine field.

The mines are living organisms and Robot IV starts fighting them off as Marko gets ready to make the jump.  He cuts the tear, he and Alana kiss and then he goes through.  Robot IV grudgingly says he knows what they are going through, "and I wish your family success".

On the planet where Ghüs has been left looking after Squire, The Will suddenly appears and demands to know where Robot IV is.  "You're not a friend" says Squire. The Will picks up Squire and tells him his father is a killer and The Stalk hallucination eggs him on to kill Squire.  But then help appears:

Ghüs: "Hurt the boy... and Ghüs will chop you deep."

Marko arrives in the prison and Petrichor holds out a shiv and says, "where did you come from?"  She sniffs him and realises he's Hazel's blood.  She then wants to know how he fits in with Noreen's plan, which totally confuses him. Noreen has Hazel in a box and is cheerfully on her way out of the prison.  Unfortunately she doesn't fool the guard who pulls a gun on her. 
Go, go Ghus!
Back with Upsher and Doff, they manage to untie themselves although Upsher says they can't get out of the ship (although they do in fact get out).  Outside The Will grumbles at Ghüs to mind his own business. Sweet Boy fires traquilizer darts at Friendo who collapses.   This enrages Ghüs who charges The Will and chops the fingers off his right hand.  The Will punches him unconcious with his other hand shouting, "you little shit!"

In the prison Noreen is refusing to allow the box to be searched.  Then Lexie and Klara create a diversion by fighting which distracts the guard.  Then Noreen knocks the guard out and looks horrified at what she has done.  Then Petrichor and Marko arrive on the scene.

Marko kneels and holds out Hazel's doll he's been keeping safe all these years. He says it must be confusing for her, and that he's her "daddy" she says.  And they hug as she repeats "Daddy" over and over.
The Will is still deciding what to do with Squire and Ghüs.  The imaginary Stalk wants him to kill them.  But then he hallucinates his sister The Brand.

The Brand: "Murdering defenceless preschoolers.  You've come a long way, baby brother".

She says The Stalk was a dumb obssession when what he really loved was her. The Will denies this, but The Brand says she's his "own brain you fucking dummy!"

Sadly, The Will confesses he misses her, he misses everyone.  The Brand says offing a kid won't help matters, he needs to find the one person who will call him on his bullshit.  Doff and Upsher have managed to escape The Will's ship.  They watch him return to it, when he leaves they'll be stranded. But as Doff says "we're alive" and they kiss.

In the prison, Marko opens the return portal.  Hazel jumps through saying thankyou to Noreen for everything as she disappears.  Klara however isn't going to go with him.  She doesn't want to be a burden to him and Alana and also she has a community with the other prisoners and a sense of purpose. She tells him how proud she is of him and then tells him to "go take care of your family".

However Petrichor decides to take advantage of the escape route and jumps through herself. On board the wooden rocket, the mines have been taken care of.  Then Hazel appears.  But before an emotional reunion with mum can take place, Petrichor arrives as well and attacks Alana.  Marko comes through and defuses the situation by telling Petrichor that Robot IV is on their side.

Petrichor then drops a bombshell, she says she'd never fell a female who was expecting.  "I can smell it from here.  You're pregnant" she says to Alana.  Marko looks stunned, Alana looks overjoyed and that brings this volume to an end.
End of Book Six!
Damn these cliffhangers, between this and Lazarus my tenters are well and truly hooked.  And I am fully caught up with the trades now so all I can do is drum my fingers and wait a few more months to find out what happens next.  I'm so happy Marko and Alana have Hazel back, it made my heart hurt when they lost her even if adversity has reforged a relationship that was on the verge of breaking apart.  Nice to see the gay couple of Upsher and Doff back as well as the introduction of Petrichor who could have some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast.  Brian K Vaughn is very keen on representing all sexualities and sexual identities and it's very much appreciated even if it's aliens we're talking about and not humans. Some questions have been thrown up, like what has happened to Gwendolyn and Sophie and why Lying Cat is working for someone else now.  I'm sure we'll find out more in books to come.  Klara remains a cool old lady, volunteering to stay in the prison and take care of the others there and is a prime example of how although the scope of the story is huge, it boils down people doing what they do because they do care about others and in turn that makes the reader care as well.  Despite going to some very dark places, there is always light and hope just around the corner and it's notable that so far we haven't met any outright villains, everyone is shown to have their postive and negative traits and the book takes no sides in the Wreath/Landfall war.  Of course there is still the loose cannon that is The Will bouncing about now, crazy from drugs and hallucinating all the time and I haven't forgotten Future!Hazel's warnings about him in the previous book.  And finally Alana being pregnant again is a huge development and I am sure is going to be fodder for some serious drama further down the line.  Fiona Staple's art remains a delight, as I have said before she almost has a western "manga" style, with most of the art concentrating on the characters not the surroundings (although she does show us some bitchin' spaceships so it's not as if she can't do non-character stuff).  Which probably explains why she can pencil and ink the series and keep to a regular schedule with no fill-in artists so far.  Saga is still an immensely enjoyable tale, both epic and intimate and long may it run.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Book 1: Squirrel Power (#1-4, Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2, #8)

"Yes this is awesooooome!" - Squirrel Girl

We're on an emotional roller coaster this month.  And after a couple of downbeat books about soldiers and wartime, it's time to cheer things right up again with some superhero whimsy and the volume one of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, first published under the now sadly defunct Marvel Now line which was a line-wide attempt to bring new readers to Marvel by rebooting and restarting most of their on-goings.  It got me well back into Marvel but the initiative seems to have been binned (same as the DC You was) post Secret Wars 2015. Anyway, first created in 1992 and appearing in a team-up with Iron Man where she beats Doctor Doom, Squirrel Girl has always been a light-hearted superheroine.  She has a squirrel tail, powerful teeth and great strength and agility as well as the ability to summon a great amount of squirrels to do her bidding.  She's bounced round the Marvel U for a long time, her most notable appearences as leader of the Great Lakes Avengers and then as part of the New Avengers as nanny to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage's daughter.  But this series sees her moving out of the Avenger's mansion with her faithful, be-ribboned squirrel companion "Tippy-Toe" to start college.  But that doesn't mean she's stopped fighting crime or other threats to the city and world. Read on and hopefuly be amused by writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson's charming and funny take on Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (rather wonderfully this volume contains the letters pages as well, I say this now as it's the set up for a joke in the book later).
Squirrel Girl fighting crime.
It begins with Squirrel Girl hanging out in a park, she's singing a theme song to herself set to the tune of the old Spiderman cartoon (you know the one, goes "Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can"). Some baddies mug a woman and Squirrel Girl, still singing, springs into action and biffs them.  She finishes them off and finishes her song and walks away as Tippy-Toe says, "Now if we could get anyone else to sing that song we'd be set."

She goes to her secret hideaway in the Avenger's Mansion to collect the last of her things as she is moving into her college digs today and the fact that Doreen Green is Squirrel Girl is "privileged information" now.  Tippy-Toe doesn't see why she needs to keep her identity a secret, "who doesn't like you?"  As Squirrel Girl changes she says, "jerks I guess".

Tippy-Toe asks if she needs help from the "squirrel army" to move her boxes, but Squirrel Girl says she is to act normal now, and tucks her tail into her trousers so it looks like she has a "large and conspicously awesome butt".  As she carries a huge pile of boxes, she tells Tippy-Toe that getting educated will let her help people more.

Tippy-To asks if she is studying crime, nope Squirrel Girl is taking computer science. Tippy-Toe is outraged she isn't going to major in squirrels, but Squirrel Girl says she knows literally everything about them.

Squirrel Girl: "I'm Squirrel Girl. I'm not Achieving Consistency Across Distributed Database Systems Girl".

On her way into the dorm she bumps into a handsome young man who introduces himself as Tomas and asks if she needs help with her boxes.  He says the boxes look really quite heavy and Squirrel Girl realises she's using her super-strength so she drops them and introduces herself.
Meeting Tomas.
Tippy-Toe chitters angrily, and Tomas asks if she knows him.  Squirrel Girl says Tippy-Toe is a she and her friend.  She tells Tippy-Toe Doreen Green doesn't talk to squirrels.  Tippy-Toe says is it Ok to lie to strangers about boxes that are too heavy?  Squirrel Girl says it is if they are trying to maintain an secret identity.  Tippy-Toe says that's not a very Squirrel Girl thing to do.  She pauses, then picks up the boxes and bids Tomas farewell for now.

She arrives in the room she is to be sharing with another girl.  She is already there and is a frowning black girl called Nancy Whitehead.  She says there are three things "Doreen" can do to get on her bad side, make fun of her name, criticise her hobby (knitting) and talk smack about her pet cat Mew.

Squirrel Girl says she thought pets weren't allowed in the dorms.  Nancy says "obeying an unjust law is itself unjust" and that Mew is the most important thing in her life.  I like Nancy already!  Squirrel Girl starts to unpack then suddenly sees Kraven the Hunter, an arch enemy of Spider-man outside and has to hurriedly run off and get changed.
Roommate Nancy.
She tells Nancy she has to fight Kraven the "uh.. college administrator".  And that he messed up her course selections.  Nancy pauses, then says to herself that he better not have messed up hers.

Kraven is standing in the grounds holding a squirrel that attacked him.  Squirrel Girl politely but firmly asks him to put the squirrel down.  He refuses and is about to crush it when Squirrel Girl dives on him from above.  He kicks her away and calls her "Prairie Dog Costume Woman" and then "Furry Woodland Creature Lady".

She kicks him and he grabs her feet and holds her upside-down.  He then tosses her aside and fires a sticky net to hold her in place.  But she bites through it and makes a chittering noise.  He asks her what she is saying and she says "sic him".

A whole horde of squirrels come rushing towards them.  He threatens to kill them all so she stops to talk tactics with them.  She realises they don't actually have a reason to be fighting. She starts to reason with him instead.  She says that he's convinced himself that only Spider-man can defeat him:

Squirrel Girl: "And you can't beat Spider-man... but you can't lose to him either, not in the way you want.  You think you have to go through life as a failure, because you can't die.  You can't live the life you want and you can't earn the death you deserve".

She then goes on to ask him why Spider-man?  Kraven says it's his speed and agility and strength.  But Squirrel Girl tells him that he's been limiting himself to the same beings he hunted as a mortal.  Why not try hunting the underwater monsters like Gigantos, Kraken, Giant Squid.  "Kraven there's no greater game" she tells him.
Better game for Kraven.
He considers this saying maybe he has been too focused on men shaped enemies.  Squirrel Girl says he'd be the greatest hunter in history if he took on these creatures.  He agrees and says he will focus on Earth's more dangerous game now and thanks her before leaving.  Squirrel Girl gets changed and returns to her room

Nancy tells her the course admin did mess up her course selections.  She holds up Mew and says she's going to kill the admin to her.  Another way Doreen can piss her off is judging her for talking to Mew, but Squirrel Girl says that's not a problem and introduces her to Tippy-Toe.

Nancy: "You know I was worried I'd get a weird roommate but you're all right Doreen Green".

Then another squirrel appears at the window and chitters at Tippy-Toe.  With great alarm, Tippy-Toe clambers up Squirrel Girl to get her full attention.
Everything about this picture makes me happy.
She plucks Tippy-Toe off her face and says to her the planet can't be in danger, but Tippy-Toe insists something is approaching the Earth.  Star gazing Squirrels everywhere are seeing the stars get blocked out. Squirrel Girl asks how long they have before it gets to Earth whatever it is and Tippy-Toe says a while yet.  So Squirrel Girl says she will have time to go to orientation then, "what's the worst that could happen?"  And the final panel of this first issue shows Galactus...

As he sneaks up on Earth inside his "Star Sphere" we are told "no one on Earth has the sliver of a chance of stopping him.. except, perhaps for one girl".  And we rejoin Squirrel Girl dragging Nancy to orientation with her.  It's not just a campus tour, there are booths for clubs!

Squirrel Girl says there might be a knitting club.  Nancy says she has interests besides knitting.  Mainly Mew.  Squirrel Girl says if there is no cat club they'll start one and the first rule will be you have to like Mew.  Nancy agrees and says the second rule will be they have to talk about how much they like Mew.

They bump into Tomas again, she starts telling him about her fight with Kraven but the story goes a bit wrong:

Tomas: "You fought a college admin this morning, and now he lives underwater and hunts sea-monsters?"

Squirrel Girl: "Yes.  Uh.. metaphorically.... so clubs huh?"

There then begins a conversation where he tells her about wanting to join fencing club but his voice is crowded out by her thought bubbles as she worries about all the lies she is telling already on day one and also that she's chatting up a hunk.  "Doreen?  Did my fencing club story lose you?" the poor guy finally says.
Tomas and a somewhat distracted Squirrel Girl.
Squirrel Girl is grabbed by Nancy and hides in the ladies bathroom.  Nancy gleefully tells her she was suffering from "hot babe overdose".  Squirrel Girl says she doesn't even know his second name, so Nancy opens the door and demands to know his full name which is Tomas Lara-Perez.  "You can thanks me later" says Nancy to a highly embarassed Squirrel Girl and leaves her alone.

Then Tippy-Toe appears and tells Squirrel Girl that it's the Star Sphere approaching Earth.  Apparently it has a stealth field which means only the squirrels can see it which is why no one else is freaking out. "Aaaand our best estimates kinda put him at arriving at Earth in two hours" says Tippy-Toe.  Squirrel Girl laments she has no time to join the anime club now, it's time to kick Galactus's butt.

She says she can't stop him on Earth so she'll have to engage him on the "gosh darned moon".  She's going to knock him down and take a selfie sitting on top of him.  She has a plan to get up there too.  She puts on her crime fighting costume and bounces across New York.

Her plan is to break into Stark/Avenger's Tower and borrow an Iron Man suit to get herself and Tippy-Toe to the moon. We get a flashback to the first (terrifying) appearance when she teamed up with Iron Man and she thinks to herself, "man, I think everyone made some awkward fashion choices when they were fourteen".  She uses her nails to cut an opening in the glass and crushes some acorns to highlight the protective lasers which she uses her super agility to travel through.
Squirrel Power!
The Hall of Armor is being guarded by two empty automated suits.  She manages to get the two suits to blast each other but then eight more appear and don't believe that she was lost on the way to find the toilets and she gets booted out.  Luckily this was part of her plan, she distracted the guard armour so her squirrels could steal away a suit for her.

She has a pile of pieces, and picks up a helmet and asks it to construct a suit for her and Tippy-Toe.  The helmet wants a password, which could be trouble but back when she helped Tony he said she only needed to say three words, "Victor Von Doomship" and the helmet comes online for her.

The pieces then float together into a Squirrel Girl shaped suit, including space for her tail.  Tippy-Toe gets a small suit of her own made of a helmet and gauntlet.  They put them on and start flying off to the moon, but in the park lurks danger in the form of  Whiplash. And he thinks he sees "Iron Man" alone and exposed as the countdown to Galactus's arrival drops to under an hour...
Iron Squirrel is go.
Nancy meanwhile has gone into the campus bank to get cash to buy some falafel.  Squirrel Girl passes overhead then gets knocked from the sky.  She sends the armour away to keep it safe and turns to face who attacked her.  It was Whiplash.

She says she doesn't have time to fight him now, he says because Stark trusted her to lend her armour, "I hurt you, I hurt Stark".  She says she just borrowed the armour and can they just talk about things like "well-adjusted, non-sociopathic adults?"  He just attacks her with his whips.

She dodges his attacks while telling him Galactus is on his way.  She shows him her Galactus trading card but he cuts it in half which pisses her off.  She calls a pack of squirrels who run up his whips and swarm over him until he is completely covered in them.  Then she punches him out and has fifty minutes to stop Galactus.
Dealing with Whiplash.
She calls the armour back down and suits up.  But then Tippy-Toe points out someone is robbing the campus bank and they have hostages.  Galactus will have to wait a little longer, Squirrel Girl has to protect her university's facilities!  Tippy-Toe is dubious because well, priorities but Squirrel Girl says:

Squirrel Girl: "We don't stop that robbery then we're saving a planet where crime pays and hostages get shot. No, that's not how it's gonna be."

Inside the bank, Nancy is one of the hostages.  When it looks like one of the other hostages is going to be shot, she bravely starts trash talking the robbers.  Before she can get hurt, a humanoid figure made up of many squirrels barges in.

The robbers are left panicking as they had no back-up for this eventuality. The squirrel man knocks out the robbers and frees a gleeful Nancy.  The squirrel man then brings the unconcious robbers out, and because it's Squirrel Girl inside the "suit" she tells Nancy she shouldn't have endangered herself back there. Nancy says she had to do something, and Squirrel Girl says to herself, "kick butt.  My roomate is so awesome".  As she heads back in to deal with the rest of the robbers, Nancy notices Tippy-Toe is part of the suit.

Inside, Squirrel Girl steps out of the Squirrel Suit and leaves it fighting them.  She and Tippy-Toe get suited up and fly off up to the moon.  The Iron Man suit seperates leaving her and Tippy-Toe in more manuoverable space suits.  And then Galactus arrives:

Squirrel Girl: " It's just you and me - Tippy-Toe, The Regular Squirrel With No Superpowers, Like At All - against Galactus, The God of Oblivion.  The Devourer of Worlds. I know it hardly seems fair. For him I mean".

And she leaps towards him...  The next issue begins with her sitting on the prone Galactus taking a selfie and then we get the letters page because obviously that's the end of the issue.
Galactus?  pfft a pushover.
Oh all right it was a bit more complicated than that.  And we jump back to her first engaging him.  She lands at his feet and starts hitting them.   She realises Galactus can't hear what she's saying because sound doesn't travel in space.

Tippy-Toe says surely someone who has the Power Cosmic can hear sound in space and Squirrel Girl decides he can hear their vibrations and puts her hands on his foot and tells him, "we're here to kick butt and eat nuts-" but before she can finish he picks her up.

Galactus: "And let me guess.  You are all out of nuts".

Squirrel Girl says that's about the gist of it, and Galactus can hear and understand both her and Tippy-Toe. He says for someone of his powers, understanding squirrels is no big deal.

After a short discussion on pronouns, Galactus says enough, he is here to kick butts and eat Earth. Squirrel Girl asks what happened to his Herald?  Galactus says he tried that before, turns out sending someone to warn he was coming meant there were people ready for him when he arrived.
Galactus has learned from his past mistakes.
Squirrel Girl tells him she can't allow him to eat Earth.  He says he doesn't know how she is going to stop him. She tells him she defeated Thanos once and it was totally the real one.  Galactus grins and says "Hah Hah. Nice.  What a tool." Then they all ponder the Earth in silence.

Galactus says to Squirrel Girl that he likes her because she treated him as a peer. And he likes Tippy-Toe as well and says she and Squirrel Girl are lucky to have each other.  Then he says it's time to eat the Earth.

Squirrel Girl: "But I thought we were bonding".

Galactus: "We were.  But a dude's got to eat".

He starts to fly off, Squirrel Girl flies after him and manages to get inside him.  They come across a huge Commodore 64 keyboard.  Now as every species sees Galactus differently it must apply to his insides as well.  Now she has to guess his password.

As he gets close to Earth Squirrel Girl yells to him that she knows his secret, why he keeps coming to Earth but not eating it.

Squirrel Girl: " don't defeat Galactus by being stronger. You don't defeat Galactus by being smarter, either.  The only way you ever defeat Galactus is by giving him what he wants.  A source of energy.  A planet he can eat".

She says he comes to Earth because he knows they'll drop everything to find him a planet he can eat without intelligent life and she's found him one. And it's covered in delicious nuts as well.  Spare the Earth and she'll take him there.  So they all fly off.
To the planet of nuts!
And after snacking on the planet of nuts they returned to the moon and while Galactus lay down to recover, Squirrel Girl took her selfie on top of him. He gets up and as a thankyou gives her a gift, it's a new Galactus trading card that lists him as "Devourer of Worlds.  Wielder of the Power Cosmic... and a friend".  Awwww.

He sends her and Tippy-Toe and the Iron Squirrel suit back to Earth.   Squirrel Girl sends the suit back to Stark Tower.  She checks in on the squirrels she left fighting the bank robbers, but they have triumphed.  Then it's time to rush to her first class.

She is late and seats herself next to Nancy who says she can copy her not-very-helpful notes. Nancy tells her she knows Squirrel Girl defeated the bank robbers earlier.  But it's really rad so Squirrel Girl's secret is safe with her. Squirrel Girl says she will show her something after class.  Nancy gets to be covered with Squirrels and has a mock fight with Squirrel Girl, "nobody is ever going to believe me" she says.  And that brings this first arc to an end.
Nancy knows Squirrel Girl's secret.
That's not quite it for the book as included is Squirrel Girl's first appearance in Marvel Team Up #8.  It's mainly just one long fight as Squirrel Girl shows off her super-powers and defeats Doctor Doom using her squirrel horde.  And I know Steve Ditko is a legend but man, his art was peculiar by this point.  Also the contrast between this old comic and the newer one shows just how much more characterisation modern comics have in comparison to the somewhat sterile battle orientated Marvel comics of the time.
GAH!  What the hell Steve?!
Anyway, I really loved this book.  Erica Henderson's art is simple but strong, with clean lines and characterful faces.  And isn't it great to have a woman superhero depicted with a curvey, muscular body rather than a stick insect with massive hooters.  I also like how her victories here are "earned".  Squirrel Girl in the past had tended to be a one-note joke, you'd see her attack then jump cut to her foe lying defeated, which they have parodied here with the Galactus "battle".  Her unabashed positivity and refusal to even see the bad side of a huge planet eating monster is very refreshing and I like how she is already having a hard time keeping her activites secret with Nancy finding out right away. I'm always appreciative of female friendships it gets tiring seeing women constantly set against each other and it looks like Nancy will be a firm friend.  Ryan North's writing is sharp, warm and funny and I truly love the inclusion of the letters pages too.  It's rare modern comics have letters pages, they were always a big part of comicbook fandom for me back in the day and I do wish the collections would maybe have a section at the end which collates all the letters pages together.  But that's probably not to be.  I don't know if Squirrel Girl still has her own series post Secret Wars 2015, but there is at least one more book in this Marvel Now series which will be showing up here at some point.  So if you need reminding just how much sheer fun comics can show, this is one to go for.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 (#1-6)

"Oh so a good guard mouse abandons his fellow guard?" - Lieam

It's been a while since I covered Mouse Guard: Autmn 1152, you can blame fluctuating Amazon prices for my delay in picking up the sequel miniseries Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 as a birthday gift from my dear old mum.  But here we are.  A quick introduction, Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 was first published in 2006 written and drawn by David Peterson.  It featured the titular guard which is made up of sword wielding mice who protect their own from the dangers posed to mouse sized animals.  The first book saw them deal with a traitor in their own ranks and an assault on Mouse Guard headquarters by "The Army of the Axe" lead by the rebellious Midnight, wielder of the stolen Black Axe. He proclaims that the Guard is a joke, and that they need one strong leader to rule all the terrtories. They need "One who can offer security and prosperity. One who is not afraid to hunt down our predators. One who is more than a mere Guard mouse". The rebellion is crushed and Midnight defeated when the real, legendary Black Axe makes himself known and The Mouse Guard restore order. But it ends on an uncertain note with leader Gwendolyn noting in her diary about mounting distrust of the Guard in the mouse terrtories and the threat still posed by those in the Army of the Axe who melted back into their normal lives. She finished up by saying that winter is coming and they are dangerously low on supplies and that ended Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152.  We now move onto the direct sequel, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 published in 2007-2008.  We follow the main characters from the first miniseries as they act as ambassadors for Gwendolyn in an attempt to unite the Mouse territories to aid their base town of Lockhaven through the winter and adventures ensue. 

We're reintrodued to the major characters who have been sent to retrieve some Elixir from a mouse town.  There's Kenzie and Saxon the brothers in arms, Sadie the scout and Lieam the youngest who has been taken under the wing of the oldest, Celanawe who is also the legendary "Black Axe" which he carries with him at all times.

The band of mice make their way through the snowy weather as a storm rages around them.  They have the city of Sprucetuck to get to, but they'll never make it in this weather.  Celanawe has another plan though, there is an underground route they can take if they tunnel their way there.
Celanawe, Sadie, Kenzie Lieam, Saxon.
Saxon and Sadie take up the rear and Saxon grumbles that  it is "foolish to hide from a storm". Sadie says a sword can't defeat everything. Lieam says sometimes it takes an axe. And thanks to Celanawe they find a safe route to Sprucetuck and introduce themselves, saying they want to meet the governer.

The elderly governer wants to know what brings the guard in such heavy weather.  Kenzie says the Lady Gwendolyn extends an offer of "continued goodwill" and also that they are in dire need of elixir.  The governer says their own stocks are low and can only spare two bottles, which are accepted with grateful thanks.

The guard pay with currency this town does not use, but the governer says they'll make an exception for them. The governer says the town owes its existence to the guard, they are mice of "science, not swordmice". The elixir is brought to the mouse guard, it has been infused with special herbs so less per dose is needed.

The governer says the letter they bought mentions a summit.  Kenzie says in "seven sundowns the neccessary escorts will arrive", but for now they need to get these supplies back to Lockhaven. The mice then leave and return to the surface.

Saxon takes Kenzie to one side and asks who really leads the group, Kenzie is supposed to, but is it Celanawe?  "You bend an ear anytime he speaks" and Lieam follows his steps in awe says Saxon.  Kenzie says Celanawe  is Gwendolyn's ambassador and the voice of experience but he, Kenzie leads the group.

Saxon says his loyalties lie with Lockhaven and Gwendolyn, "not that axe".  Kenzie says Celanawe has done nothing but protect them and the guard.  Saxon says the incident with Midnight proves threats can come from anywhere.  Saxon says he's been friends with Kenzie too long to question his loyalty, "I will always follow your lead."  Kenzie says "I know."
Sadie sees off a threat.
Celanawe interrupts their conversation to say they are being "hunted".  And an owl looms overhead.  They draw their weapons and huddle together so they can't be picked off.  Sadie hurls a rock at its foot saying it was a warning and that she doesn't miss.  She fires another one which hits the owl in the eye.  It squawks and flies off, the others congratulate Sadie on her shot.  Kenzie says they must carry on through the night rather than make camp, "Lockhaven is depending on us".

Back there, Gwendolyn writes in her diary about sending out the guard to collect provisions.  Then she and a couple of other mice pour over a map and discuss the places the various groups have been sent to.  Kenzie's team have the most arduous journey but Gwendolyn has great faith in them.

Gwendolyn: "I hope we have that much time.  Starvation and illness will take more lives than the last Winter War."

She goes to see how a mouse called Rand is faring as he is in the throes of sickness.  She asks Abigail who is tending him how long he has.  She says with no medicine to treat him he'll not last long.  Gwendolyn hopes he can last long enough for Kenzie's group to return with medical supplies.  The mice in question are stocked up and returning with Lockhaven two days away when the ground suddenly give way beneath them and they all bar Celanawe and Lieam fall down a hole.
The party gets into trouble.
Lieam is hanging down, gripping Celanawe's axe and is pulled up, but the others have fallen right into the murky depths.  They both look down and can't even see the bottom of the hole, but they can hear the others who are all OK, but there is no way to climb back up for them.

Kenzie relights the lantern and they have a good look around the tunnel they have fallen into. It appears to go in the same direction as Lockhaven so both parties will travel independently now.  Celanawe and Lieam have the much-needed supplies to take there, the others will just have to see where the tunnel takes them.  Unfortunately that is likely to be a place called "Darkheather", but Kenzie grimly says he will lead them out come what may.

As Celanawe and Lieam travel, Celanawe gives his assessment of Kenzie and Saxon.  He says they rely on each other too much:

Celanawe: "Saxon knows he can afford to be reckless since Kenzie acts as his conscience.  And Kenzie can linger in his thoughts and plans because he knows Saxon can depend upon him".

Celanawe says he "tested" Kenzie earlier, and saw that it was Saxon's coaxing that made swayed Kenzie's mind.  He tells Lieam, "be complete within yourself young redfur.  You will never disappoint.  Even in solitude."  As they walk, Lieam takes a plunge into some water

They make camp so he can warm up and Celanawe says he had heard of Lieam's slaying of a snake through its mouth before he met him.  Then freezing rain starts up and they go on their way back to Lockhaven, Celanawe notes "it seems I have an apprentice".

The underground team are also making their way along.  They find ruins and Kenzie says it is important to travel deeper into them as they have found "potential threats to the securities of the territories".  Celanawe and Lieam will get to Lockhaven, they have a new mission.

Saxon is dubious about the youngest and oldest of the guardmice making it, but Kenzie says with the Black Axe and Lieam having proved worthy he has no concerns they won't make it.   They come across an enormous wooden door guarded by two opossums.  They immediately draw their weapons and ready an attack.
Saxon is headstrong.
Saxon charges then he realises they are statues.  Kenzie chews him out for his recklessness.  Saxon says he thought he could take one down and Kenzie and Sadie take the other one. Kenzie is still mad he didn't wait for a proper plan.  They open the doors and find what appears to be an abandoned building, with high vaulted ceilings made of stone.

They are confused as to why it wasn't destroyed in "the war".  Then they hear something and Kenzie orders Sadie to scout ahead, to the annoyance of Saxon.  They have arrived in Darkheather and Saxon says "I need to know you're ready to fight our way out."

Back in Lockhaven Gwendolyn goes to check on the sick Rand, who is Lockhaven's "shield-bearer".  He groans in agony and she realises he's been poisoned with hemlock. Gwendolyn orders all of Lockhaven immediately sealed, much to the annoyance of Isabel who was about to ride out to Oakgrove and Lake Cities.

Isabel goes to see Gwendolyn and finds a group of mice all talking at her. They have sealed the city and the suspected culprit, Abigail who was caring for Rand, must still be within the city walls.  Gwendolyn has hidden Rand away to keep him safe, they have cured the poison but he is still dreadfully sick.

Gwendolyn: "I know not of Abigail's motives. But it makes little difference.  Hunt her down."

Back with Celanawe and Lieam, the sleet has got so bad they are drenched in it.  Celenawe says they must stop and dig in.  Lieam says what about the mission?  Celanawe says they will fail it if they die.
A very cold Lieam and Celanawe.
They dig a hole under the snow and light a fire to warm up.  They only have enough candle to last one night and they begin to thaw out.  Celenawe asks Lieam what went through his mind when he faced the snake.   Lieam says it was the words, "it matter's not what you fight, but what you fight for." 

Celanawe says that can be a "dangerous slogan".  Midnight thought what he was fighting for was right and that the ends justified the means.  Lieam asks him if he truly is the Black Axe.  Celanawe wonders how, after all the time they spent together, Lieam can doubt him.  Lieam says he was afraid to ask before.  Celanawe says he is indeed the Black Axe.

He then tells Lieam how Midnight managed to acquire the Black Axe itself.   He was crafty and able to move in the shadows.  Midnight is the only user of the Black Axe who was not the Black Axe in person to "have wielded the Black Axe and not felt the bite of its blade."

Celanawe: "Yet despite his theivery, murder and motives, he was not wholly wrong... his goals were selfish, he wanted to rule on high. But the idea of the territories needing unification and protection is what I do with this axe."

He goes on to say he does good for the mice of the territories but is beholden to no matriarch, he puts the needs of all mice before his own.  He has shaped the course of wars, fought predators to beyond their borders and "carved portions of this very landscape".

Lieam asks how that can be possible, he's not old enough to have been around when the axe was first forged or accomplish all the legends attributed to him. Celanawe just responds that he is "shrouded in myth and legend" and mystery has grown up around him.  The tale of when his paw first touched the Black Axe is for another day, "tales are best told at the end of a journey".

He asks Lieam where he got the scar on his ear.  Lieam won't say. Celanawe says they both have their secrets even if those secrets can't keep them warm.  Meanwhile Kenzie, Saxon and Sadie are carefully walking through Darkheather the old weasel kingdom. 
Sadie says Kenzie and Saxon "squabble like an old mouse couple."  Saxon says they don't, but Sadie says now is a good time to stay quiet.   Up in the ceiling are many bats, who don't eat mice, but Saxon says are the ears of their enemies.  One of the bats tells them they are "unwelcome".

Sadie says it's time to go.  Saxon says the bats will alert the enemy weasels  within a day flight away.  The head bat is annoyed by this.  Saxon however draws his sword.  The bats fly at him en masse.  Bats say that long ago they offered to fight for either side.  But the birds did not trust their fur and the earth dwellers did not trust their flight.  So after the war, they secluded themselves in this ruin:

Various Bats: "Our seclusion is our life...we are accepted by none when we offered loyalty to all...  You come to our sanctury where we eat.  Where we breed.  And you challenge our trust?"

Saxon manages to jump on the head bat and hold his sword to its throat demanding it show them a way out.  There is a scuffle and Sadie hurls a dagger through one of the bats and its thrashing causes some of the masonry to crumble, which blocks our plucky mice safely away from the angry bats.  Apart from Saxon that is, who is flown away on the back of the head bat.
The owl returns.
In their ice hole, Lieam discovers the cold has shattered one of the bottles of Elixir, now they only have one left for Lockhaven. Celanawe says he heard something and standing above the entrance to the hole is the huge owl.  They climb up out of the shelter and engage the owl, with Celanawe brandishing the Black Axe he goes in on the attack.

Saxon meanwhile is hanging off one of the bats, they tell him freedom is above him but he needs wings to reach it. The bats say mouse bones sleep below the soil and Saxon will join them, but Saxon says he'll take a few of them out before he does so.  He slashes the throat of the bat he is holding and they both fall into a dark hole.  He lands on a mountain of bones, meanwhile all the bats fly out of the hole in the ceiling taking their fallen brother's soul "to the stars."

Kenzie and Sadie are wandering through a maze of tunnels shrouded in darkness.  Kenzie calls for Saxon, Sadie says they don't know if he is alive, but Kenzie knows he is. He says Saxon was a fool for starting a fight with the bats, but Sadie says there was no other way out.  She says she hoped calm talk would prevail, but she expected a battle.

Kenzie says Saxon drew first blood though, Sadie says Saxon can be "stubborn and crude.  I doubt he agrees with the idea of ladymice as guard".  Kenzie laughs and says he knows Saxon loves someone from afar.  Sadie asks if there are any ladymice Kenzie admires from afar?

Kenzie says they life of the guard isn't generally conducive to relationships. He hunts opossum, sleeps on the hard soil and spends more time outside than other mice.  "Where do you think I would find a ladymmouse who would appreciate such things?" Then he and Sadie share a silent moment. Kenzie starts humming a tune to break the awkward silence, Sadie asks what it is and he tells her it's a ballad of "The Ivory Lass".
Saxon finds the remains of his old teacher.
We then return to Saxon, as the ballad narrates the images, he comes around on the pile of bones.  Using material from his cloak he fashions a torch and starts walking.  The corridors are full of mouse skeletons.  Then he finds one intact in a cloak, it holds a sword and has a buckle Saxon recognises.  It belonged to his old teacher Loukas and he tearfully embraces the skeleton.

In Lockhaven, Abaigail has been cornered. She calls them fools and says she was instrumental in ridding Lockhaven of its stock, while in the other mice territories the same thing occured.  She says countless mice still stand by Midnight's views and she was to be his queen.  She throws herself down the well as she is peppered with arrows, and poisons it as she lands to her death.  Then we briefly cut to the battle against the owl, Celenawe has fallen and Lieam is facing it down alone.

Kenzie and Sadie are snoozing together, when Saxon suddenly appears. He teases Kenzie for "snuggling with your new lady".  Kenzie splutters it's nothing like that, he asks where Saxon ended up.  Saxon says never you mind, it certainly wasn't "dreaming next to a lady". Kenzie says if Saxon is mad at him, leave Sadie out of it.  Saxon apologises then shows them the buckle he found.  He is also now wielding Loukas's sword.
Kenzie and Sadie snuggle, d'awww.
Kenzie then says he's going to lead them out of Darkheather, too many mice have died there and only a handful have returned from there.  He tells Saxon he was lucky to be alive after what happened.  They find a waterfall and look for something they can sail in, "pray Celanawe and Lieam fared better than we are" says Saxon.

And that takes us back to the battle against the owl.  Celanawe is back in the fight and picks up the Black Axe and cuts the foot of the owl with it.  He tells Lieam to run and get the medicine back to Lockhaven, "make sure the greater good is served".  The owl's wing knocks Lieam down, then it's foot grabs Celanawe and crushes him.
Lieam will not be deterred.
The owl flies off with Celanawe but Lieam manages to grab onto it's wing.  He climbs up its body and drives his sword into the top of its head.  The owl crashes to the ground, Lieam uses a feather to land safely in a tree, Celanawe has been dropped, but he isn't moving.

The others are in a small bucket paddling up the underground river.  Saxon checks the compass in Loukas's sword and confirms they are heading north-east towards Lockhaven.   Sadie wonders how the weasel kingdom could have come so close to the mice territories.  Kenzie says the weasels might not have built this, the caverns could be older and the weasels simply annexed it like they tend to do.

They spot something in the water.  It is a mouseguard's corpse with mouse arrows in it.  It's Abigail's corpse although they don't know that as it's floating face down.  They find the mark of Lockhaven and climb up the well arriving back in Lockhaven safely. Gwendolyn greets them saying after sending Abigail down there to death they never expected three live mice to come out.  She fills them in on what has been going on and the fact that Celanawe and Lieam have not returned.

The owl, is still alive.  Celanawe too, he brandishes the Black Axe and leaps at the owl, who snatches him out of the air and bites him before dropping him on the ground him to Lieam's horror and distress.  It turns its attentions to him as he holds his sword and prepares for a last stand.

Lieam tearfully remembers all the advice Celanawe gave him as the owl bears down on him.  As the owl makes to snap him up he stabs it in the throat and the foot and it collapses.  He goes and picks up the Black Axe and brings it down onto the top of the owl's head finally killing it.  Then he collapses too.
Lieam takes up The Black Axe and gets his revenge.
Back in Lockhaven, Kenzie and Saxon go to where Isabel has the hares they ride readied to go out.  Kenzie pleads with the head hare to help them find Celanawe and Lieam before they carry on to where they were supposed to be going.  The hare agrees and the mice mount up.

They ride out and find the dead owl, and footprints leading away to the east. They follow them and find Lieam deliriously carrying Celeanawe's body, the Black Axe and an owl feather.  When he sees them he collapses again.

The hares take them all back to Lockhaven.  Lieam is conscious again and has a broken arm which he just shakes off. Gwendolyne is told the bad news about Celanawe.  His body is laid out on a pyre and he is cremated with great ceremony.  Gwendolyne gives a heartfelt eulogy while a recovered Rand whispers that he thought the Black Axe was immortal.  "No mouse is Rand..." says Saxon, "no mouse is".

After the ceremony Saxon opens his heart out to Gwendolyne, the ladymouse he admired from afar:

Saxon: "M-M'lady Gwendolyne.  I have been to hell and back... twice now... and I need to know there is more to our lives than this".
And they kiss.  Lieam recalls Celanawe's last words to him, he knew this journey would end in his death and he declares Lieam as the new Black Axe then he dies, which brings the story to an end.
Saxon and Gwendolyn kiss, double d'awwwww.
But there is an epilogue.  Gwendolyne writes in her diary that there was a successful summit of the representatives of the mice territories.  Lockhaven is now a neutral location for summit leaders to meet annually to resolve greivances.  Reserve harvest will be stored there, in return they will provide the outer territories with more guardmice.

Kenzie and Sadie oversaw the excavation and repairs to the cistern which purged the well of poison, "they have been inseparable since their return". She writes that dealing with threats from within still are hampering their efforts to deal with threats from without.

Lieam was aimless after the funeral, as she writes that she wants to give him more responsibility we see him going to where the Black Axe is.  She also writes that Saxon has made an impact on her life and says that although she has no plan to leave her post anytime soon, the situation between her and Saxon has her on the lookout for a successor. The book then finally finishes on Lieam, with the Black Axe, walking out of Lockhaven to make his own way in the world...
A new Black Axe strikes out into the world.
What a lovely book. David Peterson's artwork is beautiful and manages to wring all sorts of emotions out of the simple but strong mouse designs.  His script manages a olde worlde feel without getting hackneyed or irritating.  He carries on world building around a story of five mice thrown into dangerous situations, and gives each of them a distinct personality.  From the bickering bros that are Kenzie and Saxon, to the snarky Sadie, to the wise old Celenawe and his young, fiercely brave apprentice Lieam.  The battle against the owl is epic and stunningly realised, as are the vaulted halls of Darkheather and all the bats that live there.  And with traitors still lurking within the mouse guard and Lieam leaving for adventures new there is plenty of fodder for future stories.  Which is why it's so frustrating that the series seems to have ground to a halt.  One issue of Spring 1153 was released as part of free comicbook day a couple of years ago, but apart from that there has just been a Black Axe miniseries and a couple of volumes of Tales From The Mouse Guard.  C'mon David, pull yer finger out.  I want more sumptiously illustrated adventures of the brave little mice and the scary world they live in.  Do it now, I command it!