[18 December 2008]
Animals are not people. They do not possess human speech. They cannot drive cars. They are unable to split the atom. They cannot stage coups, run political campaigns or advocate social change.
Yet again and again, from Jonathan Swift to Pierre Boulle, from George Orwell to Art Spiegelman, the literary greats have repeatedly dared to wonder: “Animals may not, in fact, be people…but wouldn’t it be cool if they were?”
Following, presumably, the example set in Spiegelman’s Maus, the latest comics creators to tackle an allegory of anthropomorphosis are Bryan Glass and Michael Oeming in their utterly fantastic Mice Templar. The first arc weaves a unique tale intertwining Norse mythology and the legends and history of the Knights Templar, while at the same time upending and defying its own genre, the tried and true epic fantasy/“chosen one”/Hero’s Journey saga.
Sparked by the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series or perhaps by certain sociopolitical conditions in the Western Hemisphere, science fiction and fantasy entertainment of the last decade or so has been littered with “chosen one” stories. These include, but are not limited to, works such as The Matrix and its sequels, as well as popular TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural and Lost. The life of a “chosen one”, as demonstrated by Potter, Neo, Starbuck, Sam Winchester and John Locke, among others, is never an easy path, but it is one that starts as a simple awakening, with the dawning realization that the “one” was meant for more than their present station in life.
Yes, this is the central focus of Mice Templar, but one should not be put off from giving this series a look because of the seemingly trite subject matter. Karic, the series’ young mouse hero, never has time to bask in the glory of his newfound calling. His village has been sacked, his friends and family have been kidnapped, loved ones lie dead and a strange old mouse claiming to be a Templar of old has taken him under his wing to teach him the ways of the world.
What’s more, Karic has served as the recipient of several signs and omens, most notably giant singing fish who petrify him. Most shockingly, towards the end of the series’ opening salvo, Karic’s mentor is revealed to be a fraud who barely knows what he’s talking about, and our horrified hero is initiated into a world that he is almost entirely unprepared for. It is here that Mice Templar begins to show that the entire life of any good “chosen one” is darkness, despair and terror. By upending the humbling beginnings of Joseph Campbell’s journey and replacing them with constant, pervasive anxiety and intensity, Glass and Oeming create what very well could be the most emotionally-challenging depiction of the mythic hero ever crafted for the comic book page.
In essence, Glass and Oeming’s opening arc dares to ask: What would have happened if everything Luke Skywalker had been told about the Jedi by Obi-Wan Kenobi had been hearsay and fabricated half-truths, and that Kenobi was really a fumbling old quack with delusions of grandeur who pretended to have mystical powers? What would Luke, have evolved into? Would he be prepared for what lay ahead of him? What’s more, would he have been a savior or a destroyer?
These questions lie at the heart of the genre-defying Mice Templar, the finest work of its kind since Richards Adams’ Watership Down, another fictional tale that used small animals as a means to evaluate the human condition. This is due in no small part to Glass and Oeming’s carefully-crafted, deliciously rich tale, as well as Oeming’s fantastical and beautiful artwork. The only concern some may have with this series is that it is not for casual readers and it is not for people to read with half their attention somewhere else. Read either of these ways, confusion will set in and potentially turn readers away from what is, far and away, one of the most fascinating and intoxicating comics on the stands today.
Glass and Oeming have created a wonderful mythology that is currently one of the finest comics on the stands. Mice Templar has the potential to, in time, stand with Sandman, Bone and Fables as one of the most pointed, thought-provoking and brilliant examinations of mythology and story-telling in comic book history. It has this potential because, after all, the series isn’t really about people, is it? It’s about mice, and as we all know, animals are not, and can never be, people.