Three of the tall tales in this volume are stories about the fabled Bone pioneer Big Johnson Bone, as written by Tom Sniegoski for the setting invented and illustrated by Jeff Smith. They are framed by Smith’s “Smiley and the Bone Scouts” with the introductory tale “The Powers That Be.” All of them are comedic, without the epic and tragic events that characterize the original Bone series. If that’s what you’re after, though, they deliver. My daughter found them hilarious.
Serially, this book falls after the original triple trilogy, but familiarity with those books in completely unnecessary, and there are no significant spoilers present.
This “prequel” to the Bone comics series is focused on a particular stratum of the layered story that Jeff Smith had composed in the original comic. It is entirely trained on the intrigue between the royal princesses Rose and Briar. There are no Bones from Boneville in this story, and the closest thing to comic relief is provided by Rose’s two dogs, with whom she has frequent conversations. But, especially at the end, these aren’t comic at all.
Although far more intricate and poised than Smith’s drawings in the original series, Charles Vess’ art is wonderful and well suited to the subject matter. Smith’s characters are very recognizable, even in their decades-younger forms and in a far different style. The dragons are all appropriately awesome.
The lettering actually put me off a little. It is a sort of unical script with little highlights in each letter, which seemed too busy and distracting for my taste. The word balloons for the dogs (and for Rose addressing them in their ‘speech’) were blue instead of white, which was a very efficient convention for indicating linguistic difference.
On further reflection, it occurs to me that Rose follows a sort of rough Star Wars episode 3 plot trajectory with respect to the Bone series as episodes 4-6: think of Gran’ma Ben as Ben Kenobi and the Hooded One as Darth Vader. (But it’s something of a stretch to think of Fone Bone as Luke Skywalker!) The Lord of the Rings comparisons that seemed so obvious early in the original run of Bone have no place here.
The final volume of the Bone series doesn’t have many surprises. All of the plots that were set up in the earlier numbers play out in a way that seems pretty inevitable, if not outright predictable. There are a few jokes, and lots of chasing and fighting. Comeuppances and rewards (including a hero’s burial) are distributed according to the characters’ merits established before.
I had been holding out for some exciting backstory on Ted the bug, but I was disappointed there. Maybe it’s in one of the prequel supplements: Rose or Stupid Stupid Rat Tails.
I suppose it is a sign of Jeff Smith’s skill at developing his fictional world and its characters that I have read each volume of Bone in fewer sittings than the last, even though their length and complexity remains consistent.
The end of the previous volume Old Man’s Cave made it seem as if the heroes had had a major victory, but Ghost Circles begins with almost overwhelming setbacks, and of all the Bone collections so far this one is easily the darkest in mood. Even a few scenes with the usually comical Ted the Bug are quite grave.
Old Man’s Cave moves the story of the Bone series along at a galloping pace. Although I don’t see it noted here, one of the earlier collections I read showed this series grouped into trilogies, and there does seem to be a significant multi-volume conclusion in this sixth book. By its end, there has been a resolution of much of the central conflict, but there is an intimation of more to come.
Smith’s art continues to be effective, and his storytelling engaging. There are hardly any new characters introduced in this sequence, but there are some major revelations about the ones established earlier in the series. The reader learns by stages exactly who the evil Lord of Locusts is, and why he is interested in Phoney Bone, not to mention surprising revelations about the Hooded One.
This volume of Bone is concerned with Phone and Smiley’s effort to return a stray rat creature cub to its kind. Many complications ensue, with opportunities to reveal more about the larger plot around events in the valley. There are no humans in this segment, but there is a lot of action, with multiple chases and a big fight or two. And Smith really lays on the cute, with the possum kids encountering various peers in the eastern mountains. On the whole, this collection is a fine installment in the continuing series.
Phoney Bone is the primary actor in this segment of the Bone story, although for all his scheming, he is out of his depth, as usual. It is unclear until the end of the volume, whether he is accidentally helping the heroes, or unwittingly harming them. Thorn advances toward maturity and purposefulness, and not a minute too soon. On the whole, this stretch is somewhat tense and plot-heavy.
This third collection of Bone comics is the first that I have read in its original black-and-white format. I read the two previous volumes in the colorized editions from the Scholastic GRAFIX imprint. While I respect author/artist Smith for realizing his vision in the independent black-and-white comics market, and at the hazard of offending purist afficianados, I have to say that the comic is more attractive, readable, and compelling with the high-quality colors of the later reprints.
As far as the story goes, it takes a major turn in this segment: the “serious” fantasy plot about the political history of the valley, and the roles of Rose and Thorn in that history are revealed, along with more detail about their foes. None of these revelations should come as any great surprise to the attentive reader, though, and none of them are in any way contrary to fantasy conventions. All of this plot explication comes at a price, which is that of considerably less comedy. There is still a humorous parallel narrative about the Bone brothers’ return to the Barrel-Haven tavern, and the development of Fone Bone’s poetic talents continues amusingly on page 120. But on the whole, there is more action and intrigue, and less of the wry humor that was so characteristic of the earlier books.
The “Moby Bone” dream episode is supposed to be a highlight of this volume, and it certainly did its job well enough. But I thought it paled next to the more elaborate and involved dream sequences in Sim’s Cerebus.
The final page advises readers that we have reached the “End of Part One.” Even though the plot proper seems still to be barely getting off the ground, this does seem like a reasonable point to pause.
This second collection of Bone comics advances the overall plot with the same leisurely pace of the first volume. I think I’m very glad to be reading these as anthologies, rather than following them as a monthly comic. This volume has more and better slapstick than the first, and Fone Bone’s romantic affection for Thorn is elevated into a proper dilemma. For sheer comedy, the best moment is probably the unravelling of Phoney Bone’s scheme on page 73.
In “Lonesome Road” (the fifth chapter of this book, #11 of the original series?), a three-page dialoge between Rose and Lucius provides a very full synopsis of the state of the intrigue–from the human perspective. I can certainly see how such a review would have been important in the original serial, but it’s helpful even in the current format. There are four intersecting worlds here: the Boneville Bones in exile (Fone, Phoney, and Smiley), the humans (Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, Lucius, villagers and fairgoers), the animals (possums, Ted the bug), and the monsters (red dragon, rat creatures).
In any event, this book solidifies the promise of the first volume and settles into what I’m now confident will be a series worth the continuing read.