Bone: Rose (Scholastic)

Jeff Smith crafts a prequel to his Bone saga with the help of Stardust artist Charles Vess in this Scholastic reissue of the 2002 graphic novel.

 

 

 

 

140 pgs. full color; $10.99
(W: Jeff Smith; A: Charles Vess)
 
I may be destroying my limited credibility by saying this, but I didn’t get into Bone until it was over with. I bought the 1,300 page collection in college and lugged it around on spring break. I absorbed it over the week and had several advantages over the readers who followed Bone from the beginning.
 
For example, I didn’t have to wait 13 years for the story to unfold. There were no return trips to the comics shop—60 days apart—to buy new issues. I took in more than a decade of comics in a week. I blew past cliffhangers and peeked ahead during tense sequences. When I finished, I—like almost everyone who has read Bone—was struck by how dark and serious Bone became. The story starts with screwball antics and ends with a gigantic battle. Read as a collection, it seems like a well-planned story carried out with perfect execution. Had I spent more than a decade following the story, I probably would have thought of it more as an evolution; I’m sure the story was well-planned from the start, but Jeff Smith went from Pogo-like comedy to intense fantasy epic. That’s a pretty dramatic change, but Smith is consistent enough throughout to make it all cohesive. Bone could be described as a mix of genres, but if you read it book by book, it’s not so much a mix as a journey through a spectrum…and that’s what makes the Rose prequel so troublesome.
 
Rose takes place before the Bone series begins. It explains how Grandma Ben (then Princess Rose) and her sister Briar became the rivals they’re eventually revealed to be at the end of Bone. It’s a nice bit of extra information that answers a few questions from the original series. But those questions weren’t really burning for me after I read Bone. While Bone is quite the medieval-style epic, I didn’t much care for those elements of the story. With Rose, they’re front and center. There’s no slapstick, no jokes, not really even any humor to speak of—just information that’s relevant, though totally extraneous.
 
The problems of Rose are the problems of any prequel to a well-told saga. Everything is revealed so well in the original story that the prequel offers little in the way of ultimate value. How many surprises are ruined if you watch the Star Wars prequels before the original trilogy? Likewise with Rose: If you started with Rose and read through all of the colorized (and nicely colorized at that) Scholastic reprints of Bone, the story would fall flat. The big reveal of Grandma Ben’s identity is spoiled. Many plot twists become foregone conclusions.
 
But the Bone reprints are already out. So maybe we’re to assume that the book is meant to be read after the series, as a way to keep the characters and the story alive. Rose does that well, but if that’s its only purpose, then it will, by its nature, be a disjointed and ultimately unnecessary part of the Bone canon.
 
I’m willing to throw out necessity and judge Rose not by its siblings in the Bone saga, but on its own. And in that case, it’s fine. It’s entertaining. It is nice to see the characters from Bone again, even if it feels far out of context. The fantasy on its own isn’t really my thing, but it does go deeper into the mystical side of the original Bone books. Charles Vess is a good artist (he won an Eisner Award for his work on Rose, after all), and his work is different enough from Smith’s to keep Rose from looking like a complete retread. Vess’ art fits with the serious tone. The large splash pages are here, just like in Bone, but with Vess they’re more Prince Valiant than Pogo. Even in the darkest parts of Bone, Smith’s art had a whimsical look to it. That’s part of Smith’s style and it fit in the original Bone books since some of the main players (the Bone cousins) were cartoon characters and not humans. The contrast in appearance between Fone Bone and Thorn wasn’t jarring because the characters were from different worlds and they looked like it. Smith’s humans have a certain cartoon charm to them, but had Vess mimicked it too closely, he would’ve been masking his own artistic strengths. Rose is a fairly serious story about humans, so there’s no need to cartoon-up the people. 
 
So Rose is okay. It’s a revisit to the Bone universe, and while I didn’t really want to go back, nobody made me buy the ticket, either. | Gabe Bullard
 
Click here for a 7-page preview, courtesy of Scholastic.

 

 

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