This post is part of an ongoing series.
Part I: The Valley
Book One: Out from Boneville
Chapter IV: Kingdok
You are warned, here be spoilers.
Chapter 4 of Bone is rich and dense, having a surprising number of distinct scenes without ever seeming crowded or rushed. Whereas previous chapters depicted small movements and revelations, this one drastically expands and develops our understanding of the situation, and fulfills some of the previously-built potential for conflict. This chapter also gives us our first taste of the darkness that this story can delve into at times, a darkness that helps push the story from cute character-comedy into an epic. This isn’t Cerebus Syndrome – I don’t believe Smith planned a light, episodic comedy and then drifted into the epic. The early chapters were just Frodo in the Shire – you need to establish the Shire before you can gain any dramatic benefit from threatening the Shire.
It starts small, but ends big. It opens with a delightful little character scene, where Fone and Phoney Bone are milking one of Gran’ma Ben’s cows. They bicker, and Phoney spills the milk bucket, decrying their situation:
Fone: That’s th’ second time in two days that you’ve spilled th’ milk!
Phoney: I can’t help it. It’s a disgusting way to get milk!
Fone: It’s how you get milk! There’s nothing disgusting about it!
Phoney: It’s disgusting that I have to do it!
Phoney has made a lot of protestations so far about how used he is to privilege, but this scene right here encapsulates it all quite elegantly. Also, I love the image of Phoney in an apron.
Fone and Gran’ma Ben have a conversation about Gran’ma’s impending trip to nearby Barrelhaven. In the midst of it, Gran’ma goes catatonic, and starts mumbling about getting “th’ gitchy feelin'”:
Th’ gitchy! It’s a terrible feelin’ that makes your head swim, an’ your legs wobble! It’s a powerful omen of bad things to come! … There…. It’s starti’ to pass. Maybe whatever’s goin’ to happen won’t be so bad…
And then Fone takes a bath with Thorn.
There’s a lot going on here in this scene, and it’s made more complicated by the fact that both Fone and Thorn have ages that are hard to pin down. Thorn is drawn in this idealized Disney love-interest way; she’s not given Barbie proportions or any such, but she has this slow, angelic grace, a divine benevolence. You get this impression that if this were animated, she’d move in slight slow-motion. At the same time, she is drawn to look young – her hair is too big for her (without it being a “Big Hair” hairdo), as are half her clothes.
Fone, meanwhile, looks like this.
Thorn leads Fone through the woods, telling him tales of the impending festival in Barrelhaven. Her dress seems a bit incongruous. Some touches make it look Stereotypical Medieval Peasant (such as the pocket in the front), and some make it look very Disney fancy-dress ball (such as the off-the-shoulder wrap-around poofiness at the top of the bodice, and the broach). There’s a tension between her mundane role in the setting (peasant farm-girl) and her dramatic role in Fone’s life (vision of unearthly beauty).
We’re teased with how intimate or not the bath is. Intermittent word-balloons from off-panel read:
“I’ve never done this before.”
“Don’t be so nervous! You never wear clothes anyway!”
“…Um …Fone Bone, could you be a little more careful with the soap?”
“The soap, silly! You just ate the whole bar!”
This chapter brings back the rat creatures – with a vengeance. Our two antagonists from chapters past are visited by Kingdok – their ruler. He’s drawn much like the rest of the rat creatures, but much, much bigger. He stands on spindly legs, carries a mace/scepter, and has an enormous toothy grin. He advises them that “the Hooded One” has called a meeting.
Soon we meet this Hooded One. We see a night-time assembly of countless rat creatures – a vast army, the lights of their torches spread from one end of the valley to the other. The Hooded One sits on a throne, on a dais, with Kingdok at his side. He reveals that they’re looking for a Bone with a star on his chest – a description that fits Phoney Bone. The Hooded One orders an attack on Gran’ma Ben’s farm.
Man, the Hooded One freaks me out. He wears an Emperor Palpatine cloak, and walks around with his head drooping forward, to conceal his face. The tails of his speech-balloons, rather than merely pointing at his head, actually snake down and around and up into the hood of his cloak. It’s creepy and awesome.
A storm is brewing. Gran’ma Ben invites Fone to sleep in the house, rather than leaving him exiled to the barn. This is a change in the rules – an exception, as a result of exceptional circumstances.
We get a scene of a child, half hidden by marching shadows, while voices around her coordinate the failed defense of some fortifications. This scene is ended by Thorn’s waking – it was her dream – and Fone crying out that the farmhouse is under attack.
Again, this chapter starts small, and ends big. The Bone cousins bickering over the milk, in the bar, is the smallest of small conflicts. Whereas by the end… events are accelerating.