Jeff Smith's "Bone" series is a critically acclaimed but criminally overlooked epic for a reason. Critics recognize Smith's masterful storytelling abilities and are drawn to his mix of all-ages humor and decidedly adult darkness, but the black and white art and lack of superheroes is anathema to most comic book readers, making it a hit only in the "underground" sense.
Smith combines the kind of classic storytelling perfected by the likes of the legendary Carl Barks and Bill Watterson - gleefully funny cartooning with outrageously expressive faces and gestures - with the epic and engaging plotting of a sweeping fairy tale. "Bone" walks a tightrope and walks it well, managing to be something fans of both Donald Duck and Bilbo Baggins can enjoy.
Timeless is every way, "Bone" is an expansive story about three "bone creatures" (you'd have to see them to understand) that find themselves in a valley peopled with an assortment of crazy and interesting characters. Looming over it all is the menace of a great evil, first glimpsed by the ferocious (and funny) rat creatures, but later revealed to be something much more disturbing.
Thank goodness for trade paperbacks, which have allowed new readers unaccustomed to weekly stops at the comic store to follow this marvelous, epic, enchanting series.
In this second volume (out of nine total), Smith ramps up the humor - the idea of an old lady racing a bunch of cows is hilarious - while slowly, deliberately dropping hints that all is not as it seems with some of the village folk, specifically grandma. "The Great Cow Race" continues to sparkle with humor and retains the light tone of the first volume, "Out From Boneville," while Smith offers us just enough looks at the larger tale to keep us going. A fine effort on his part.
"Bone" is essential reading that no lover of the comic artform should skip. Little doubt people will still be reading "Bone" 50 years from now. Broad in scope yet personal and quaint, this is a charming story in every way that will long outlast 90 percent of other comic works on the shelf.