Fangbone!: Third Grade Barbarian and Fangbone! 2: The Egg of Misery


By Michael Rex (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin)
ISBNs: 978-0-2-399-25521-2 and 978-0-2-399-25522-9

When I was a kid (mere weeks ago according to those who know me best) comics were cheap, plentiful and published in cognitive strands: Pre-school stuff read to you, kindergarten magazines read with someone, “Juvenile” stories for boys and girls together and “Post-juvenile” material you bought for yourself, generally divided by both genre and gender.

Irrespective of quality, quantity or historical significance, this wealth and riot of affordable private entertainment taught kids of all ages how to absorb and enjoy illustrated narratives, but in latter times the sheer cost of these items have all but killed the market and if younger kids read printed comics at all it’s most likely as graphic novels.

So it’s a good thing that there are so many good ones around.

Case in point: the new series of original cartoon yarns by best-selling children’s author Michael Rex whose latest wry and raucous concoction looks well set to keep the next generation of fans eager, adept and giggling…

In another universe on Skullbania, a world of gleaming swords and foul-smelling sorcery, little Fangbone of the Lizard Tribe is the lowest oik on his barbarian horde’s totem pole. The fierce, valiant but undervalued lad always gets the boring, disgusting jobs while the grown-ups get to do all the fighting and hero-ing.

The world is in constant peril: wicked forces are slowing reassembling the scattered body-parts of the vile villain Venomous Drool. Once the demon-king is complete the rise of eldritch evil will be complete and unwashed humanity doomed…

When a dying messenger arrives bearing the last body-part – the ghastly Big Toe of Drool – the elders and wise-men know a quest is necessary. However no true warrior will go; preferring to stay and battle the encroaching army of malignant Drool worshippers…

Seeing his chance to win glory and a little respect, Fangbone volunteers, carrying the dire digit to the Sorcerer of Ribcage Rock where the clearly disappointed Druid resignedly opens a passageway to another cosmos and, bidding the boy to protect the Toe at all costs from all who might seek it, sends the half-pint hero to a garbage dump in New Jersey…

Bred to adapt to every situation and overcome all odds, the culture-shocked and bewildered Fangbone soon makes an ally of happily hyperactive third-grader Bill, blending in by joining Ms. Gillian’s remedial class at Eastwood Elementary School. The unkempt, unruly visitor quickly becomes the most popular kid in the “Losers” group, even though he is surly, ignorant, won’t wash and won’t play school games or sports even to save his classmates from humiliation and bullying…

Fangbone has more pressing needs: the necromantic Drool worshippers are unshakeable and constantly send a plethora of magic menaces to retrieve the toe, and moreover the barbarian boy is determined to recruit an army and return to save Skullbania.

But as he slowly acclimatises Fangbone begins to realise that friends make the best allies and with his odd comrades in class 3-G beside him no menace is unbeatable…

Fangbone: the Egg of Misery finds the strangest kid in New Jersey adapting and fitting in – more or less – when his clan send him a new and potentially powerful ally: a White Titan Razor Dragon. Unfortunately it’s in the form of an egg and the dutiful lad must play hookey to constantly sit on it until it hatches.

When Bill suggests that 3-G can share the nesting duties, Fangbone returns to school and immediately joins the class’ latest assignment: building a Dodo and performing a skit about it for the school’s Extinction Pageant. Bill knows it’s going to be a disaster and is convinced everyone will laugh at the “Losers” again, and because he’s so passionate about it all Ms. Gillian makes him project leader…

When Bill and his mum show Fangbone how to shop, another Drool-demon attacks and in the aftermath Bill discovers that his barbarian chum has a secret weapon: feet which have never been washed…

As the egg grows and pageant day approaches, Bill and Fangbone research how to care for and train dragons, but all is not well. The demonic incursions continue apace and when at last the shell cracks it becomes perilously clear that the Egg didn’t come from the Lizard Tribe but is another dastardly Drool device…

Luckily the stalwart comrades of class 3-G are all as valiant as Fangbone and Bill…

These slickly savvy, lampooning tales are fast-paced, funny, action-packed, immensely imaginative and grossly engrossing in the way kids have always adored: there’s hitting, chasing, fighting, bullies beaten and friendships forged, and adults learn that us kids can take care of ourselves. Moreover, the jokes are innocently naughty, the scenarios seldom stray from the ickily silly and the moral messages are all subtle enough that they don’t get in the way.

Wry, sly, irreverent and, crucially, spoofing contemporary sources and situations just as in the glory days of Beano, Dandy, Buster, Whizzer & Chips and all the fabled rest, these anarchically enthralling cartoon chronicles will certainly turn any kid onto comics and are sure to delight fantasy readers of any age …
© 2012 Michael Rex. All rights reserved.