It's easy to miss, but Phoney is the one who takes charge and saves the Red Dragon by cutting his ropes in volume 4!
The Awesome is lessened a bit when you realize that the Red Dragon was holding the Idiot Ball when he got himself into that situation. What was there to gain from jumping into a trap when there's an army coming to raid the Valley?
Screwing with Phoney?
That's probably as good an answer as any. The Red Dragon has some Trickster Mentor traits ("Actually, I just want her to think you're nuts," anyone?), so it's not entirely out of his character to get himself into a situation just to teach Phoney a lesson.
It's better than that.If the townspeople hadn't gone out to 'slay the dragon' they would have all been killed in the Rat Creature attack on the village. By allowing himself to be captured, he saved dozens/hundreds of lives.
The little girl Taneal accidentally provoked a soldier by building a prayer stone in his field of view. The soldier destroyed the stone and knocked her to the side. Thorn overheard this and swooped down.
Soldier: Get away, rat! I warned you— Hey! Thorn: (grabs his wrist) That was too rough for a child. Soldier: You— You're her! The dragon princess! When Tarsil finds you, you're DEAD, girl! Thorn: You don't scare me.
...and then she THROWS the guy. He's a big, burly warrior type, whilst Thorn's a girl of normal build. She lifts him so fast — with ONE ARM — his body's horizontal in the air. This troper's sure there's some Hulk DNA in her bloodline; how else could she rip iron bars out of their sockets to break Fone Bone and herself out of prison?
Keep in mind whose granddaughter she is. That Hulk DNA was passed down from her.
That's indeed pretty awesome, but to me, Thorn's crowning moment came much earlier. At the end of the Dragonslayer arc, she appears on the mountain where the entire village has gathered after falling for Phoney's latest scam and in a Big Damn Heroes moment, she saves Phoney from the increasingly angry mob, rescues the dragon, and reveals to the townspeople that the Rat Creature army is destroying their town while they're out being idiots. She becomes consistently awesome later, but that's the point where she embraces her heroic destiny and turns her from the lovable farmgirl into the badass heroine she is at the story's end.
A crowning moment for Lucius would be when he berates the Barralhaven's regulars for falling for Phoney's Mystery Cow scam;
Jonathon Oaks: They tried to make fools outta us!
Lucius: You made fools outta yerselves! You let this fast-talkin' squirt trick ya into bettin' on a cow that didn't even exist!Isn't that what happened, Phoney?
Phoney: Yeah, yeah. That's it. We don't need to dwell on it.
Lucius:(Grabbing Smiley) You let yerselves be talked into bettin' yer life's savings on this idiot dressed in a cow suit!
Smiley: Is it me, or is it getting stuffy in here?
Lucius: But I warned ya! I told ya you were bein' played for a buncha saps, but ya didn't listen to me, did ja? Huh? Did Ja? That's right! An when Gran'ma Ben won that race, I was th' only one who bet on her! Me an' Gran'ma coulda split that pot, but nooooo... We felt sorry for ya! All bets were off an' we let ya have yer livestock back! All told, I'd say you girls got off pretty easy!
And, when that fails...
"BACK OFF OR I START SWINGIN'!!!!!"
Wendell later has an awesome moment when he realizes that he and the other villagers are as much to blame for the current situation as Phoney is, and actually gets into a fistfight with Euclid to defend Phoney, whom Euclid is scapegoating. The given reason: "While Thorn is gone, I'M ENFORCING HER ORDERS!"
Smiley Bone: Phonicible P. Bone, you are going to support your cousin no matter what decision he makes because you love him.
You have to admit that when Phoney flees from the Hooded One and leaves Gran'ma Ben alone, you can't help feel contempt. Then, he comes back with reinforcements and is fully prepared to join the battle himself. For a guy who always looks out for himself and sometimes his cousins, you have to admit that was a very redeeming moment.
Also, Phoney does scam people a lot, but his leadership skills lead to many come-from-behind victories. The only time he does this in a situation that doesn't involve a scam is the aforementioned battle.
And he's the one who figures out where the Crown of Horns is. There's no treasure map, no message from the spirits, just pure logic. When Phoney insists to Fone at the end that despite him missing the battle, he's still a hero, you honestly can't help but agree. It couldn't have been done without him.
While I can't recall if we ever see it pay off or not, Smiley Bone's plan to feed the captured Rat Creatures well, then let them escape, to let the enemy think they have enough supplies to fight off an extended siege is not only brilliant, but its a tactic that's actually worked in real life!
It never came up again in the final battle, but it did help lead to the two stupid Rat Creatures managing to work out a peaceful coexistence with the humans in the end.