September 21, 2018

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A Unique, Tragic Caper Story: 4 Kids Walk into a Bank

Art/Design by Tyler Boss
Flatting by Clare Dezutti
Lettering  by Thomas Mauer
Wallpaper Deisgn by Courtney Menard
Writing by Matthew Rosenberg
Published by Black Mask

Paige is a very mature eleven year old--or at least she thinks she is. Palling around with a lanky boy named Stretch, a quiet scientist-in-training called Walter, and the dumb-but-eager Berger, her life is pretty normal for being part of the school outcasts. When Paige learns that her father has links to criminals, however, everything changes as she plots a way to keep him out of trouble--by getting in over her own head in this series that blends really innovative visuals, borrows stat boxes from manga, and builds up to a tragedy instead of rolling its comedy into a forced happy ending.


Our contributing editor James Kaplan really liked this series (reviews here, here, and here), and while I was also a fan, I fell off when the series took an unfortunate hiatus. When I saw the trade on the library shelf, I remembered that I needed to re-read the first parts and finish the series, so I grabbed it and wasn't a bit disappointed.

From the opening pages where Paige and her friends are playing a D&D-style game, it's clear that this comic is going to be quirky, which to me is always a good thing. Based on their role playing characters, we get a feel for who these kids are, without long, drawn out explanations. I like the fact that this reoccurs in different ways--from a video game to a remote-control car chase to the toys-as-models for crime. Each one sets up the chapter in a humorous way, but also shows us how these four will interact with each other. It also sets up the many ways in which Tyler Boss will play with panel structure, whether it's putting together 24-panel grids to handle a talking scene that reminded me of when Bendis and Oeming would do this in Powers or turning a two-page spread into a series of computer screen as a montage. 


A lot of what makes this comic work is that the art is always keeping the reader just a bit off-balance. The wallpapers are weird--and credited! The many, many tight panels that hyper-focus on a detail. The ways in which there are subtle hints that things are going to end well, at least to my eyes, such as the constant return to the theme of horizontal and stripes that pen Paige in over and over. Even when she's behind a brick background, there's a sense that something is closing in on her. I got to the point where I felt like just vinyl siding could be menacing. It's rare for backgounds to stand out for me like this and it's a read credit to Boss's work (and Dezutti's flatting) that I paid attention so closely.

There's also the little touches. Walter's gigantic Science Eyes and constant puking. Berger's x-for-eyes after slamming into a door. The ways in which characters shrug or point, giving them life. The way in which a conversation on a trampoline is portrayed.

And that's not including all the visual gags that include sound effects, like my personal favorite:

Holy Shades of Steve Liber, Batman!
I could go on and on about Boss' art in these issues. It's just so good at portraying these characters, their world, and the fact that it's building up to something big. Rosenberg's plotting requires the art to work a certain way. The violence has to start increasing, the looks of desperation must keep pace with Paige's desire to solve a problem that's too big for her, and when the situation hits the boiling point, (which in a great structuring, happens multiple times then eases off the tension, to really ramp up for the finale), Boss delivers. Even the softer coda, which shows the full consequences of Paige's actions, has strength in every panel. A lot of what makes 4 Kids Walk into a Bank such a great comic is Boss.


That's not to say that I didn't really enjoy Rosenberg's scripting and plot. Both are excellent. Paige's dialogue is what a precocious eleven year old should sound like. (I've taught them.) Each character is distinctive in their voices. They mesh together amazingly well, and even the heavies of the piece are more than one-note villains. I also love how Paige digs herself ever-deeper, and the consequences of those actions, despite growing worse, don't stop her. She will be the agent of her own downfall, no matter who tries to stop her. It's really great work. This is a classic five act structure on the printed page, with quite a few quips. That's not easy to do. Too often, I've been let down by the end of a mini-series. Not here. Rosenberg delivers on the setups from page one to the final bell.

4 Kids Walk into a Bank is a comic I'd have easily added to my favorites list had I read this last year. If you're enjoying Rosenberg's other work in Marvel-land right now, don't sleep on this one. It's every bit as good, with more freedom to let loose and an artist who can match his ideas step for step. Walk into your shop today and see if they have a copy!