4 Kids Walk into a Bank trade paperback
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Flats: Clare Dezutti
Letters: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $14.99 US
Goddamnit. The title for this book caught my eye when it was originally being released as a five-issue comic-book series, and I thought about checking it out. But there are always so many such comics that pique my interest, there’s no way for me to purchase and read them all. On the bright side, there’s such a thing as delayed gratification.
4 Kids Walk into a Bank is really unlike most comics or graphic novels with which many are familiar. It’s billed on the back as a “crime/humor” book, and I can see how some might describe it as such. Personally, finding even an amalgam of genres in which to slot this book is next to impossible. While it’s incredibly funny, I don’t really see 4 Kids as a comedy or humor book. One could try to label it a crime/coming-of-age story, but in some ways, its main protagonist, an 11-year-old girl, is the most realistic and mature player in the drama. I can describe accurately in this manner: it’s superb and should be on any mature comics reader’s must-read list for 2017.
Paige, Walker, Stretch and Berger are friends (well, not so Berger, who’s more of a hanger-on) brought together by their shared experiences of being bullied, and they enjoy playing games after school. But their world goes sideways when a quartet of criminals turn up to drop in on Paige’s dad. These guys are bad news, bank robbers, and they want something from Paige’s dad. Determined to protect her family, Paige recruits her friends to repel and investigate the intruders into their lives, and it’s going to lead them all down a crazy, adventurous and dangerous path.
My initial impression of Tyler Boss’s art for the first few pages was that it was serviceable but a little crude, perhaps showing the signs of an amateur artist still honing his craft. That impression was fleeting, fortunately. He conveys the awkward ages of the main characters quite well, and there’s a strong sense of the everyday world in which these kids exist. The backgrounds are rather comprehensive. At times, he focuses on realism to tell the story, and at others, he sneaks some exaggerated cartooning in there. His overall style reminds me of the work of Farel (Pop Gun War) Dalrymple art. Frequently, the synergy between the art and script seemed to reflect the unique vibe that artist David Aja and writer Matt Fraction achieved in their much-ballyhooed Hawkeye series from Marvel in recent years. I did find Boss depicts Paige’s dad, who’s identified as being 32 years old, as far older than that, more middle-aged than early 30s.
The trade paperback collects the five-issue limited series in which the story was originally delivered to audiences. After reading this collection, it strikes me that the story might be stretched out just a little too long. I think writer Matthew Rosenberg could have achieved just as strong a story with four episodes, thereby achieving the parallel of “4 kids” and four issues. It’s a minor quibble, though.
At times, the story seems like an absurdist tale (reinforced by each chapter’s opening on game characters and toys that represent the kids), and at others, it seems deadly serious. Rosenberg has managed an impressive juggling act, occasionally offering physical comedy then a touching moment of childhood drama, shifting then to a mystery and then a hard-bitten crime drama. From page to page, I didn’t know what to expect, and I absolutely loved how the book refuses to be pigeonholed.
As ridiculous as the notion from which the book derives its title is, Rosenberg actually makes it seem plausible, even while treating it as silly. Of course, the juxtaposition of the childish dream of the kids’ mission with the harsh, dire reality of it makes for a gut-wrenching wakeup call, both for the protagonists and the audience.
It was only after I finished the book that I glanced again at the single panels in the opening panels, and I realized they offered snapshots of Paige’s life from a happier time. Her deceased mother is mentioned little throughout the story, but she’s a powerful presence all the same. Paige acts as more of a parent to her father than he is to her. Her anger flows in no small part from the broken nature of her family. She’s a tremendously fierce, funny and flawed figure, and when we encounter her briefly at the end of the book as an adult, I absolutely wanted to see what happens next.
Another little touch that pops up throughout the book is the unspoken gender issue Walter is experiencing. At every opportunity, he takes on female personae when he can, be it for his game characters or even how he dresses in disguise. What’s great about it is that Rosenberg doesn’t even make that a defining aspect of his character; he’s a shy science nerd above all else.
I opened with writing about how difficult it is to describe this book, but I really want people to discover the strength of the craft of this mature-readers book about kids. If I had to be pinned down to a concise high-concept pitch, I’d have to say it’s like Stand By Me had it been written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. I don’t know if that counts as high praise, but high praise is what I want to convey. 9/10