by Stephen Hardman
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is officially my new favourite comic book. Published by Black Mask Studios, the title alone immediately made me want to know what is going on inside the pages. As soon as I got my hands on a copy I devoured the contents of this stunning piece of work. What I found inside was a fantastic story, featuring endearing characters, crackling dialogue, and wonderful art.
The variant covers for this new title homage various films with a theme of crime. The use of films for the variant covers is not accidental. The comic has cinematic qualities and could very easily grace the big screen. Filmic reference points I picked up on are Stand By Me and The Goonies. It also has loud echoes of Erich Kastner’s 1929 novel Emil and the Detectives.
The story follows four friends – Paige, Berger, Stretch, and Walter – introduced while they are absorbed in a role-playing game. The way this is portrayed on the page by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss perfectly evokes the total immersion that children have in games and fantasy scenarios. Paige appears to be the de-facto leader of this rag-tag group and the story revolves around her in this first chapter. On their way out for ice-cream they are confronted on Paige’s doorstep by what can only be described as four hoodlums. If it wasn’t clear that they’re the villains of the piece this is confirmed when their leader announces “We’re the bad guys, dear.”
After the bad guys are seen off by Paige’s father they turn up at the kids’ school and offer them a ride home. After being dropped off Paige gets into trouble with her dad for getting into the car with the hoodlums, but this doesn’t stop her from deciding to find out more about them. They stake out a likely location and it is here that Paige makes an unwelcome discovery.
This comic has all the elements that make a great story and it’s shot through with wicked humour. The shock reveal at the end may not be totally unexpected but it is expertly built up and it really got me hooked for the next instalment.
Matthew Rosenberg has previously shown his writing qualities in last year’s critically acclaimed We Can Never Go Home. Here he shows the same talent for characterisation, plotting and dialogue, drawing the reader in and making you want to know more about each of these kids and their fates. The hard thing for a writer, in particular when writing for comics, is to make the reader care about the characters they are being introduced to for the first time. For writers of comic books they have to make sure they do this in the 28 or so pages of the first issue. Rosenberg expertly makes the reader care about the four protagonists of this comic by giving just enough detail about each of them, and then putting them into a potentially dangerous situation.
The art in 4 Kids is brilliant, and a perfect fit for the story. The distinctive features and expressions of each of the characters further enhances the cinematic element of the comic and gives the reader a connection and investment in the story. There are so many visual gags which enhance the overall reading experience, my particular favourite being the six-panel page showing the kids crammed into the bad guys’ car, bodies and heads twisted and squeezed into the small space.
It’s great to see a strong female character at the centre of the comic; Paige is brave, smart, and has a knack for withering insults and filthy language. With well-developed characters, smart plotting, and great dialogue, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is a humorous crime caper. It is well worth seeking out and continues Black Mask Studios’ reputation as the most innovative comic book company of the day.
Stephen Hardman is a trainee Legal Executive Lawyer who currently resides in Bath, in the UK with his wife and their cat. Among other things he writes in his spare time. He is currently working on a novel which he hopes to finish soon, and he has written a few short stories as well, though has not had anything published. Yet. Stephen loves reading and is a huge crime fiction fan; George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen being particular favourites. He is an editor and contributor at the geek culture website Geeks Unleashed.
His obsession with comic books knows no bounds and he loves sharing news and reviews of all the great comic books and graphic novels being published right now. He also loves listening to music and seeing bands live, and is always seeking out new bands and musicians to obsess about.
You can catch him on Twitter @HardDaysWrite.