I’ve been waiting for 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank for a long time. Not specifically, mind you; I’d never even heard of it before the name grabbed my attention from the Comic Bastards review pool. Of course I was 0.0% surprised it was a Black Mask joint, with a title like that. No, what I mean is, this formula -- a slanted view of childlike wonder; a modern Abbot & Costello take on comic book humor -- has been attempted a lot recently, to varying degrees of “success.” But there’s always been something missing; be it too earnest a try at humor, or too loaded a creative team’s agenda.
But where others fail, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank absolutely nails it, not just by tapping into the fun suggested in its beginning-of-a-joke title, but by committing itself to genuine storytelling with an incredibly charming cast of characters, a perpetual stream of infinitely consumable, effortless dialogue, and whimsy. Actual fucking whimsy. They just don’t make them like this anymore. I mean... until now, obviously.
4 Kids follows a ragtag group of young social misfits as they play rousing games of D&D, duck playground bullies, chat over CB radio and have close encounters with jail-hardened home invaders, one of whom is a fucking nazi. Y’know, normal kid stuff. Wounded during, yet intrigued by the incident (as well as the origins and intentions of their would-be captors), the kids embark on a nigh-bumbling stakeout, which leads them to a connection with the crooks that hits a little too close to home.
What sets this book and its misadventure apart is how beautifully its visual and narrative directions converge into one of the single most endearing, hilarious and well-told stories of 2016. As he’s been able to do so well in previous ventures, Rosenberg does a tremendous job in crafting every seam of this (often visually literal) quilt of a story with obvious but nonchalant care, proving once again that he is a master of characterization.
Whether it’s in his scrappy lead (Paige), his kindly-oaf sidekick (Stretch), his heart-of-gold shrunken violet (Walter) or his foul-mouthed, attention-seeking/deficient show-stealer (Berger), Rosenberg gives each a distinct (and distinctly hilarious) voice, each of which bristles against each other with ironically frictionless ease.
In a word, he gives his cast chemistry, one that is measured in distinctly adult wit, but tempered in what feels like the true parlance of kids. In a way, this book sort of feels like Disney’s Recess meets Stand By Me, which is admittedly a weird comparison to make, let alone a hugely difficult landing to stick. But Rosenberg does it well, all while weaving his comedy of errors with aplomb.
Perhaps most impressively, he manages to do this in a way unlike many of his contemporaries, which is to say, without leaning on the crutch of incessant modern slang. He also injects a lot of heart into his characters and story, be it ostensibly, in their interactions, or in the bits of future story he hints at, to no doubt be expanded upon down the road. It’s honestly deft stuff, the like of which I haven’t seen presented as well, as iconically or as timelessly, in any medium, since stories like The Sandlot, or better, The Goonies. If that doesn’t sell you on this romp, nothing will!
Killing it just as catchily on the visual side is Tyler Boss, whose art gives credence to the authority of his surname. Boss’ line work is not dissimilar to the modern trend made popular by David Aja: thick yet fluid, elegant but uncomplicated. Like Rosenberg’s dialogue, it is easy to consume; which is good, because it also comes so damn furiously. Again like Aja, Boss doesn’t shy from dancing about his layouts with an overflowing cornucopia of panels (there are two separate 24-panel pages), character-defining visual inserts and gags, and cleverly complicated jigsaw puzzle-cut pages.
Even in this first issue alone, and while forging the through-line of a great aesthetic direction, Boss shows off an incredible range of styles in issue one of 4 Kids, as well as a parade of great gags. Faux trigger-warning reminders, a series of snapshots that lead brilliantly to a visual punchline (literally), a kid puking up Fanta... Boss can do it all, and I am absolutely amazed that he can fit so much in without making the whole feel like a bloated, overwrought mess.
Speaking of that particular mitigation, letterer Thomas Mauer deserves an award, a hug and probably a stiff drink (not in that order) after braving Boss and Rosenberg’s pages; a goddamn daunting task, given all that’s happening on each page. And yet, just like his co-creators, Mauer does a phenomenal job of making it look easy, weighing Rosenberg’s Bendis-esque verbosity well within Boss’ frenetic and often choppy visual mosaic. He’s also able to ramp up the book’s inherent humor with some well-placed lettering gags, presumably of his own.
Altogether, while 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank leads to a place that’s fairly transparent by the middle of the first issue, it remains a humongous achievement for this team and Black Mask in general. This sits right at the top of my recommendations for anyone looking how to do fun comics really, really, really well.
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4 Kids Walk Into A Bank #1 Writer: Matthew Rosenberg Artist: Tyler Boss Letterer: Thomas Mauer Publisher: Black Mask Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/19/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital