If you’ve read the previous four issues of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, then surely you’ve been waiting as eagerly as I have since mid-May for Rosenberg, Boss, Mauer and co. to bring this runaway freight train to its inevitable fiery collision. If that’s the case, then please take my advice: close this review, go grab a copy from your local comic book store or preferred digital distributor, and enjoy the stunning conclusion to this fantastic miniseries. You won’t be disappointed.
For anyone late to this particular party, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is what would happen if Quentin Tarantino directed a mashup of The Goonies and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a heist caper, with the twist that its perpetrators are all eleven year old nerds. The back cover classifies its genre as Crime/Humor, and this description simultaneously says a lot and very little about the forces propelling the narrative. Indeed, 4 Kids is at its most brilliant when it uses a sense of ironic levity to meld lighthearted whimsy with serious subject matter, employing clever, punchy dialogue and visual gags to bring laughs to otherwise dangerous situations. The book is so funny, in fact, that you tend to forget that the kids are getting in completely over their heads.
While his previous miniseries We Can Never Go Home was fantastic in its own right, Matthew Rosenberg has proven himself to be a master of comic book writing with 4 Kids. Like any good heist tale, it’s carried by the dynamic between its collaborators, and the titular four kids — Paige, Stretch, Walter, and Berger — work together beautifully. Each member occupies a distinct space in the menagerie, and their banter, which teeters on the divide between precocious and unrealistic, captures the same crass gallows humor as films like In Bruges does. And when I say they “bring laughs”, I mean it: 4 Kids achieves the rare feat of genuinely eliciting out-loud chuckles from me.
As masterfully as Rosenberg constructs the kids’ biting wit, so too does Tyler Boss render the people and places of 4 Kids. Reminiscent of David Aja’s work on his Hawkeye run with Matt Fraction, Boss’s bold, thick line work and sparse detailing give 4 Kids a distinct aesthetic that does much of the heavy lifting in terms of setting the book’s mood and tone. That’s not to say that Boss’s style is derivative; the flat, minimalist brilliance he brings to the page clearly stands out from other books on the shelf. Every aspect is deliberate and carefully considered; even the negative spaces in each panel are meaningful and weighty.
While the book never explicitly states its setting, 4 Kids is a pastiche of late 1970s/early 1980s colors, patterns, and references. From tabletop roleplaying to arcade cabinets, the world is brought to life in a palette of muted mauves, mustards, and burnt oranges that would be at home on a leisure suit or your grandma’s shag carpet. A special shout-out should also go to Courtney Menard, the “Wallpaper Designer” who’s concocted the various kitschy patterns featured throughout the series. These designs, employed most notably in issue #5 on the kids’ first try at crafting some heist disguises, add yet another layer of flair that makes 4 Kids a special experience and even more than the sum of its parts.
I don’t want to say too much about the story specifics of the final issue, as I’d hate to spoil anything and waste four issue’s worth of suspense-building. I will say that issue #5 is the funniest, most poignant, most tension-filled chapter of the series, and it’s a shocking yet completely appropriate end to the tale. From the now-characteristic opening that imagines the protagonists as heroes in a pop culture fantasy land to the gut punch of a climax, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #5 is more emotionally captivating than any comic that bills itself as a Comedy has any right to be. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how this final issue may re-frame some of the overarching themes of the series, but all I’ll say is that it compelled me to immediately re-read the entire series and re-contextualize many of its scenes in a different light.
Rosenberg, Boss, and Mauer have definitely got a masterpiece on their hands with 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, and issue #5 does much to lift it into that vaunted territory. If you’re all caught up on the miniseries, then run-don’t-walk to get issue #5. If you’ve yet to start, then the trade paperback should be out this fall — you owe it to yourself to experience this wild, hilarious, and heartfelt ride. 5/5
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by: Tyler Boss
Lettered by: Thomas Mauer