4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (Black Mask Studios)

We’re a bit late to the party when it comes to Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss’ pre-teen crime drama 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank from Black Mask Studios, as we only discovered it via a number of end of year lists. However if we’d reviewed in time, then it definitely would have made our top ten, but why is 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank so good?

Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Price: £10.49 from ComiXology

Paige, Berger, Walter and Stretch are four normal kids who enjoy playing arcade games, dungeons and dragons and eating pizza. But when four sleazy strangers come to visit Paige’s dad they are dragged into a murky criminal underworld, that ultimately lead to them robbing a bank – it’s not a spoiler, it’s in the title!

Rosenberg’s story is a perfectly told slice of classic crime, both in terms of it’s sublime high concept central premise but also it’s pin sharp characterisation. It has the vibe of a classic 80s teen movie like the Goonies or more recently Super 8, but with the added dimension of a gritty crime drama thrown in for good measure. This darker element means it’s not just got the wholesome teen drama tropes of a Spielberg movie, instead there is genuine threat and peril here and it has a darkness and edge to it which you don’t always expect in a story like this.

Although it has that edge to it’s not all doom and gloom as the four friends are so perfectly written and their characters balanced out, that it means you are quiet happy reading page after page of them bickering without ever not being entertained. This is definitely one of those books where it is the characters who drive the story every bit as much as the action and it is so much better for it. Whether it is Paige’s attempts to rescue her dad from his criminal past (such as her field trip to the bank in disguise); or Berger’s general obnoxiousness (especially when on a stake out); Walter’s timidness (complete with whispered speech which means he is ignored or discounted by everyone); or Stretch’s sense of pragmatism that holds the group together, all four are superbly realised. As well as making their antics very readable, it also makes you completely believe what happens to them, which is key for some of the more outlandish and unlikely moments – Setting someone’s house on fire, or the entire final act for example.

It is also a beautiful thing to look at with Boss’ art style evoking the great David Aja run on Hawkeye with its super stylised and very designed look. It also reminded us of the brilliant David Mazuchelli’s works on Batman Year One – so a couple of very high bars to match. If you were harsh you would say it is horribly derivative as it is an almost carbon copy of Aja’s unique style. But if, like us, you are a huge fan of Aja’s work, then Boss manages to do that rare thing, where homage becomes so accomplished that it equals the source material. Certainly his use of densely panelled pages (for example when they are talking via CB – see left) or intricately conceived pieces of graphic design (such as when Paige hacks her uncles computer in the police station – see right) makes it into something very special and the muted colours and slick chapter pages also helps to give the book a throwback 80s vibe that perfectly matches the tone of the book. (We also loved how each chapter begins with the kids in some form of video game or D&D adventure).

Trying to outdo the incredibly strong quotes on the back of this book is not easy, but for us 4 Kids Walk into a Bank is like Stranger Things meets Fraction & Aja’s Hawkeye and is one of the most accomplished, clever and inventive books we have read in ages. And what more it’s hilarious, outlandish and really really entertaining. It feels like one of those books that will be made into a movie sooner rather than later as it has a very cinematic tone – both in terms of its subject, but also in terms of its attitude and its characters. So be sure to pick this book up now and be ahead of the rest of the world as when this hits bigs you will want to say you were there first, because this is a future classic!