By Tyler Boss, Clare DeZutti, Thomas Mauer, Courtney Menard, and Matthew Rosenberg
In the end, it never really was about getting to the bank. Okay, sure, it was a little bit; titles can really lock you into things sometimes. But the emotional core of 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank has always been the reasons behind their drive to get there. This humor/crime mashup has delicately walked the tightrope between trying to balance the childlike sense of wanting to take on the world and the crushing reality of the harshness of adulthood. In other words, it’s about growing up; and in even more words, it’s really about how fucking scary that is. The opening of issue #5 is an en media res Willy Wonka meets Heat bonanza that touchingly hits these themes home in the form of one girl’s fear of losing everything, including the mother she’s already lost. What follows is a surprisingly (for better and occasionally for worse) paced story of trying to hold on by any means necessary.
It’s hard to discuss this series without mentioning the repeated delays between issues, but to his credit, writer Matthew Rosenberg has taken full responsibility for these and been incredibly transparent and honest in the reasons behind them. One cannot begrudge him that, absolutely. Have they disrupted the flow of the narrative for those reading in single issues? Depending on your want to go back and re-read prior issues with the arrival of each new installment, it certainly has had an effect on some. The good news is that all those prior issues are amazing, and highlight the beautiful balance of humor and heart that has defined this series.
Yet, the tempo of issue #5 feels slightly off-kilter with what’s come before, with a full bore thrust towards capitalizing on the titular bank robbery that demonstrates surprising adeptness from these wayward adolescents. While the pacing has often felt very patient up until this point, allowing lots of room for thoughtful, and often very heartfelt, character development through humor and pain alike, this issue commits the majority of its effort to acceleration and has the bookends do the heavy emotional heavy. There’s little room for milking any scene, be it the humor or heart aspect, and the stress on demonstrating how quickly shit hits the fan is jarring. While it obviously goes astray, it turns out these kids are…actually really fucking good at robbing banks? It’s still laden with gags and dripping with snark, but leans a little too far into Paige’s proclamation that “bank robbery is, like, pretty serious.” It more than makes up for this steer towards action in lieu of the poignant because the bookends are basically brilliant.
Rosenberg deftly underlines the underlying idea of what it means to grow up by having these kids literally walk into that bank as kids, but essentially walk out as something else; something there’s no turning back from: adulthood. The ending scene, literally the pages following the bank robbery, demonstrate this visually directly, which is fucking great. There’s consequences to their actions, a lesson most of us have to learn the hard way as part of moving from the freedom of being only a child to being not a kid anymore. More than anything, the writing feels personal in how it instills the characters’ (specifically Paige) motivations to simply keep things the way they are. She’s already lost her mother, an act completely beyond her control and completely devastating, and now she’s fighting against losing her friends, father, and her whole damn life as she knows it. What really hits the hardest here is when Paige responds to her uncle, brother to her dead mother, that he “never could” protect her, not against the things she most needed it from. Damn, Rosenberg, going right for the gut.
Rosenberg beautifully utilizes childlike logic to an adult problem: do the most drastic over-the-top thing to stop the unstoppable flow of time and the loss that comes with it. It’s a clever spin on that Batman line of thinking that in order to prevent more loss at the hands of crime he will literally just fight all crime, except here, Paige and the gang decide that a felony is the best means to a desirable end. Of course it doesn’t work, though it’s shocking how close they come. Just when they’re on the precipice of giving in, one very last spurt of that enviable childlike faith moves them on in the literal form of Batman keeps them going a little longer. Though the pacing feels a little ragged on the whole, it’s hard to beat the way Rosenberg is effectively executing the metaphor here.
Speaking of comic book superheroes, there’s a litany of comic book references all over this issue, to the point that it gets disruptive to those well versed in the medium’s history. Prior issues haven’t included such industry winks, so the sheer amount found here is an odd choice other than perhaps to highlight the theme of childhood touchstones. There’s a visual reference to Watchmen found on the opening 9-panel grid of page 7 that also includes four G.I Joe character names, X-Men and The Thing related street names, and about eight or so creator namedrops. Look, let’s be real, these are straight up super-nerd nitpicks. As fun as it is to catch them, the volume and frequency can be an unwelcomed interruption to the natural flow of a story already unfolding faster than perhaps expected.
Tyler Boss crushes it with issue #5. Beyond the adroit utilization of panel transitions to heighten tension and deliver knockout punchlines, his art this issue is downright dynamic at times. At times, it downright sings. A soaring Berger, a soaring getaway van, an exploding truck, colored silhouette mini-plays; it’s everything we’ve come to expect taken to masterful extremes. There’s a lot of playfulness here, but it all feels meticulously tight and always comes back to those moment-to-moment panel transitions that manipulate time in perfect harmony to the dialogue (shout out to Mauer’s excellent balloon spacing in this category as well) that make for such a rewarding experience. One page features five stacked wide-panels featuring the kids in sheets simply moving across a room and the manner in which only minor elements change or don’t change between them is a great example of how attuned Boss is to delivering comic beats in perfect service to the story. The most affecting page, however, is an 8-panel grid page that contrasts the fading imagination with their colorful real-world events, mirroring each’s perspective on how things unfold, that hammers home the coming of age theme. The poignancy of that page alone is testament to Boss’ prowess and commitment to the storytelling craft he’s demonstrated since page 1 of issue #1.
Visually, this issue is a swan song for the entire creative team. DeZutti’s color flats aid Boss in developing the richest color palette of the series to date, including the melodic tangerine opening, the overlaid checkered primaries of the montage scene, and the pitch perfect Endless Summer glow of the car chase’s end. Thomas Mauer’s sense of rhythm and space, with subtle tail fluctuations and word stresses, continues to lead through each panel and page with comforting synchronicity. And of course, Courtney Menard’s always tonally sharp wallpaper designs wrap each issue and the series together in continuity.
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank has been devilishly cool and stylistically distinct since its debut. Underneath the flair, folly, and finesse has been an endearing reminder of what it feels like to grow up, replete with four characters that feel effortlessly real as avatars of your own childhood experience. While this final issue feels a tad discordant with the preceding issues in its rapid pacing and Easter egg littering, it remains a well-structured and affecting look at trying to hold on to the ungraspable. Taken as a whole, and when read as a whole, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is one of the most inventive and sincere series to come out in years. It works because there’s an earnestness, a personal investment, evident in its core that transports you to a timeless place and speaks on loss and the fear of more loss. Growing up sucks, but you can get by with a little help from your friends.