Review by Karl Verhoven
You know those books you read as kid where other kids your age got mixed up in something dangerous that was way over their heads, yet solved the problem and came up smelling or roses? Well, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank starts off like those, except it’s four gangsters walking into a house where the dungeons and dragons game the four kids are playing has just disintegrated into chaos.
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank may be credited to Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss, but there’s a notable debt to the comedy collaborations of Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, or Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. It features the slick sitcom dialogue, too consistently clever to be spoken by real people, the slightly scratchy, distanced artwork and the discursive plot where seemingly random events occur, connected by the end rather than at the time. The cover’s derivative, the design owing more than a little to Jon Ronson’s paperbacks. However, every creative person borrows from somewhere, and Rosenberg and Boss’ use of the sitcom formula is clever, funny and entertaining, if sometimes forgetting that the plot concerns eleven and twelve year olds, even very smart eleven year olds. Berger is the over-compensating motormouth, Paige incredibly resourceful but the most likely to lose her temper, Walter a near genius but terminally shy, and Stretch characterised more by a goofy visual.
Boss has the distanced art style down, and introduces a novel visual device by starting each chapter with the kids in character for whatever game they’re playing. Rosenberg characterises the kids well, between them the pair have a good sense of comedy timing, the complications are good, and a great running joke is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, but it works out for the best. So why do four kids walk into the bank? Well, the plan is that they’re going to rob it, but there’s plenty of stages before then and they’re all a lot of fun. The ending drops the fun level right down, although it’s consistent with how the four kids have been portrayed.
The considered dialogue is memorable from a weary “Did one of you finally look up the definition of ‘gounded’?” to “Stab him. Stab him in the junk”. Among numerous luminaries highly recommending this on the back cover, Kieron Gillen nails the mood with “Imagine Tarantino does Goonies”.
In places 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank overstretches itself, becoming a little too contrived, and it’s certainly the most self-aware graphic novel you’ll have read in a while, but for the most part it’s every bit as good as everyone on the back cover tells you.