After the success of the debut issue, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank #2 builds on that premiere’s triumphs while deepening the characters and taking the plot into more tense and exciting areas. Artist Tyler Boss and writer Matthew Rosenberg have created a series that fits in with the works of Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake while also expertly capturing the difficult chemistry between friends that makes good coming-of-age stories resonate so well.
The series revolves around a group of four pre-teen outsiders that will be familiar to many. Each of them are nerds or unloved by their peers, and it’s this outcast status that binds them, even if, from a personality point of view, they seem to have little in common. Paige is the leader of the group, and last issue saw all of them encounter real danger when former criminal associates from her Dad’s heretofore unknown shady past begin showing up. This issue sees Paige dealing with the fallout from that revelation, and mainly focuses on her attempts to come to grips with her Dad’s past and discover whether or not her beloved father is in fact a dangerous criminal.
What makes this issue, and the series as a whole so far, work so well is the curious but expertly combined mixture of comedy and crime. There of course have been stories where kids get involved in criminal high jinks before. But those stories tend to make the criminal element cartoony in order to soften the jeopardy the kids find themselves in. Think “Home Alone” or “Adventures in Babysitting.” But the criminals in this story are real. They are scary, and they are definitely not a group these kids should be messing with. The crime element is treated as honestly and realistically as any grownup crime story, which makes the danger these kids are in all the more palpable.
And yet, this is a really, really funny book. Rosenberg and Boss use the group dynamic of Paige and her friends to create an issue with a ton of hilarious moments. They capture the aimlessness and boredom of being too young to really go anywhere but old enough to get into trouble. They nail the way, when you’re a kid, there’s always at least one friend in your group that no one can quite figure out why any of you are friends with, the kid who screws everything up, makes every bad situation worse, who always takes a joke too far or not far enough. Each of these kids feels like a kid I knew growing up, united by our nerdiness, bonded by being on the outside looking in. I’m sure every kid felt their best friends at the age of thirteen were like that.
The story moves along and develops in leaps and bounds here, ratcheting up the stakes and danger to the point that, by issue’s end, the plot is in a completely different place than it was when the book started. In this age of decompressed storytelling, that skill at shaping your narrative and keeping it moving is always appreciated, and Rosenberg deserves kudos for effectively building a second instalment that does it job in complicating the plot.
On the art side, Tyler Boss lives up to his last name. Every funny moment is nailed and accentuated by the art, whether it’s a flying pizza tray smacking into a guy’s face (complete with hilarious “S’Barro!” sound effect), or the tilt of Paige’s head when Berger says something particularly idiotic, to the great prologue showing the kids playing a video game. There’s an incredible centre-piece to the issue where he brilliantly and with innovative layouts depicts Paige’s computer search for info on the gang that is definitely the stand-out of the issue. But Boss isn’t just flashy layouts and gags. For instance, he handles pre-teen body language really well, particularly in Paige’s sullen slouch or the other boys’ awkward gangliness. All of the characters are expressive and emotive, and you really feel what they’re thinking. Similarly, Boss renders the adults as harder to read, which is appropriate given Paige’s uncertainty.
4 Kids Walk into a Bank #2 proves the success of issue one was no fluke, and its mixture of incisive and hilarious coming-of-age heart with exciting crime story will make anyone a fan. If you’ve got a person in your life that you want to introduce to non-super-hero stuff, you can’t do better than this. It’s fun stuff that deserves a strong 9/10.