When a new comic series comes along touting itself as being “like Wes Anderson remaking RESERVOIR DOGS,” I’m bound to be intrigued — if for no other reason than the fact that I absolutely despise Wes Anderson every bit as much as I love Quentin Tarantino. As a result, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss’ new five-parter from Black Mask Studios, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, had my attention from the outset — but was going to be on a very short leash. If it proved to be a fun, foul-mouthed crime caper with a ’70s exploitation vibe, then I’d be in for the duration. But if it played out like a self-consciously “quirky” story loaded down with bright primary colors and a nauseating “rich people are nothing but harmless ‘big kids’ who never grew up and pal around with deadpan mute sidekicks from the Indian subcontinent,” well — chances are I’d be cutting the cord pronto.
As it turns out, this comic is actually neither (at least going by the evidence offered in the first issue), and should probably stay away from playing the comparison game because it stands on its own two feet just fine, thank you very much.
Our titular “4 Kids” are an immediately-identifiable cast of 12-year-old social outcasts nominally “lead” by the strong-willed and quick-witted Paige, whose house serves as “hangout central” for their D&D-style gaming — until a bunch of unknown ruffians show up and start hassling them for no apparent reason. Paige’s apparently-well-meaning single father scares the hoodlums off, but when they show up the next day at the kids’ school to egg them on again, our youthful protagonists decide a stakeout-style surveillance mission is in order to gather some intel on just who it is they’re up against, not to mention why. Their “recon” leads to more questions than answers, though, when they witness their antagonists meeting up with — well, that would be telling, but it makes for one heck of a cliffhanger.
Needless to say, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is a decidedly “indie” book with a look and feel about as far removed from “Big Two” superhero stuff as one can imagine, and around these parts that’s always appreciated. Boss’ superb artwork has a bit of a Chris Ware influence to it around the margins, but on the whole is singularly his own, while Rosenberg’s script deftly mixes agreeably crude humor, spot-on characterization, and wry, witty dialogue with just a dash of mystery in a manner that’s breathtakingly free of pretense or self-conscious homage. I certainly “get” why Black Mask is marketing this to the cinephile crowd (some of the variant covers even ape the look of famous movie posters, most notably the iconic ones for CHINATOWN and the aforementioned RESERVOIR DOGS), but again — it’s certainly in no way necessary, and one could even reasonably argue that, strictly speaking, it’s a bit misleading.
Seriously, though — that’s it as far as gripes go, and it’s both a small one and one that’s strictly on the shoulders of the publisher of this book rather than its creators. Black Mask more than make up for this one tiny strike against them, though, by giving us 32 pages of cover-to-cover art and story with no ads on really nice paper between heavy, high-quality cardstock covers for the more than reasonable price of $3.99. Marvel could clearly take a lesson on offering value for money from these guys.
In all fairness, I still have no idea, one issue in, what happens when 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank — but I absolutely can’t wait to find out.