If you were expecting a tidy finale that tied everything up in a bow, thankfully this isn’t it.
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art/Design by Tyler Boss
Letters by Thomas Mauer
Over the first four issues, fans of “4 Kids Walk into a Bank” have come to know that Paige, Berger, Stretch and Walter – the four tweens referenced in the title – don’t exactly live in a cutesy, “Disneyfied,” everything-will-work-out-in-the-end kind of world. Instead, writer Matthew Rosenburg and the rest of his team have taken traditional “nerds lose their innocence” tropes and set them on edge. Certainly, there are plenty of things you’d expect, like witty dialogue, constant one-upmanship and sly pop culture references (such as streets named Pekar and Kurtzman), but plenty of genuine surprises, too, especially the series’ ending, which is way too good to spoil.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this final issue, instead.
As is the pattern with this series, the book’s final issue begins with a wildly entertaining and larger than life fantasy sequence. From Paige’s point of view, we see the four kids’ plan come together beautifully, resulting in the perfect ending, including the reunification of Paige’s deceased mother and ex-con father. For a moment, it’s bliss. If only it were real. Tyler Boss’ incredible artwork, however (including the reappearance of the skeleton Lance Cardinal Death and the war pig Bae K’on from issue #3), makes it all too clear that it isn’t. And after a full page fade to black, reality comes crashing down.
Paige immediately apologizes for subjecting us to a series of boring flashbacks while the kids make their plans and preparations, but again, Boss’ work is masterful, with excellent paneling, brilliant color work (literally and figuratively) and outstanding page design. His thin, detailed line work sets the scene perfectly while giving the characters plenty of space to act and interact. Their expressions, their body language, the immediacy of their emotions instantly pull us in and hold our attention.
Similarly, as in pervious issues, Boss’s colors are spot-on, too. After the brightly colored flashback sequence near the beginning, he uses plenty of grungy earth tones throughout the much of the middle, accenting these dull hues with the kids’ colorful costumes and strategically placed reds and yellows. Then, in the book’s final climax, he dials it up to 11, mimicking the opening fantasy sequence with over-lit yellows and oranges and a neon red that fades to magenta and purple. It’s shocking. It’s surreal. It’s unreal. It’s too real. And it’s all conspicuously capped off by a sky-blue denouement that’s both hopeful and heartbreaking.
Yes, Boss’s artwork absolutely crushes it, and yet, this is still very much writer Matthew Rosenburg’s story. As great as the illustrations are, without Rosenburg’s pitch perfect characterizations, “4 Kids” wouldn’t be the phenomenon it’s become. The story is intriguing, but it’s the four incredibly well created, highly relatable characters that knock it out of the park. Unlike numerous pop culture examples that any of us can name where “character development” is simply code for characters who suddenly behave in entirely unexpected ways in order to move the plot forward or resolve a problem, Paige, Berger, Stretch and Walter manage to grow and change and become more complex as the story progresses, yet stay utterly true to themselves. None of their actions come out of the blue. There is a refreshing, compelling consistency to how they act, even (especially?) when they are their own worst enemies.
Ultimately, writer Matthew Rosenberg, illustrator Tyler Boss, and letterer Thomas Mauer (who’s done amazing things throughout the series, helping this often dialogue heavy work flow with ease while giving us a subtle sense of how exactly each character sounds,) committed to their vision and didn’t flinch. Nor did they chicken out and opt for a safer, more saccharine ending. Instead, they created a gritty, unforgiving, authentic, often child-unfriendly world and they didn’t back down. (Much like the ensemble that the story centers around.) The result is a special series and spectacular final installment – a work that will reverberate for months or years to come.
In that sense, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t read the floppies at all, but had waited instead to read the collected volume. Given the numerous publishing delays (the first issue debuted in April, 2016), there were definitely some long, frustrating lulls. In the end, I’m glad I stuck with it and was able to enjoy the finale in real time. That said, I’m also envious of those who will crack open the trade paperback with no foreknowledge and experience the entire story in one fell swoop. What great fun it will be to read it all cover to cover.Continued below
Final Verdict: 9.6 – In a stunning series conclusion, “4 Kids Walk into a Bank” stays true to its vision – and the authenticity of its characters – delivering an unvarnished finale that is sure to stay with fans long after they’ve read the last page.