4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is easily one of my favorite comic books of the last ten years. It’s the story of a young girl who’s dad is in deep with some bad people so she and her friends decide to take matters into their own hands. The writing from Matt Rosenberg is razor sharp, full of both quips and emotional resonance and the art from Tyler Boss is inventive and meticulous. The easiest touchstones for the style and tone of the book would probably be Wes Anderson by way of The Goonies with a scoop of Tarantino thrown in for good measure. While that’s certainly accurate enough, there’s another work from the pop-culture pantheon that makes up a large part of the DNA of the book.
It’s some kind of kismet that the delays on 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank meant that its final issue came out the same week that the long-awaited film adaptation of Stephen King’s It. There’s a lot of It in 4 Kids, with its group of lovable losers thrust unexpectedly into adulthood. The biggest divergence between the two is how they approach fantasy. In 4 Kids, fantasy is initially a shield of sorts for the kids. Their planning sessions for the heists are presented as they play with action figures or video games or a game of D&D and rendered as their reality. It’s the only way for them to process what’s happening to them and what they’re planning to do about it. In the last issue, which pulls no punches, that reliance on fantasy ends up being the kids’ downfall in a climax and resolution that manages to be both unexpected and totally fitting for the book. The lesson that life is not a video game (or a movie, or a comic book) is a simple one, but one that represents the loss of the lens that kids are allowed to see the world through and this is wonderfully illustrated in the climax to the bank heist and escape attempt.
While fantasy was a shield for the losers of 4 Kids, it’s a weapon against the losers of Derry. Arguably King’s most compelling monster (though Randall Flagg is a close second) is diabolically simple and endlessly malleable- an ancient and powerful entity that feeds off of and embodies fears. It manifests itself both as the kids’ neuroses about their lives (Bev’s sexuality, Eddie’s hypochondria/Munchhausen syndrome) and as fictional characters (the Wolfman). The result is an array of fears that feel specific to the characters and what we know about them as well as universal enough to be relatable to the audience.
The Loser’s Club is wonderfully fleshed out through a combination of both a well written script that gives the perfect amount of attention to fleshing out the characters (except Mike Hanlon…) and an exceedingly talented cast of young actors. Each of the kids gets at least one moment to truly shine (maybe not Stan Uris, but if you’ve seen the original or read the book, you know why) giving every character the chance to leave a lasting impression.
The town of Derry is perfectly realized, with its idyllic 80’s setting housing just the right amount of pop-culture references that enhance rather than distract. From the set design to the costuming, it’s crafted in such a way that it feels as innocent and timeless as the novel’s original 50’s setting. Beautifully contrasting with this is director Andy Muschietti’s eye for horror. The cornerstone of King’s work is finding the horror in the mundane and Muschietti captures that feeling with aplomb. The library sequence with Ben Hansomb comes to mind first, presenting the building as a safe space that immediately becomes a house of horrors when explored.
Of course the pinnacle of horror achievements in the film is reclaiming the scary clown trope. After flicks like House of 1000 Corpses/Devil’s Rejects and Clown (and of course Killer Klowns From Outer Space), I was curious about how the creators would handle the presentation and oh boy did they nail it perfectly. Bill Skarsgard’s performance is without a doubt more overtly creepy than Tim Curry’s, but despite the alterations to the look, feels a lot closer to the novel. Overall, this is without a doubt the best King adaptation since The Shining, but even outside of that qualifier it’s one of the best horror movies in years.