Dark Horse Comics December 2016 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Tyler Boss/Thomas Mauer (Black Mask Studios)

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #3
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Tyler Boss
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Published by Black Mask Studios
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Everyone’s favorite gang of high school bank robbers returns this week with 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #3, and it’s a testament to writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss that despite a five-month delay, their characters still feel as compelling and realized as they do.

One of the things that might throw you the most about 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is that despite the title, Rosenberg and Boss are just barely scratching the surface of the title’s promised bank robbery - but after spending some time hanging out with Paige, Stretch, Walter, and Berger, you honestly won’t mind too much. Like Brian Michael Bendis or Quentin Tarantino, Rosenberg imbues his characters with such great voices that you’d be satisfied just listening to them bust each others’ chops - but thankfully, Rosenberg doesn’t rest on his laurels, instead bringing a depth of imagination to these kids’ conversations, from a fantasized desert drag racing sequence to check-ins at the library, chemistry lab, and shop class. Exposition may be a necessary evil for many comic books, but 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank gets you up to speed smoothly.

And with characters this charming, it’s easy for Rosenberg to start teasing out a bit more outlandish plot devices - they might test your suspension of disbelief just a hair, but it’s an adventure, just go with it. Some of the gags Paige and the gang undertake are very funny, like a Family Circus-esque double-page splash showing the four of them experimenting with shoplifting, or Paige’s so-bad-it’s-good “infiltration” of the titular bank. (“How many guards are there? When do their shifts change?” she asks, sporting Walter’s glasses, Stretch’s headgear, and absolutely zero sense of chill.) Even a sequence involving home-brewed sodium pentathol, which seems on the surface a little advanced for even these kids to be cooking up, yields some laughs, as the already uninhibited Berger starts making some fairly uncomfortable confessions.

Boss’s artwork, meanwhile, hasn’t missed a step, with so many great visual ways to break up what could otherwise have been an extremely talky script. Rosenberg’s dialogue may make his characters sing, but Boss truly breathes life into Paige and her cohorts, with a fantastic sense of body language during silent scenes such as Walter and Stretch putting their scientific and engineering acumen to work in chemistry and shop class. He’s also very experimental with his layouts, with a series of strobe-like panels as Walter provides a vomit-induced distraction for the gang. Even smaller details, like the “camera” suddenly shifting to a Dutch angle when Paige kicks in a bathroom door, injects a lot of dynamic energy when the action abruptly kicks in.

With so many comic books out there that rely solely on its high concept, it’s refreshing to see a book like 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, which instead lives and dies based largely on its execution of an otherwise low-key plot. It’s easy to forget basic concepts like strong characterization, dialogue, and pacing, but Rosenberg and Boss deliver on all counts. With a foundation as rock-solid as this one, if you’re not reading 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, you’re missing out on one of the best new series of 2016.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Dead Inside #1
Written by John Arcudi
Art by Tony Fejzula and Andre May
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Dead Inside #1 is frightening and claustrophobic noir. That much can be ascertained by the premise alone. Noir genre conventions of shadowy bureaucracies and dark corridors fit so naturally in John Arcudi's hard-boiled prison mystery that within the first half of the issue, the story feels like a classic noir story instead of a comic book trying to emulate classic noir stories.

When a scrawny inmate with only a few months separating him from freedom murders a gargantuan inmate before taking his own life, Detective Linda Caruso is called to the scene as more or less a formality. A guard tells her that the murder itself didn't happen under the watchful eye of video surveillance - although I wouldn't be surprised if this turns to be a misdirection, as Andre May colors the scene as it appears in the opening in the exact same way as scenes of actual surveillance. After committing this act, the perpetrator then makes his way to the kitchen, where cameras show him downing an entire carton of milk before hanging himself.

Linda's introduction to the situation is fantastic. She has a clear and defined method that she follows, but each of her initial approaches to the investigation is completely disabled by things outside of her control. If the victim had no cellmate, how did this happen? As a level two facility, Bennett Pen isn't on lockdown every night. What about the guard who seems awfully eager to escort Linda to the site of the suicide in the kitchen? He didn't hear anything. And the security cameras? Prison funds are allocated unevenly; this isn't a supermax facility.

The messy elements of the case are enough to catch Linda's attention, but it's the elements that make everybody else treat the case as open-and-shut that kickstarts Linda's obsession in figuring out what actually happened. When her efforts lead to some pushback from not only the prison administration but also her superiors at the station. The paranoia of a system that seems to be more and more corrupt creates a palpable foreboding and oppressive atmosphere, all of which juxtaposes with the prison setting outstandingly. The parallels between the lieutenant's and warden's offices help further the idea of how pervasive the prison system can be while also further implying the similarities in the two character's roles in the story. There is little doubt that Tony Fejzula's angles in Linda's house are designed to unconsciously draw readers back to the prison.

Fejzula's greatest artistic strength in this comic is his use of angles, which is most visible and striking when the panel takes a borderline voyeuristic perspective. In the close-ups, however, the cracks begin to show. There are solid panels of shadow affecting character's faces, but it often gets taken to ludicrous degrees of overuse, and the characters sometimes look like they have spent an afternoon as chimney sweeps or Dickensian orphans. That said, his backgrounds are always very strong, with May's coloring accenting them perfectly.

Had the comic's final panel revelation been what was expected through Linda's intuition throughout the book, the second issue would still have been an easy inclusion on any mystery fan's pull list. Having it swerve to something that is genuinely unexpected becomes a victory lap for an impressive opening. While artistically a mixed bag, it's hard to ignore how gripping the plot of Dead Inside is. It manages to tap into a sense of dread in a way that is unique to noir. You aren't afraid of what has been killing inmates. You're afraid of the world that makes it happen.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1
Written by David Liss
Art by Kewber Baal and Adriano Augusto
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“I’m nobody’s hero.”

Writer David Liss delivers a healthy mixture of grit and theatricality in Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1. Standing as a soft reboot of sorts for Britt Reid, this new debut finds him fully committed to his faux-supervillain charade and systematically ridding Chicago of organized crime. But a new masked player named the Demon has started making violent moves, and now the Green Hornet and Kato must analyze and dismantle this burgeoning crime empire.

Smartly focusing on Britt’s emotionally-charged double life and his clinical war on crime, David Liss goes big both in characterization and plot for this debut, making it a great entry point for new readers. Artist Kewber Baal and colorist Adriano Augusto give this debut a blocky but moody visual style highlighting the precise movements of the duo and their crime ridden city. While a great jumping on point for new readers, Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1 is classic Green Hornet action sure to please fans of both classic serials and prestige TV drama.

The Green Hornet and Kato are dealing with an expected power vacuum in the opening pages of this debut. After picking apart the network of Vito Cerelli, a new player has made the scene in Chicago, leaving bodies in his wake. While other titles have focused on the Hornet as a active force for good, David Liss takes a different, more classically inclined approach, instantly setting this title apart from the rest. Now the Hornet and Kato walk a fine line between hero and villain, playing up their personas as “crime bosses” while at the same time taking on organized crime with poise and patience.

But while Liss delivers a neat take on the Hornet, Reign of the Demon isn’t just a pulpy crime story; Liss also indulges in a choice bit of masked heroics by pitting Britt against the Demon and another mysterious masked opponent. Adding a bit of flair to the gritty noir center of the story, Britt, and Kato come across as larger than life heroes occupying a realistic space in this debut and their enemies match them in kind. In an market focused on realism and research, Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1 succeeds by not being afraid to play to the back of the house.

Providing this debut with throwback visual style is penciler Kewber Baal along with colorist Adriano Augusto. Baal’s pencils give this debut a craggy, yet detailed oriented look, much like Giovanni Timpano’s pencils over on the Lone Ranger/Green Hornet title. His panel layouts and blocking also shine in this first issue as he frames the Hornet and Kato like capable vigilantes, racing across window pane like panels in the Black Beauty and facing the scourge of crime with fists and gas gun raised. Adriano Augusto’s tea-stained colors really bring the whole affair together, giving the scenes out of costume a yellowed, old news stock tone and the scenes with Britt and Kato behind the mask a slick darkness with the costumes standing as stylish matte focal points. Matching the theatrical grittiness of Liss’ script, Kewber Baal and Adriano Augusto make the most of their time in old Chicago.

Functioning as both an example of vintage Hornet thrills and dynamic reintroduction to a classic hero Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1 is basically a kind of best case scenario for Britt and his companion/registered karate weapon. David Liss delivers both street level crime and fast paced masked vigilante story all while keeping a keen eye on what made these characters work back in the day and how he can build on that for a modern audience. Adapting well to the backdrop and character movements of the title are Kewber Baal and Adriano Augusto, who make this issue look like a tinny radio play sounds in the best possible way. With dynamic action and a set of characters ready made for serialized storytelling Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1 is a solidly entertaining throwback to the gilded and gritty age of heroes.

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