Heists have been a narrative mainstay for some time, particularly in film and television, so it is unsurprising that comics have had a few attempts and stories with the established framework. Again, it is hardly surprising. A heist, by its nature, is limited in its scope of story, requires various colorful and varied characters (usually at odds with one another) to come together, allows for each character to get at least one highlight or moment in the story, and possesses a clear goal and endgame; thus, it is basically the perfect overarching narrative for a comic book story. And it appears the people at TKO Studios agreed since they released The Banks, a multigenerational heist story, in 2019.
The Banks was easily one of the independent studio’s highest profile series from its second release wave. However, that prestige and attention was most likely due to the creative forces behind the project. Written by Roxanne Gay (the award winning author), drawn by Ming Doyle (a freelance illustrator with works from the major comic book publishers including Marvel and DC), and colored by Jordie Bellaire (an Eisner award winning colorist), The Banks had a prestigious and high profile creative team behind it. Thankfully, the six issues that make up the final work show the level of skill present by the brains and hands behind the comic.
The Banks centers on three Black women: grandmother Clara, mother Cor, and daughter Celia. Celia is a hardworking, intelligent, law abiding investment banker. She was sent to the best schools growing up. Given lavish parties and gifts by her mothers. Went to good colleges without having to incur massive debt. And managed to find stable employment with a quality firm and seemingly a path to traditional, WASP-y, American success. Of course, she holds a deep secret behind this life of success. Namely, that her family, specifically her grandmother and birth mother, provided her life through thievery. In fact, Clara and Cor are some of the most successful thieves in the entirety of Chicago. And it is this criminal enterprise that allowed for Celia’s schooling, home, gifts, and, essentially, the entirety of her privileged life. Upon learning this, Celia turns her back on her family finding her mother’s lessons of obedience and being a good person in direct conflict with the life her family has led. It is only after facing the cruel realization that regardless of her efforts and sacrifices, Celia will always be barred from reaching the heights and access afforded to her peers, that she returns to her distances family with a plan to rob a high profile client of her firm and set them up for the rest of their lives.
Of course, as with any good heist story, complications arise. Specifically, the inner conflict within the family, particularly between Clara and Celia, and the appearance of a menace from the family’s past responsible for the defining tragedy of the family. It is from, and within, the second complication that we see the family’s past and background, how they became thieves and rose to such high prominence, and how they suffered an immense loss whose scars permeated through to the Banks women to the present day. We see this tragedy, and the accompanying background story, through flashback sequences highlighting Clara’s turn to crime, her instilling the skills of the ‘family business’ into Cor, and the sequence of events and choices that led the Banks women into becoming who they are in the present day.
Without going into further spoilers, the narrative leads to a climax in the sixth issue in which the past, present, and potential future all clash into a decisive final act involving millions, murder, a (stereotypically) determined detective, and an international criminal syndicate. Seems like a lot, but it does actually work and get, mostly, resolved. In less experienced and/or talented hands, The Banks could, and most likely would, have resulted in an impressive, but ultimately lackluster, attempt at telling intriguing stories from usually marginalized voices. However, the primary creative leads behind the project are all experienced, talented, and proven creatives in their own right. Gay is able to take her expertise, both personal and professional, to write complex, multidimensional, female, Black characters that deal with multiple societal constraints but are not solely defined by those traits. Doyle and Bellaire bring their years of experience drawing and coloring comics to bring life Gay’s words and story in dynamic and interesting visuals. Outside of any political or social commentary The Banks might possess or give, it is fundamentally just a well told and drawn comic book story.
I have no clue as to how TKO Studios decides what to publish or if it allows for continuations of their series, but The Banks ends with enough potential for more. And, to be honest, given how it concluded, the current state of the world, and how easily this series could be converted into a live action adaptation of some kind, I am a little surprised that there is not more from this universe and cast of characters. Perhaps some day, but for now, go to the TKO website, order the series (either as individual comics or a single trade paperback), and enjoy. It’s a quick read, but a definitely enjoyable one.