At the heart of The Banks is a criminal legacy that walks a fine line between familiar and fresh twists on old tropes. The titular Banks family is three generations of black women living in Chicago, a family at least in part founded upon breaking and entering. The youngest, Celia, is an investment banker with a stable, enviable life—until a discovery at work leads her right back into the arms of her mother and grandmother, where Celia is (as she puts it) ready to join the family business and start robbing people.
The Banks is the best kind of heist story: a sharp, tight robbery with escalating tensions and threats coming from every direction. Celia and her grandmother Cora don’t get along well, there’s a constant threat of getting caught by their mark, Celia’s boyfriend, or her work, and there’s a detective with a grudge hot on their heels. The book is very much a Robin Hood story of stealing from the rich and (eventually) giving to the poor, with writer Roxane Gay making sure that both the characters and the readers are aware of it. The parallels between the ethics of Celia’s day job as an investment banker and her new moonlighting gig as a thief are clear and fascinating. There’s also a story of intergenerational wealth in the background of much of the Banks’ story, a solid foundation on which the action has been planted.
But this book is also about love. When readers first jump in, Celia and her boyfriend have already met. But a series of flashbacks tell the story of how her grandmother Clara met her grandfather and learned how to steal from him, and later show Celia’s mother Cora meeting and falling in love with her wife. It would’ve been easy to simply focus the comic on the theft itself, on the adventure and drive of trying to figure out how to break into a rich person’s home and make things right. Instead, The Banks is a complete portrait of a family, warts and all. The love stories give readers a reason to be that much more invested, as the Banks women discover that Celia’s mark isn’t just any old rich man, and that this job gives them a chance to settle a very old score.
While Roxane Gay is hardly a novice, more people know her more for her novels and essays than her comic work. The World of Wakanda was sadly short-lived, but she proved then and now that she knows how to weave together the lives of fascinating, nuanced, and compelling characters. She’s particularly good at writing dialog that doesn’t feel contrived or stiff, and leaving enough room on the page for the art to breathe. For a lot of readers, seeing the powerhouse art team of Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire on this project is more than enough to make them pick it up. The duo worked together on The Kitchen, and The Banks feels very much in line with that: They’re both action-packed noir adventures. Admittedly, there are some panels that feel flat, almost like there isn’t the right amount of texture or detail on the page. The story isn’t an entirely traditional one for comics, so having art that is fairly traditional feels a little off. Still, The Banks is ultimately an engrossing, interesting read and would pair perfectly with last year’s film Widows for a celebration of unexpectedly emotional female-focused heists.