I Kill Giants
Writer: Joe Kelly
Artist: JM Ken Niimura
Cover: JM Ken Niimura
By Aaron Robinson
25 June 2009 — The real world doesn't make much sense to Barbara Thorson. While everyone else seems preoccupied with work or school, she only cares about one thing: killing giants. Every night she wraps herself up in an elaborate fantasy world — talking to fairies, constructing mythical weapons and working on powerful traps. Her lack of interest in the real world makes her an outcast at school, but it's something she gladly accepts. In fact, she's quick to snap at anyone who tries to influence her, making it hard for her teachers to deal with. At home things aren't much better. Her older sister, Karen, has to care for the family, and she has no idea how to handle Barbara's eccentric behavior. But it's Taylor, the school bully, who is angered the most by Barbara's attitude. Barbara refuses to back down to Taylor's threats, and that's not something Taylor takes lightly.
But Barbara is not completely without help. Mrs. Molle, the new school psychiatrist, knows Barbara is creating her fantasy world for a reason, and wants to help in any way she can. There's also a new girl in town named Sophia, who may well be the closest thing Barbara has had to a true friend. But their efforts might be too little, too late. Taylor seems more determined each day to finally break Barbara, taunting and attacking her whenever she gets the chance. Worse still, Barbara keeps getting visions of a "harbinger of death" looming on the horizon, and the signs keep getting stronger.
After years of working on Marvel and DC's biggest titles, it's always nice to see little stories like this coming from a longtime comic writer like Joe Kelly. For a while I thought Barbara would be a character I'd seen a million times before — a rebellious child who retreats into a fantasy world to deal with her problems, until she is forced to overcome them — but Kelly goes out of his way to give her depth. She's not just rebellious; she's loud, impulsive and quick to anger. It's hard to side with her at times, especially when her actions result in others getting hurt, but it really does help give weight to the final few chapters of the book.
Speaking of which, I really like that the big confrontation is actually in the second to last chapter, leaving the final chapter to work more like an epilogue. It's cool to see that a whole comic was used to show what happens to the characters in the aftermath of the confrontation. The final chapter really is an emotional punch to the gut, though. The mystery behind the giants Barbara sees is actually hinted at pretty early on, but it doesn't make the final chapter any less powerful.
JM Ken Niimura is a relative unknown in the comic industry, but I really hope this story helps him get some recognition. The messy, sketchy style he uses for this book feels like a breath of fresh air. It's clearly manga-influenced, but it almost looks like manga as drawn by Quentin Blake. Niimura intentionally leaves breaks in outlines, allowing the shading to fill out the detail. His faces look awkward and ridged, and are often cartoony in their expressions. It's pretty much perfect for a story about an over-imaginative 11 year old. Barbara sees the world around her in a strange way, and the artwork does a great job of reflecting that. The story gives Niimura plenty of chances to draw the fantastical things Barbara sees, and that's something he obviously has a ton of fun with.
Niimura's work on the design of the book is also pretty much spot on, with great panel layouts. And though the lettering is casual and easy to read, one thing really irked me: rather than going the traditional route by having speech balloons with their thinning white tails, Niimura just draws a plain black line (or white if the background is black) from the inside of the balloon to the character. It's cool to see experimentation, but it was distracting and occasionally made it hard to tell who was talking (a black line on a dark grey background is a little hard to make out). It's not a big strike against the book, but it was distracting at times, so it deserved mentioning.
I Kill Giants is interesting in that it's a fresh take on tired ideas. It takes a character that should feel clichéd and gives her enough depth to make her seem unique. It doesn't always succeed at what it tries to do, but it feels so different to anything else out there that it's well worth looking into. Just a word of warning: although the story mainly revolves around kids, it feels like it's more intended for adults. It deals with death, bullying and acceptance pretty strongly, and whilst it's never graphically violent, it does get a little unsettling at times. Older kids will probably get a kick out of this, but I'd recommend giving it a read through yourself before giving it to a young child.