Seth Hahne's Reviews > I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
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Nov 10, 09

bookshelves: comics
Read in October, 2009

It's good to pick a book with vaulted expectations, set the book down finished an hour and a half later, and have those expectations met. In I Kill Giants' earliest chapters, I was not at all sure this would be the case. The pace felt abrupt, the characterizations suffered some adjacency to verisimilitude, and the ground seemed well-worn and overly familiar as it hadn't been long since I had the pleasure of reading Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole. Of course, by book's end, all that had been well-enough justified by Kelly and Niimura's wonderful story-telling.

I Kill Giants exploits expectations in order to tell a story that, while common, is made special by its telling. The creative team breathes a crisp newness into Barbara Thorson's imaginative life that many such tales lack—and in their lack become shallow caricatures that never come to life for the reader. Traveling with Barbara through the travails of her fifth grader's existence, we are given a unique vantage into the lives and motivations of much of her supporting cast. There are still clichés that never entirely extricate themselves from the narrative weight crushing any spark of life from their shell of an existence(for instance the bully, Taylor, who is just like every other storybook bully you've ever encountered), but for the most part, Kelly's script is a relief.

Accordingly, Niimura's visual work shows its excellence by nature of considering just how easy it would have been to really screw up the story by producing the wrong kind of art. When Niimura draws giants, they are impressive. When Niimura draws Barbara the giant slayer, she is awkwardly confident. When Niimura draws the intersection of worlds, we find ourselves charmed or horrified according to how Niimura wants us to feel. The only curiosity that took me out of the story and forced me to wonder at his visual choices was his depiction of Taylor, the bully (yes, her again); despite the character's solidly established age (she's a fifth grader), Niimura draws her as being well-enough into puberty that she's granted heftily developed breasts. While it's not outside the realm of possibility for such a girl to exist (apparently puberty is hitting girls earlier and earlier), it's far enough outside the norm that it may give readers (such as myself) pause.

In any case, I Kill Giants is the story of Barbara Thorson. Who kills giants. Or so she tells just about everyone.

Barbara is, sigh, precocious and outspoken. She's a bit geek (loves D&D and baseball history) and has a difficult homelife. Her interaction with her teachers (and school psychologist as a result of her interaction with teachers) is less than worthy of emulation. She seems to almost purposely make enemies with those around her. And yet, despite the difficulties she presents for herself and the reader who wants to sympathize, she cuts figure as an able protagonist. She's far from perfect and, for this story at least, we prefer her for it.

Amidst portents of the arrival of a grave doom, the heralding of a coming giant, Barbara has to negotiate a society with which she will have nothing to do. Against her wishes, the society around her makes many overtures of peace and goodwill. Some make ground while others break it. And all the while, the unseen world becomes increasingly active as the prophesied doom grows ever nearer. In the end, it's in Barbara's interactions with both worlds and their inevitable clash that I Kill Giants' story takes shape.

And it was wonderful to take in.

As a final note, it is a happy circumstance that I Kill Giants is as short as it is—for the book certainly bears a second reading (as many things previously hidden are unveiled only with knowledge gained in the book's climax).
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