I Kill Giants #1

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by JM Ken Niimura
32 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

It’s been a while since I’ve read a comic by Joe Kelly, but there was something about I Kill Giants that grabbed my attention. Maybe it was the illustration style, maybe it was the idea of a young girl being a giant-killer. Either way, I decided it was worth a whirl—and I must say, if the remaining issues hold up to the promise of the first one, this is going to become a new favorite. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a strong debut to a mini-series.

Barbara Thorson is not your normal fifth grader. She wears large rabbit ears to school, sits in the back of the classroom reading her book instead of even pretending to listen to her teacher, and is a regular at the principal’s office. That’s actually all pretty normal for elementary school, but what sets Barbara apart from the rest of the students is that she claims that she has a profession, and it’s killing giants. And she’s not joking, either.

Kelly’s I Kill Giants is told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator in the form of Barbara Thorson. One thing I really quickly appreciated is that we’re seeing everything (at least for now) from her viewpoint, which means that everything is taken for granted as being factual. Is she really talking to faeries in the back yard? Is there really something lurking just around the corner, out of reach? Or is Barbara a little mentally unbalanced, unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality? It’s certainly not made clear in this first issue, and there’s ammunition provided for both sides of the argument. We’re getting a good look at her troubled home life, as well as her interactions with people around her. There’s a scene early on where she deliberately spooks another student waiting to see the principal that is as funny as it is cruel, and it’s that strange mixture of reaction to people that shows up again with her gamer friends. Perhaps most eye-opening was her talking about her older sister’s parenting skills; it says a lot about how she views the world, as well as the hand she’s dealt with. Barbara Thorson’s an interesting character, not quite like any other out there right now, and it’s Kelly’s sharp writing that makes me want to see just where he’s going with her next.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen JM Ken Niimura’s art before, but it’s really pleasing. It has some similarities to manga, without being a carbon copy or locked firmly into that grouping. Niimura is strongest when he’s drawing the smaller, more intimate scenes in I Kill Giants; a stone-faced Barbara looking up at the looming figure of Principal Marx, or a sudden moment of pure fear on Barbara’s face as she senses something that none of us can see. You can really see the emotion (or lack thereof) on a character’s face with Niimura’s art, aided in part by his knowing when to use thick, dark brush strokes versus the thin, more-defined lines that add a lot of fine detail and nuance to his art. Niimura also uses gray-tones well to add weight to the pages, the darker swipes moving across the page to create shadow and depth. His art is a little cartoonish in places, but I can’t help but think that’s a good thing here; it certainly adds to the uncertainty in the reader’s mind on if some or all of what we’re seeing is nothing more than a figment of Barbara’s imagination.

I Kill Giants #1 was a strong start to this seven-issue mini-series; I’m hoping the quality level stays up, because if so we’re in for a great story. As an introduction, for me it worked perfectly; I’m already eagerly awaiting the second installment. Definitely worth taking a look at.

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