I Kill Giants
Written by Joe Kelly with art by J. M. Ken Niimura
Taking a short break from our ComicsGate reviews (but don’t worry because I have some Slotty Superior Spider-Man for you real soon, and it definitely is the trip that everyone says it is) I decided to cover Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura’s I Kill Giants.
What’s interesting about this book, is that it is a collaboration with an American writer and a Japanese artist, which means it’s the closest thing to American manga that you’re going to get. The book also won several awards, which I feel were all greatly deserved. As for Joe Kelly, yes that is the Joe Kelly responsible for several issues of X-Men, Justice League and the early Deadpool books that I’m sure most of you remember. In fact, if you picked up a comic in the nineties, there’s a chance that you’ve come across Kelly’s work. Even Central Scrutinizer claims that the early Deadpool books are well worth checking out, long before the character became a living meme.
The book is a bit of a different approach from a writer known for penning some of the world’s best known heroes, as well as the merc with a mouth, because it deals with something quite serious – cancer. Yes, the big C is a major part of this book and it hits you where it hurts, right when you least expect it. Though before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning. Barbara is a spunky twelve-year old geek girl with an overactive imagination and an unhealthy obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. What’s more, is that several D&D terms are utilized here as well as several key pieces like monster manuals and the twenty-sided die. Barbara even plays the role of the dungeon master in a few panels, which is a nice touch.
She’s drawn with glasses and a hoodie, though adorns these silly anime-inspired bunny ears which I’d consider more a trademark of Niimura and his unhealthy rabbit fetish. I wouldn’t be surprised if Niimura happens to have a copy of the original version of the eroge Do You Like Horny Bunnies? but that’s beside the point. Additionally, Barbara is extremely sassy, even volatile. She rememinds me of a younger, albeit more vulgar version of MTV’s Daria. Her mother seems to be a bit responsible for this, as it seemed that the child may have taken more than a few mannerisms from her.
As you may expect, Barbara is obsessed with monsters and skulls and will probably be interested in some sort of metal or Goth rock in the next few years. She does mention in the book that she enjoys Johnny Cash, who has had some rather dark themes and of course has covered everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Danzig. I’d also say that he’s the only country singer to have done so and heavily respect that. The man knew what good country music was and that it wasn’t happening in Nashville. But let’s get back to the comic.
One interesting thing that I personally noticed is the use of occult imagery. None of this is really talked about in Monster Manuals and I own a few myself, so where she got this knowledge is beyond me and one of the book’s greatest secrets. Barbara seems to have extensive knowledge of Norse lore and working with runes, as well as creating potions and blood magick, which I don’t think I would be teaching my child; especially when it comes to that latter most subject. These just weren’t things that I expected, but the book itself begins with a blood ritual for Thurisaz, the hammer. Yes, literally the first page begins with a blood ritual. I’d never peg Joe Kelly an occultist, he’s no Grant Morrison or Alan Moore by any stretch of the imagination – but that’s what I’m seeing. Perhaps he stayed up a few nights browsing Wicca and Asatru websites.
In any case, there are a lot of incantations utilized in the piece and as an occultist, I feel that this was a subconscious sort of magic that allowed Kelly to face his own demons regarding the death of his father, and the legal pad that this story was outlined on while in the hospital waiting room. I may have just mentioned that Kelly was no Grant Morrison, but having written for DC and on the Justice League books on particular, there’s a very good chance that he’d worked with and spoken with Morrison on more than a few occasions. Perhaps it was Morrison that may have inspired much of the occult ideology and symbology behind the Nordic runes and the hammer of Thor here, though I cannot say so for sure. I do know that a human will cling to a powerful subconscious tool in order to defeat a demon (or in this case, a giant) that is plaguing their life. Alan Moore claimed that we should “eat our demons” and had them drawn small enough in his Promethea books to fit on a plate. When you see demons that small, they don’t feel frightening or invulnerable. They just feel like minor nuisances to be swatted. Unfortunately though, that is not Barbara’s case.
Barbara has a tough time fitting in and is bullied by an overweight butch girl by the name of Taylor, who gives her a great deal of problems. She is thrown into the office of the school guidance counselor, Miss Mollé who is actually dark-skinned, which is worth mentioning as she is one of the only dark-skinned characters in the book and plays a powerful role in that. Of course, our sassy pre-teen Daria decides to poke fun at the counselor by saying, “…and it’s not because you’re black – I’m not racist” and she also ends up slapping the shit out the counselor as well. That I never saw coming and was quite shocking. But once again, it’s more or less what we expect from her at this point. The counselor keeps prying around at her personal mythology and family life, which causes the confused girl to get violent.
Barbara does befriend another girl by the name of Sophia and uses that as an excuse to get out of counseling one day, but the relationship is a bit awkward between the two girls and even Sophia begins to shy away from Barbara just a bit. Especially when the situation heats up a little more towards the end of the book with a literal knock-down drag out fight between the two girls, which is rather well illustrated and not nearly as censored as I expected it to be. Taylor seems to win the first round, but that’s because her mighty warhammer Covalesky turns out to be a cheap plastic toy and assures the bully that she is indeed a complete sociopath. There’s a reason behind such insanity however, and I’ll get to that later.
Covalesky is actually, as you sport fans might expect; (The Grim Lord doesn’t watch “sports ball”) a Phillies pitcher who defeated the Giants so many times that he earned the name, “The Giant Killer.” As you might expect, this is a great name for a warhammer. It’s worth noting that Sophia first hears the name and says, “Your warhammer is Polish?” which I felt was a clever little quip. In any case, the warhammer is only to be used in cases of extreme emergency and apparently only appears as a useless children’s toy if not necessary. Or maybe it always was. We’ll never know for sure. Though that brings us to the specifics of the piece, which is that a great deal of this mythology is simply the overworked mind of a young girl dealing with the real life tragedy of her mother’s diagnosis with cancer and her continued obsession with D&D which she is using as an escape from her mother’s cruel fate. This could also be symbolized in the several images that we see where her head is literally hidden behind books, like she is literally walling herself off from the rest of the world, preferring to live in her own world. The whole book can be described using Helloween‘s “World Of Fantasy” to be perfectly honest, because the lyrical matter there explains Barbara’s character and her struggles to a perfect degree.
Eventually, we do see a giant in the form of a titan (whom she claims are so evil that not even the Sun will shine on them) and it comes during what is described as an unexpected and extremely rare weather event. This always makes me question as to whether or not the whole thing is really just in her head. There are also many different fairy creatures that she talks to, so the truth of the matter might be that some things in the book are real and others completely imagined. I suppose the magician in me would like to believe that the final confrontation between the titan and Barbara where she pull out the warhammer Covalesky and thrusts it into the beast is definitely reality; though it can also be said that the confrontation maybe her mind’s way of accepting the finality of her mother’s death. You see, I have a bit of a problem with the mythology regarding this titan, because it is said to be so evil that the Sun will not shine on it, yet it is easily destroyed by a young girl with glowing warhammer and acts in the manner of a friendly giant after it is defeated and upon her mother’s eventual demise, where it returns to the ocean. Not only that, but the titan claims that it is not after her mother, but Barbara instead – which makes no sense, as she returns later in the book after we think that she was taken by the giants after all. I think that would have been a good ending for the book if it was to encroach on the territory that “maybe it wasn’t all in her head and there was some real magic there after all” but I don’t think this is what Kelly wanted to say with the book, as is obvious from his afterword. Life does go on after the massive life event regarding the giants and her mother’s death, but after Barbara finally stands up to Taylor and ends up beating the living hell out of her, school life seems to change a great deal for this ex-giant hunter.
The book dealt with loss just as much as it did bullying, which is a bit of a weird “kill two birds with one stone” approach, I’ll admit. But it works, and it manages to give our outcast heroine a defeatable adversary aside from the one that she could never hope to defeat. In other words, it makes the ending bittersweet. When we see Taylor back down in the face of Barbara and make a commitment to never bully anyone else, it definitely shows that there definitely was a hero to be had within this little girl, no matter if the threat was that of a twenty-three foot tall titan or a school bully. She still managed to persevere and rise up against the bully, which is admirable. No matter how you slice it up, I Kill Giants is a fine read and was well worth my money when I purchased it from one of Humble Bundle’s many Image bundles. You may have missed out on their latest, but have no fear as I’m sure they’ll do another one soon enough. That being said, I Kill Giants isn’t quite what you might expect, but it unearths a monstrous tale in an unlikely manga style that should speak to people of all walks of life, and did – which is why they just completed an adaptation of the film, which is now available on DVD/Blu-ray and also streaming. Much was changed from the comic, so I definitely recommend reading this first because it is still superior to the film adaptation and in my opinion, always will be.
(1 Volume, 244 Pages)