I Kill Giants – Review

I Kill Giants

Written by Joe Kelly
Art & Design by JM Ken Niimura
Image  Comics

If you’ve yet to read I Kill Giants, get on that and then circle back. There be spoilers in these hills. 

A 5th grade girl named Barbara Thorson carries two secrets. One is a hammer capable of toppling giants. The other is something far worse.  

There’s something wrong upstairs.

It’s clear to readers, quite early, that there’s something wrong with Barbara’s household. Something upstairs. In short order we come to suspect that Mrs. Thorson is dying. Kelly and Niimura show their hand before the halfway point, but this seemingly premature revelation does nothing to take away from the narrative. It’s not her mother’s death or even the moment of Babs’ catharsis that makes the book. Mrs. Thorson’s demise is a foregone conclusion, so the real suspense lies in Barbara herself. Will she get through this? We’ve seen protagonists battle the pain of loss many times before, usually in memoirs. In this story, our hero is a fictional character living through the tragedy rather than recalling it from a safe perspective. 

Barbara is my favorite kind of narrator. She’s unreliable. Just like we are. Neither of us know what’s going to happen on the next page, and sometimes it’s even unclear what’s really going on in the moment. That’s involving. When we discover that the narrator lacks credibility, we’ve gone rogue. We’re actively pursuing the story, not passively following it.  

Barbara is resolute in her declarations. For her, this is an all out crusade against the tyranny of giants in a world too stupid to notice. It’s really her coping mechanism, but that’s not how she’d define it. For her, it’s Tuesday. She’s blocked out the idea that her mother is wasting away in a room upstairs because there’s nothing to be done about that. Cancer doesn’t have a face. Not one to be stabbed at anyway. Cancer doesn’t, but giants do. The most horrifying thing out there is the unknown. Even giants are easier opponents.   

We create giants out of necessity.   

Thunder is unsettling. It’s a disembodied sound, bigger than anything. When I was little, my mom would try to calm my storm-tossed nerves by suggesting that “the angels must be bowling again.” I’d dutifully nod to reassure her that her own reassuring had been all the assuring I’d ever need. Then I’d gather the covers up over my chin and stare at the ceiling, wondering what those bastards were using for pins. 

It’s a scary, pointy, jagged, hissing world out there. Thunder will rock you from your sleep. Venom is a naturally occurring substance. Opossums originate from this dimension. Clouds go from puffy to funnel at the drop of a hat. It’s kind of awful. Some of it’s our fault, but a lot of it isn’t. If we have the opportunity to do so, we with the opposable thumbs and syntax and hand tools like to blame monsters. Monsters are loud. They’re messy. They sneeze hail and fire and famine. Monsters suck. But it’s comforting to know that monsters are around to point to whenever a tree falls on somebody or a barn burns down. We make monsters for a couple reasons. To blame them, for one. But also to slay their monumental asses. Because sometimes we really need a victory.  
Barbara Thorson had to make giants before she could kill them.

It’s not the existence of giants that mattered. It’s the opportunity to defeat something. Because the strife in her own life isn’t something that anyone can truly touch, much less wrestle into submission. We all need to cope with the loss of loved ones. For Barbara, intellectual and passionate, this journey was made more difficult. Sometimes the bigger you dream, the harder you fall. The worst thing she could imagine, almost tangibly, was a Titan. So that was her final labor. 

If I was surprised by the sudden appearance of a titan at the climax of the series, I was even more surprised when I thought back on all the other things accomplished in those pages. Barbara stands up to both real and imagined demons, satisfying both levels of the story. She also learns to trust people. While she is portrayed as a damaged child, she is also savvy and intelligent. While she’s portrayed as a geek, she’s a skilled one. Her creativity is exhibited in her delusions, but also as a gift. By the end of the book it was clear that she’d matured, but not at the cost of her imagination. She was in control of it. 

I’m a sucker for stories about human imagination. If innovation is progress, imagination is its glimmer. Sometimes people dismiss art as just an exercise. Something creative people do when they’re bored, looking for a paycheck. It’s a sailboat doodled on a napkin, then built in the garage on rainy Saturdays. But creativity is also a necessity. It’s a raft made in a time of need, cobbled together in a frenzy, hopefully seaworthy. It’s how we solve problems. Not just a means of escape, it’s a way of facing and then toppling our obstacles. 

Joe Kelly has written one of the richest character journeys I’ve read in a good while. By letting us experience the epiphany with Barbara, he’s made it an involving story as well. He can do comedy, tragedy, and epic without it feeling inauthentic. Just the right amount of sentiment. Niimura’s presentation matches and then enhances that earnestness. The art is loose and fragmented, but always coherent. The murkiness of the watery inks really works for Barbara’s mental state. I hope to see more from this team.

If you do have this book, please don’t keep it on a shelf. Pass it along. This is one of the good ones.   

Paul Montgomery is suspicious of any bowling team calling themselves the ‘Holy Rollers’. Find him on Twitter or at paul@ifanboy.com


  1.  Great review, Paul.

    Joe Kelly is producing fantastic work as of late.  "I kill giants", "four eyes", "bad dog", some of the best amazing spider-man stories…

    In addition he is a supernice guy as people that have met him at conferences can confirm.

    Right now he is my favorite comic book writer along with Brubaker.

  2. There was a possum colony under my parents’ house for a while.  Occasionally one of them would get inside.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen one of those critters in the living room.*

    Awesome review of a great book.  I like the insight into all the reasons we create monsters — to explain the world, to blame them for problems, and so we can overcome them.  

    *To be clear, this is not a metaphor.  I’m from Virginia.

  3. Yeah, I thought he was a new writer till I saw he worked on Deadpool in the 90’s. 

    Like Brubaker, show me a #1 and I’ll show you my wallet. 

  4. Love, love, love IKG. Joe Kelly is knocking it out of the park with these past few books.

    Great review.

  5. Read this in issues and it was spectacular.  When I get the money I’m going to buy the trade as well so that I can give it to all my friends to read.  Great review of a great book.

  6. My trade is in the mail as we speak. Should be arriving this week.

  7. I’ve said this on Twitter and Goodreads, and I’m gonna say it again here: if you liked this book, you should really also read "Three Shadows." It’s a bit more surreal than IKG, and a little less overtly sentimental, but its incredibly well-crafted and deals with a similar kind of loss. That and IKG are easily the most affecting graphic novels I’ve read in quite awhile.

    Regarding this review: Paul does a great job of summing it all up. Joe Kelly has always been an OK writer for me, but none of his super-hero stuff truly grabbed me. Even his recent works, while excellent concepts, haven’t grabbed me. But I had heard so much about IKG that I bought it and tore through it. I was so affected by the ending, I immediately handed it to the next friend I came into contact with and said: " Here. I want this back because I need to give it to other people, but you must read this. Go. Read it now. And I mean now. Read it all in one sitting. If you don’t cry, you have no soul."

    A day later, I received this text message: "darn u. Finished it b4 work this morning and ruined my make-up."

  8. I read it in issues and it was really good.

  9. Great review Paul. I got the trade this week and I really don’t see anything else from this year topping it. It’s an utterly stellar piece of work.

  10. I finished the trade on the subway this morning and got just choked-up enough to do the "there’s something in my eye" trick.  An absolutely fantastic book. 

  11. I cannot wait to read this book.  I’ve been waiting for instocktrades to ship it.  I’ve heard nothing but great reviews. 

  12. I want to read this soooooooo bad.  Maybe after the big move at the end of the month, I’ll have some scratch to grab this one.

  13.  This book coupled an inventive story with unique and expresive art and gave us something that stands out as one of the finest minis I have read in the past 10 years.

  14. this was amazing. im so happy i started from issue one. it was such a great series!!

  15. Did anyone else notice that Ron is quoted on the back of the trade?

  16. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @eagle6002 – Yep, very cool. That was a nice surprise.

  17. Great review Paul.

    This book was fantastic. The ifanboy faithful never seem to lead me astray when it comes to recommendations. This is probably one of the best books I have ever read. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into coming in but, the story, the character, and the writing kept me flipping pages until I reached the end.

    This is definetly a book that you need to read, and pass on to a friend.

  18. Nice review.

  19. Awesome review sir Paul.  I stayed away from it until my trade came in the mail, which happened today!

    I read through the book in one sitting and it blew me away.  I teared up during the last two issues.  A heartbreaking story that leaves you feeling sad, yet hopeful.  I agree wholeheartedly that this should be passed on to anyone and everyone.