I’m not a crier. Which is not to say I’m unemotional, or that I never cry – there are certain buttons you can push – especially in films – and you can expect waterworks – but there are only a few buttons and I’m pretty good at
resisting them. In fact, until I read I Kill Giants last week I can’t remember the last time something I read caused crying. But there it is. Moved to tears (or at least tearing up) by Barbara Thorson and her emotionally resonant tale in I Kill Giants.
But that’s not why I decided to write about I Kill Giants, because looking back through the CSBG archives, it looks like everyone and their grandmother has already told you to read this book (well, okay mostly just Greg and Greg again, but that’s good enough for me).
So in order to talk about it, I’m going to relate it to why it’s female positive (what a shock!) and why that makes it something you should read if you still haven’t managed to yet.
In I Kill Giants not only is our protagonist and hero Barbara a girl, but with the exception of her brother and principal, every other major character from her sister to teacher to psychologist, to best friend, even the bully, is female. And that is damn rare in a comic book. Even more rare? The fact that with the exception of the bully, pretty much all of these women are supportive and caring of each other. Rather than competing and dragging each other down as we often see in comics (and other media) these women and girls mostly try to raise each other up. The book is wonderful and sadly almost revolutionary in that respect.
You know something that’s almost as good as all these positive supportive female leads? I didn’t once think I was going to be blindsided by gigantic tits falling out of an unzipped top when I turned the page. And that shouldn’t even be something I have to think about, but I’ve been so conditioned by reading comics where that (and similar) happens for no reason that I notice I turn pages with caution these days. But it wasn’t a concern here, I was able to fully immerse myself in Barbara’s tale and I didn’t once have to think about boobs or impractical ridiculous clothing choices. It was awesome.
It’s not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for sexy boobs and impractical clothing – but I shouldn’t have to worry about it all the time being thrown into stories in which it doesn’t fit or relate. And it continues to be the kind
of thing that makes me feel ‘if only’ about stuff. Like Suicide Squad #67, which came out this past week, and which for all intents and purposes, was a solid issue. Simone and Ostrander’s writing was laugh out loud funny in parts, interesting characters were drawn into the issue through a conflict based on the epic Amanda Waller always getting what she wants, and I was enjoying the book. But kind of out of nowhere I’m blinded by some character named Yasemin and her boobs falling out of her insanely low cut, high-heeled crime fighting (or rather assassinating) costume. Why? The story was otherwise good, but I end up feeling like I can’t fully get on board in supporting a book (or issue) without caveats because of this kind of stuff, and that sucks. Or what about the announcement of Marvel’s new ongoing series starring female powerhouse character Black Widow, and penned by female writer Marjorie Liu and yet it comes with a completely objectifying cover solicit image. I actually considered writing about this announcement for my column this week and all that came out was something that sounded like
and so I gave up (sorta). So when I say it’s nice to read an entire series of I Kill Giants and not have to think about that kind of thing once…I mean it. I mean it to the power of this is the kind of wonderful stuff that stops my head from exploding and me giving up on comics entirely.
Now, should I even be comparing something like I Kill Giants and Suicide Squad? Maybe not, they’re pretty different animals, but I’m just trying to point out how exhausting it can be, as a woman, or as anyone I suppose, once you become aware of the objectification of women in comics to see that objectification with the relentlessness that it appears. You can’t go back in time to before you noticed it and bathe in the bliss of ignorance, and it’s frustrating to be taken aback in a book you are otherwise enjoying (or one you’d like to enjoy in the case of Black Widow) by sudden and random objectification. Is it a huge deal? No. Is it the end of the world? No. But it makes it extra nice that I don’t have to think about it at all in a book like I Kill Giants.
One of the reasons I read I Kill Giants this past week was because someone mentioned in the comments of my 10 Great Female Characters post that Barbara Thorson the lead from I Kill Giants deserved a spot – and they were right. Barbara immediately captures both your heart and mind. I fell in love with Barb in the first pages of issue #1 when she verbally takes down a motivational speaker – quite frankly, something I have always secretly yearned to do. After doing that, she announces to her entire class that she kills giants for a living. It’s an awesome scene - check it out*.
Barbara is full of imagination and Joe Kelly imbues her with the perfectly captured spirit of a real kid – the kind of kid that’s too smart for her own good and dealing with things well beyond her maturity level. As such, Barbara is filled with flaws – she’s difficult to befriend, and as the smartest person around she’s not terribly impressed with much of anything she sees and makes it known. There is also a great vulnerability in Barbara despite her witty barbs, which we see early on when Barbara is annoyed while listening to her female classmates talk about girly stuff, including belly shirts, while on the bus. Barbara is decidedly above whole thing as she listens, but in private she checks out her own belly and determines with a sigh that it is not worthy of a belly shirt. It’s insightful and heartbreaking stuff.
Barb has some of the best, funniest lines I’ve seen any character get in a long while and it makes it impossible not to love her (the funny ears and hats are just icing on the cake). And though Barbara spends much of her time delivering pithy one liners at anyone who will stand still long enough, she’s also delicately passionate about giants and her mission, as revealed when she explains giants and her secret weapon Coveleski in detail to Sophia:
“Imagine that…something so horrible, the sun will not shine upon it.” That line…is just unbelievably awesome and suggests the remarkable insight of Barbara as a character.
Sophia, Barbara’s new neighbor is a soul mate if I’ve ever seen one and the two girls become fast friends despite Barbara’s challenging behavior. Sophia has the tenacity of a cat that becomes interested in you simply because you’re not interested in it, and it’s only that tenacity that allows her to pierce Barbara’s defenses. The reality of course is that Barb is desperate for a confidante and relishes finally having one, but Kelly plays this relationship perfectly, like all the other notes in his story, and it feels real and rewarding to watch these two girls become devoted to one another.
The art by JM Ken Niimura is a loose sketchy style that I really enjoy, but can admit is probably not for everyone. I find it really visceral and immediate, and although there are a couple of moments where it is hard to make out what is going on, in general the art serves Kelly’s story very well. Niimura especially takes excellent advantage of Barb’s wildly eccentric fantasy (or is it?) world, building it realistically around her in a visually resonant way that becomes fundamental to the story’s reveals towards the end.
And speaking of the end, I’m not going to reveal it. It’s too perfectly held together to be spoiled in a silly column. You should discover it on your own if you haven’t already – a story of best friends and death and adventure and letting go and growing up - all told with brutal honesty and startling creativity.
I Kill Giants is available as a trade and collects the entire series (#1 – 7) and includes a few extras – mostly a short essay from Kelly and some of Niimura’s sketch pages with interesting notes from both Kelly and Niimura about the process of putting Giants together.
*apologies on some of the blurred scanning - my scanner hates scanning from books almost as much as it hates me.