Barbara Thorson is not your typical 5th grader. And it's not because she has a penchant for wearing bunny ears, talks back in class, has no friends, or has been in the Principal's office so many times their relationship has progressed to first names, although all those things are true.
No. It's her unwavering belief that she and she alone is the only one capable of standing against the evil giants that come to threaten her town. She even has a massive hammer named Coveleski that she hides in her small, hand-stitched purse.
If you think you know where Joe Kelly's beautiful I Kill Giants is going to go based on the above, then you're in for a shock. Because like John Scalzi did in Zoe's Tale, Joe Kelly sets out to write an unforgettable story about being a child, a real child, and the things you have to do in order to cope with all the things a child should never have to deal with, but do.
When we first come across Barbara she's hiding under a tent, stitching a sigil into her purse. She pricks her thumb, and uses the blood to mark the purse, all the while hiding from a secret, the secret that resides upstairs, and is the reason why she thinks she has to keep the Giants away. The art by J.M. Ken Niimura is breath-taking, a rough pencil mash-up of Japanese anime and something more Western, more identifiably American. Devoid of color, Niimura uses wonderful shading and empty space to perfectly capture Kelly's words. We see what Barbara sees (maybe others do, maybe they don't): a world of fairies and magic, of runes and floating spirits. Niimura uses different styles to pull the worlds together, and when he inevitably does get to the giants it's suitably awesome, still doesn't overtake the sharp, exquisite writing that lays Barbara's soul bare for a shattering confrontation that only can come after she deals with the monster.
I Kill Giants is one of those rare things: a comic book that makes full use of its unique storytelling devices to weave a tale of genuine human drama. There are monsters, fairies, war hammers and fights, and all of it goes toward exposing the hurt and eventual healing of one small, brave, girl, and leaves us with a message that anyone can take to heart:
"We are stronger than we think"
Whether you love comic books or not, this is one story you have to pick up.