According to me, Joe Kelly might be the most underrated writer in comics…
Yeah, most people give him his due props for his excellent Deadpool tenure, but he’s also produced some stellar work during his time on Action Comics (more on that later), X-Men, Justice League of America, and the criminally underappreciated brilliance that was Steampunk. I know some of you late bloomers are just now discovering that he also writes a fantastic Peter Parker, but that’s been obvious to some of us since his Webspinners arc from ’99, or from the Deadpool “crossover” that occurred even earlier than that. Point being, he’s produced some great, great work over the years, and yet hasn’t received the critical recognition and adoration that other writers in the game have. Yet every time he gets another opportunity, Kelly shows up and leaves no doubt that he’s an incredibly talented writer and deserves appropriate mention. And in this next installment, we’re going to talk about The End, the final chapter of Kelly’s fairly recent Image miniseries I Kill Giants, which collected a number of accolades following its completion.
The seven issue mini appears to be a somewhat typical fantasy/adventure story about a fifth grader named Barbara Thorson who carries a massive warhammer in her tiny purse, named after an obscure piece of baseball trivia, and used to fight (and yes, kill) giants. Which by itself makes for a great hook and probably some great visuals, but at its core, that’s not actually what the series is about at all. I’ll do my best to talk around the horrible truth at the center of this simultaneously heartbreaking and thrilling story, but it’s right there at the beginning, and yet still feels like a genuine surprise when revealed. It also escalates the main narrative substantially, and turns this into the rare series that becomes better with each successive issue. This momentum builds to a powerful crescendo (and a massive fight sequence) and in the aftermath, Kelly uses his final chapter to wrap all of his characters and revelations into a perfect bow—delivering one of the best scripts he’s ever had published in the process.
It’s hard to explain just how great the ending of this series is, how emotionally and dramatically powerful it is on every level. Barbara has faced down the first of two incredible threats at this point, having spent the entire sixth issue saving the city (with the help of Coveleski) from a titan’s unstoppable rage. Despite impossible odds, she won the battle, and learned the truth about why the titan chose now to launch his assault. But the young hero is gone now, leaving her family and friends worried sick and fearing the worst. Then she suddenly returns—a little wet, a little tired, a little hungry, but alive and different than she was before, stronger than she ever thought she was. And now she’s ready to face the other giant, armed with a strength and grace and maturity that once seemed completely beyond her.
This leads to a number of touching and uplifting moments that concludes a great story, and offers an even greater message that speaks to any audience, no matter their age or background. I do think this would definitely be a great tool to help young kids deal with some tough emotional issues, and it’s no surprise that it was named one of the top ten graphic novels for teens, by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). It’s a timeless story with a ton of heart, which I believe will only grow in popularity and acclaim as the years go on.
Think this one definitely flew under a lot of people’s radars, but it is definitely worth picking up if you’re looking for a great self-contained epic, with some powerful imagery and a strong emotional core. I recommend the “Titan Edition” if you can manage it, as it prints the entire series oversized, and is packed with behind-the-scenes commentary and features. Beautiful presentation for a beautiful piece of work, and another obvious example of how well Joe Kelly tells a story. Sure this feature series will be talking about some of his other great scripts in the near future, so stay tuned for that.