Comics: Die Issues #1-3 (2019) - Reviewed

Image Comics released the first issue of Die in December of 2018. Issue 3 was released earlier this month and issue 4 is slated to be available on March 6th. The story follows a group of teenagers who get more than they bargained for when playing a Dungeons & Dragons style role playing dice game one evening at a birthday party. The teens disappear without a trace, leaving no explanation or evidence about their whereabouts when they suddenly return two years later. The major problem is, while six teenagers disappeared, only five returned. The group returned without their leader, the DM, Sol. The weight of this knowledge is one that keeps the group apart into adulthood, that is, until the main character, Ash, receives a mysterious package. The contents of the package force the group to acknowledge that the game may not be as over as the quiet years have led them to believe. The now adult characters get  together once more to determine what they should do about the package Ash received, and unfortunately, through powers that they have no control over, are transported back into the fantasy kingdom that held them captive for two years of their childhood.

Writer Kieron Gillen certainly knows his stuff when it comes to fantasy based role playing games. When you are first introduced to the characters as teenagers, if you have any history of playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons, this portion will make you feel very nostalgic. The terminology, the character and class selection and the excitement you see in the kids eyes as they learn who has the best charisma and dexterity points certainly brought me back to a RPG time in my life. Though I don’t know for certain, I would certainly guess that Gillen spent some time in his youth, or even into adulthood experimenting in the fantastic world of role playing games. Though the books are primarily set in the fantasy world, you are given enough glimpses into the personalities and modern lives of each character to truly be able to understand the role they play in the game. All of the members are introduced as teenagers initially in ways that you will be able to fully connect them with the characters they become when they are transported into the game. They do not just become random characters in a game, every class, every power has been well thought out by Gillen so it reflects who the person was in the real world. There are no coincidences here. 

As someone who has been immersed in the world of epic fantasies since childhood, and then later on in my young adult life beginning to dive into the world of comics, Image Comics Die is a series that had me completely hooked from the first page. I think it is so common to get caught up in fantasy worlds, whether through reading about them, or like in this story, through role playing games. RPGs are magical the way they can take a hold of you and create this exciting fantasy based separate life you are involved in, something like living a double life.  I think Kieron Gillen exploring that in such a literal and creative way makes this series so much fun for fans of fantasy and gaming alike. There is such a huge geeky crossover between gamers and comic book lovers that I truly feel like the idea behind creating Die is utterly genius. I must point out, however, though I found the premise behind Die to be extremely fun, the story itself is utterly emotional and at times heart wrenching. It is an epic whirlwind of beauty and sadness. 

Stephanie Hans is the artist behind the surreal dark beauty on both the covers and pages of Die. Her art has a soft painting like quality to it and it adds the dark yet ethereal setting of the story. We see fiery dragons, jagged mountainous landscapes and characters with heavily detailed medieval style clothing and armor. These are pages that fantasy lovers are going to want to frame. Even in the darkest or most depressing scenes, beauty is still prevalent in the art. Hans is extremely talented at providing a gorgeous fantasy aspect no matter the setting. As the first book began in our modern world, you would think such a style could not translate well, but it is done so effortlessly. Her transition from the modern world to the world of the fantasy game is seamless where it could’ve been jarring. I don’t think the team could have selected a better artist for this project.

It is still early yet, but I think there is a good chance of Die being my 2019 favorite new indie comic. I was introduced to Scout Comic’s Long Lost in 2018 and that certainly was at the top of my list last year, but with its close, I needed something new and I do think the dark epic fantasy that is being unfolded in Die could be exactly what I was looking for. I will definitely be anticipating the fourth issue early next month and looking forward to getting to know the characters even more and watching this beautiful and emotional story unfold.

--Rachel Rutherford