This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: JDie: Fantasy Heartbreaker.
Believe it or not, I’m not the biggest reader of Kieron Gillen‘s work. The author has some critically acclaimed works that frankly I’ve never gotten around to reading – not because I’m not a fan of his work, but largely because I never make a conscious effort to hunt out the author’s work. More often than not, I end up reading Gillen’s writing as it falls into comics I would naturally gravitate toward; case in point the subject of today’s column.
According to Goodreads Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker is “a pitch-black fantasy where a group of forty-something adults have to deal with the returning, unearthly horror they only just survived as teenage role-players.” Perhaps the easiest way to describe this is as a dark version of Jumanji as six D&D players disappear for two years as they start up a special kind of game. The story takes place almost thirty years later as they’re forced back to the fantasy world as the very characters they played as initially – only this time they have lives they want too return to.
The first volume of Die is heavily influenced by D&D and roleplaying games in general – but if you’re not a fan of that type of entertainment then have no fear because you don’t need to be intimately familiar with the ins and outs of character creation (though as with anything paying homage to something, knowledge of D&D character creation will likely give you a laugh or two when the players go through the same process, but again, it’s by no means essential). The comic is set up in that if you’ve ever played any type of game where you interact with non player characters (videogames, roleplaying games, choose your own adventure type books), and have wondered what happens in the world when you turn off the game, then you’ll find something to enjoy in the premise. That’s to say nothing of Gillen’s writing or Stephanie Hans art as she brings to life the fantasy world in Gillen’s imagination.
It feels odd to highlight the work of the man partly responsible for The Wicked + The Divine, but this is one of those books that I don’t see enough people talking about. Until I picked up the first volume at my comic shop (for all of $10!), I’m fairly sure it had been on the shelf for some time – at the very least I hadn’t heard anybody asking for it in the same way as other works by creators not published by the big two. Die is a dark book, and through this Gillen explores whether we’d truly be heroes in a world of no consequence, whether we would give way to our inhibitions and become the worst versions of ourselves or whether we could rise above.
The more I thought about the book the more I enjoyed the layers Gillen had woven into it; although they were only teenagers when they first entered the game, the six players spent two years in the fantasy world – and three decades later, they’re facing the consequences of actions they took, relationships they forged and the decisions made during those two years. Some of these people are still haunted by their time in the fantasy world, and how that’ll play out across the next two volumes is something I’m super excited to find out.
You should be able to find this at your LCS, or online, easily enough.
In the meantime, Underrated will return to highlight more comic book related stuff that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is.