The ending of the first arc of Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ Die is loud, flashy, and creates a completely new premise for the series while still riffing on RPGs and never growing up. It starts as the third act of a high concept fantasy film before turning into some fourth wall breaking The Lego Movie meets Chronicles of Narnia metafiction, yet darker and then goes full hog horror.
In Die #5, the main party of Ash, Chuck, Matt, Angela, and Isabelle have to defeat Sol, the Grandmaster so they can go home to their homes and lives in the “real world” because the game only ends when whole party unanimously wants it to end. But it isn’t that easy. Some characters, like “The Fool” Chuck and divorced school teacher Isabelle, actually enjoy traveling a multi genre encompassing fantasy landscape that in this issue alone is a little cyberpunk, a little Wizard of Oz, and has a Dungeons and Dragons approach to divinity. And, then, there’s the whole dark ending part that establishes the new stakes and antagonists for the series. Gillen and Hans really fuck with whatever fantasy genre/RPG tropes expectations you had for the series.
As Die goes from a hazy flashback to the “real world” to Glass Town, Eternal Prussia, and various fantasy landscapes, Stephanie Hans’ gift for color palette and creating an immersive fantasy setting is on full display. Statues, temples, gods, dark corridors, a bit of old school hacking, and yes, dragons are all in her repertoire, and the way each character uses their class abilities is quite distinct too like the red flash whenever Ash does dictator things. It’s a world that you could definitely imagine a straight, dark fantasy series with touches of cyberpunk taking place in, which makes Gillen and Hans’ rejection of the premise so radical.
Hans’ work has real emotion too from the smiles and soft yellows of young Dominic Ash and Sol as they play with a cool Lego castle in the opening flashback to after various pyrotechnics, Ash and Sol throw down in the world of Die. Their relationship is the beating heart of the series so far, and even though Sol is a total asshole, who ripped his friends from their mostly happy lives to play a game, it hurts when they fight and converse in the issue’s final moments. With black narrative captions from Clayton Cowles, Ash steels herself to take out Sol and go home, but her internal conflict is the complete opposite of her confident “team leader” style dialogue. Her actions in this issue definitely have messed Ash up as a character as the series progresses.
In Die #5, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans create an intriguing fantasy world and RPG system and then topple it, both visually and in the plot. They take the premise of never leaving Narnia and dial up the darkness and horror that is baked into that idea. Also, having middle aged people in a fantasy RPG setting makes for some interesting characterization although this issue is predominantly action-driven.
One last thing, you should definitely check out the essay Gillen pens at the end of the comic. For reasons.
Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Stephanie Hans Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review