Wednesday, August 7, 2019

REVIEW: Die Vol. 1

Holy crap why wasn’t I reviewing this in single issues before? After somehow ignoring this series since its beginning, I first learned about it from an online post asking for recommendations of “portal fantasy” stories where characters are sucked into magical lands. It’s a common trope in anime and manga, but not so much in the west. Someone mentioned Die and I was like, “Huh, that sounds familiar.” And then the first trade paperback showed up. Man, have I been missing out.

Disclaimer: I received advance copies of the individual issues collected in Die Girl Vol. 1 courtesy of Image Comics. Opinions are my own.

Die follows a group of teenagers who gathered one night for a friendly tabletop roleplaying game session. The six of them create their own characters and are soon spirited away to a real-life fantasy world where they take on the forms of their newly rolled party. Unfortunately for them, hilarity and hijinx do not ensue.

Two years later, five of the six kids return after having clearly been through hell. No one says a word about what they went through or where Solomon, their missing companion, wound up. Years later, the kids are pushing forty when Sol’s magical d20 shows up to pull them all back into the fantasy world. Back into their characters. Back into their hell.

Kieron Gillen deserves a standing ovation for the story he crafted here. We see nothing of the party’s first adventure in the world of Die, not even a flashback here or there. Every piece of backstory is dulled out over time. Instead, we see the now-adult children quickly jumping back into their old skills and abilities, all in horror of what it means to be back.

The worldbuilding - my favorite thing in fantasy comics - was clearly done after rolling a nat20. (Is that the reference? Sorry, I don’t really play D&D.) The characters find themselves on a planet shaped like a d20 where each of its twenty sides is a massive domain representing twenty different game realms. Classic sword and sorcery here, mechs and mayhem there, and I’m sure many other horrors await on the sides not yet explored by the party.

I keep using that word - horror - because that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here. The world of Die isn’t just a fantasy, it’s a dark and disgustingly real world ravaged by war and chaos. The gruesome illustrations by Stephanie Hans paint a tormenting picture of the world these kids already survive once before having to dive back in again.

Die is a comic created with love and compassion the likes of which I have never seen before. Gillen clearly put his heart and soul into every panel. This collection includes a series of essays about the creation process of the world and it even comes with a link to a full RPG inspired by the world of Die, created by Gillen himself. I’ve never seen a creator who loved their own work quite like this.

Click here to order your copy of Die Vol. 1 today.