Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Anyone following DIE knows it’s many things at once. How writer, Kieron Gillen, and artist, Stephanie Hans, manage to create an epic science fiction/fantasy story that is simultaneously a deconstruction and critique of the genre, is as breathtaking in its art, as it is thought-provoking in content. While younger readers may miss some references, comic fans with a bit more vintage will see much in this issue to ponder.
The Grandmaster, Sol, constructs a vast and time-consuming campaign for the Paragons. Three dungeons, each consisting of twelve guardians. If any of the Paragons want to get back to their real lives, they’re looking at months of planning and instance running. But then, Ash, Chuck, Matt, Isabelle, and Angela aren’t the old character classes you’ve seen in other fantasy stories. These characters, these classes break rules; break games. However, when all is said and done, it’s not clear what the cost of their actions are. The question is: what world is more real, the one of death and magic, or the one they left behind?
At its heart, DIE is a character-driven story. Without the complex character fears and desires that create similarly complex motives, none of this story would happen. The Paragons lure the Grandmaster out of hiding because of his fatal flaw. The decisions specific characters make at the end of #5 are essential for the continuation of the story. What is most interesting about this comic is how Gillen and Hans give enough page space to each character so that readers know the whole cast intimately.
So much of the worldbuilding relies on the art. Without such a visionary artist like Hans, this piece could have felt disjointed or like cardboard. Instead, this final issue showcases a sprawling fantasy city, heroes and villains as memorable as they are lost. The color pallet used in much of this issue provokes a feeling of wonderment, which is how many young readers conceptualize fantasy worlds. However, the adventures in classics like Lord of The Rings might gleam like gold, but below the polished surface are some unsettling messages, and Hans emphasizes this with much of the imagery. Yes, she seems to say, fantastical adventures sound like a bunch of fun and games, but let’s not forget, there is something deeply troubling in the conception of a sub-human race, such as orcs.
A twisted and shocking finish to the first arc of DIE. If you like complex characters that drive stories to places you didn't expect (and grew up with D&D) this is for you.