Until rereading it all at once, it would have been difficult to imagine that it was as good as I remembered during its original print run. But, in ways similar to a beloved song coming up on a playlist that hasn't hit your ears for awhile, Die has been brought back into my life, and all the familiar feelings of joy and pain have come back along with it. Because that's what this book is, in many ways: the joy of seeing a wholly unique piece of art and storytelling unfold in front of you, the pain of not only some of the content, but of seeing it end. Like any good narrative, the satisfaction of getting to the finale is two-fold: an honest respect for what the creator has done, and the bittersweet sadness of knowing there is no longer a time where you don't know how it finishes. That's one of the many beautiful things about this book: that it impacts so severely that you're almost mad at it for being so good, for daring to end. You're glad you experienced it, but incensed that it can exist and then stop adding to itself.
How does a book that originally dubbed itself the very silly “goth Jumanji” have the audacity to be this good? That humor, the groan-inducing jokes of co-creator Kieron Gillen add to the allure, as does his penchant for flowery prose and a heaping helping of references that are may or may not register with the audience. But within that is an impeccable sense of storytelling, of bringing the reader on a journey that is both unexpected and completely in line with a fantasy narrative. By couching the story in a role-playing game, we get the sense that our main cast - Chuck, Angela, Matt, Isabelle, Ash and Sol - are themselves the real people which we get to see take on a role. And in a sense, we are, as we see created characters acting as the real-life substitutes for their own fictional avatars, adding an additional layer of intrigue. Like many role-playing games, we get to see the party use these characters to deal with their own interests, hang-ups, and secrets, of getting to work through grief and issues in a way that is safe and under its own layer of fictional security.
Artist and co-creator Stephanie Hans is brilliant throughout this series, her painted art style really lending itself to this setting. With an emotion-based palette of colors, she really brings that emotive focus to each page, pulling so much out of each interaction in the story. From the character design to the landscapes of each realm within the land of Die, Hans' style gives us everything we need and more.
All of that to say that I unabashedly love this book. It's a beautiful exploration of loss, grief, and finding your way through life in whatever way you can. Making mistakes, building and breaking relationships, and discovering who you are, all through the guise of fiction and fantasy. Gillen and Hans have built an incredible world, filled with literary greats, horrors beyond imagination, and unique spins on classic fantasy tropes. There is so much to discover in this world, and through the twenty issues of this series, we don't even get all of it, with Gillen and Hans seeming to leave parts of it blank, allowing us to imagine or create aspects of this land on our own, something that is perfect for role-playing games, where the module is just a landscape for the journey. This makes sense, given that this is not only a role-playing game fit inside a comic book, it's a role-playing game from a comic that is its own actual tabletop game. That additional layer actually gives a lot of credence to the way the series progresses, as we get a full campaign with just enough left unexplained that we could dive into this world on our own and get something only our own adventuring party would experience.
Overall, this is one of the most unique and interesting series to release in the last few years, with a story that is as engaging as it is emotionally satisfying. Gillen and Hans have delivered a masterpiece of storytelling that tackles so many different issues throughout its run. There is nothing like this series, and while it's bittersweet that it's over, having it all here is a delight to revisit. Please, read this book. And once it's available, play the tabletop game and experience the world of Die for yourself. Each experience will be totally worth it.
Creative Team: Kieron Gillen (writer), Stephanie Hans (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer)
Publisher: Image Comics
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