Described in its simplest terms as “Goth Jumanji,” Die is several things all at once. It’s a comic book series, a role-playing game, a comic series about a role-playing game, and – like more popular fare such as Dungeons & Dragons – Die is a way for those playing or reading to exorcise some of their demons through the guise of a fictional world. Though, tell that to the group of long-suffering adults who’ve found themselves trapped inside the tabletop game created by their friend.
In the first volume of the series, the group of adventurers 0 Dominic, Angela, Chuck, Matt, Izzy and their leader Solomon – find themselves dealing with the repercussions of an incredibly traumatic event of their childhood: being trapped as teenagers inside the game and escaping two years later, as they were all presumed missing or dead. We see them years later, as adults, still dealing with the trauma of something they can only really speak about with each other. As the first volume ended, the group found themselves back inside the game to rescue Solomon who had remained inside while the rest of the group came back to reality.
With a mandate that the group cannot leave until everyone agrees to go home, our adventuring party begins to use their powers and abilities inside the world to affect change. This has led to a bit of blending between the worlds, as these players have become more and more accustomed to living as their characters as time passes inside of Die. As the group continues to enact their plan to escape, more and more complications arise, leaving them still inside the world for another day, another week, etc. Time continues to pass on the outside, as our party lives their second life inside the game, seemingly losing themselves, as well as working through their own personal pains.
This series is very interesting, as co-creator and writer Kieron Gillen has found a way to combine both his love of gaming and of dark fantasy. This combination works incredibly well, and the incredible world built by Gillen and artist Stephanie Hans is something to be commended. It’s dark and beautiful, as well as full of sorrow and wonder. Bringing this world to life as both the series and as a tabletop game that can be played by readers is one of the most fascinating developments in the industry as of late.
Die itself has an important and impactful story at its core. As a lover of tabletop games, I know their ability to serve as cathartic experiences for the players, allowing them to work out personal demons inside a world that will bring them no real-life repercussions. If they need to bring something to light from their personal lives, they can do so in-game, figuring out as their characters how to handle it (even if only just a bit) and bringing that experience back into their own lives. That ability is one of the bigger draws of tabletop games, as well as the ability to be social in a safe space. Having this experience illustrated inside the pages of a comic book can be cathartic in and of itself and knowing they can experience this world on their own is also pretty incredible. Knowing that stories like this exist, and that they can explore their own custom-built worlds to help themselves and those they care about makes tabletop gaming, and comics like these, important for those on the track of self-improvement.
I think that the nature of gaming is one of the most important, and least talked about, aspects of the medium. Die has shown through the characters that personal growth and psychological gains can be made while playing interactive, narrative games such as Die, giving it an additional degree of both significance and entertainment value. These characters have created a persona to assist them in both escaping from their current situations and helping to improve it. In terms of an individual, few stories are able to show the potential impact as well as Die.
None of this would be possible without artist Hans, though Her ability to visually create this world is nothing short of amazing. This series is detailed, gorgeous, and wholly unique. Given that this environment has been birthed whole cloth from the imaginations of Gillen and Hans, it’s pretty impressive. It’s difficult enough to bring a story into the modern world, but creating something that functions as its own universe is a major challenge. Adding into that the ability to actually play this game is another complicated layer of a book that already has several.
Without giving away too much information, this is a must-read series. Gillen has continued to bring his A-game to the industry, delivering another impressive series. I’d also highly recommended checking out the back-matter of the volume. There are some incredible essays by Gillen and Hans at the back of the issues.
Creative Team: Kieron Gillen (writer), Stephanie Hans (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer)
Publisher: Image Comics
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