DIE #3

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics

Review by Jim Allegro

Kieron Gillen plays the long game. The latest installment of his new Image book peels away yet another layer from the new RPG-inspired fantasy adventure. The first issue introduced the adults who played DIE in their youth; the second returned the characters to playing upon re-entering the role-playing game; and now DIE #3 builds the world in which they interact. The result is a poignant story about family, loss, and privilege set among the ruins of a dragon-infested World War I battlefield.

Gillen’s methodical approach to storytelling is beginning to bear fruit. Laying the narrative groundwork in previous issues now allows him the space to focus on the emotional profile of one character. Separated from her friends, Ash (Dictator) stumbles upon a battered regiment of elves. Her encounter with a soldier who does not expect to return home to his family is a touching reminder of the tragedy of war. Her response to a request made by that solider is stirring and unexpected. Clearly, she is touched by the stock characters in the game, even if they are predictable placeholders for other things. The game matters, the writer wants us to know, because we are changed for the playing of it.

Gillen also wants us to know that the recent wave of 80s nostalgia is more complicated than may first appear. Ash and her friends are chastened by the blood and carnage of the battlefield. Watching the death and maiming of so many young soldiers reminds them of the privileged innocence of their own youths spent playing games in basements. And, by extension, Gillen suggests maybe their (and our) present lives may not be so bad after all. An appearance by Sol (Grandmaster) brings home this point. No one is more saddened by senseless teenage deaths than the person responsible for their demise.

The unforgiving way in which Stephanie Hans smears warm colors across the panels compliments the emotional tenor of Gillen’s writing. Deep and rich reds mix with forceful greens and blacks to remind us that a childhood spent playing RPGs in 1986 was much better than dying young of mustard gas in 1916. The complexity of youth and age are on display in the purposefully stark and one-dimensional faces of the dying elves and the other stock characters in the world of DIE. The consequence is a thoughtful and engaging comic that gives pause to those of us old enough to actually remember the eighties.

Verdict: Buy it!

I sunk my teeth into DIE #3. It was provocative and intelligent. I recommend it as a BUY.

Jim Allegro

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