Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artwork: Stephanie Hans
Lettering: Clayton Cowles
Release Date: 24th June 2020
Right off the bat, let me make one thing perfectly clear – DIE may very well be the best comic being published right now. Sure, it definitely has a lot of stiff competition, but for me, Keiron Gillen and Stephanie Hans “Goth Jumanji” is pretty much unrivalled in its blend of drama, stunning visuals and ridiculously in-depth (and unashamedly geeky) world building.
As we launch into the third arc of the series, this latest issue opens with Ash on the throne of Angria, hunting her former party members (and real-life friends) and clearly feeling rather conflicted about the whole thing. The exchange between her and Sol – their former friend who ended up stuck in the game for almost thirty years – is a perfect microcosm of the greatness of this series. Rather than some eloquent, overwrought monologue, Gillen and Hans instead give us an intimate, vulnerable and slightly mundane conversation, with Ash letting her mask slip both literally and figuratively during a conversation about death and Nirvana (with a capital N).
As with a lot of openings to new arcs, the bulk of this issue is concerned with checking in with our various protagonists and evaluating their mindset and current status before the story kicks into high gear again. That said, this is far from filler, with several intriguing moments along the way, as well as one absolutely glorious Jane Eyre non-joke. As with all great RPG sessions, it’s the character moments and decisions that really make the experience special, and that’s double true here as our beautifully realised leads make their way through this rapidly changing and evolving world.
Throughout it all, Hans does a simply stellar job of bringing the story to life with her rich, painterly style and wonderfully emotive characters. The aforementioned exchange between Ash and Sol is a perfect example of this as the blend of anguish, embarrassment and awkwardness between the pair really jumps off the page. Oh, and special mention should also be made of the single page teaser of the “Little England” invasion of Angria, which sets itself out from the rest of the issue with a bold palette and makes me really want to see the shit hit the proverbial fan in the issues to come.
The final pages feature a shocking reveal which promises to thrust Angela – Ash’s real life sister and cyber-thief “Neo” class – right into the spotlight as the story continues to unfold. Once again, the execution here is flawless, with Gillen, Hans and letterer Clayton Cowles working together seamlessly to unveil their cliff-hanger with a real flourish.
A note-perfect manipulation of the fantasy RPG setting, featuring enough layers (or sides, I guess) for die-hards and casual gamers alike, DIE is like absolutely nothing else on the shelves right now and as such, is a series that comes highly, highly recommended.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]