“THE GREAT GAME,” Part Five: The Great Game ends. The board is flipped. The pieces go to pieces. Can anyone play on?
As the war draws to a close, the party is reuniting and in true Die fashion, everything continues falling apart. While one of the issue’s first narrative beats involves a sleep spell, the finale of Die’s third arc is never a snooze.
Die remains endearingly genre-referential in its creator’s quest to deconstruct every element of roleplaying games, but Kieron Gillen ensures that Die goes beyond its pop culture nods. Die, for all of its plot, often feels more driven by its ideas. Readers are constantly put up against questions of agency in this issue: Who controls the game? Is it really the DM? How much agency can an individual have when they are simultaneously confined to the constraints of a pre-written role?
Larger than perhaps all of these ideas, however, is the way Die continues to confront the idea of escapism.
Die is a high fantasy book that never truly feels like an escape – rather a confrontation of our collective desire to do so. On one level, roleplaying games and fantasy fiction can allow us to confront complicated real-life questions, not only what could be but what isn’t. Wasn’t. In roleplaying games, Ash can be a girl and kiss boys and question gender and sexual orientation. Players can regret not becoming parents or question the kind of parents they have been or could be.
But RPGs can also allow us the bliss of trading out real-world troubles and fears for a world with elves and fae. Rather than allow Die’s characters or readers to escape, however, Gillen forces both to consider what we miss and what we return to. (Only now, reading Die #15, am I pondering if I should have watched the presidential election instead of playing an anime-inspired homebrew one-off to ignore it. I stand by my choice.) For Matt, escapism means missing the death of his father. For Chuck, it means staving off his own death. A book called Die was never going to make mortality feel like a secondary concern.
In some ways, it’s disturbingly serendipitous that a book like Die exists in the year it does. Even for people prone to ignoring it, mortality has come into stark focus. Lockdowns have made friends often feel more remote, and meeting over Zoom to roll the dice can feel like an immediate need. A book like Die can confront readers with these fears and responses in a way other books haven’t fully captured.
Artistically, Stephanie Hans’ work on Die continues to be bewitching, always toeing the line between the beautiful and the disturbing. This issue’s page layouts in particular are dominated by crooked, almost dagger-like, panels that emphasize the sense of both urgency and unease already present in Gillen’s writing. The splash panels, as always, feel high-impact and allow her more painterly style to take center stage.
An element that truly sets Hans apart from other artists is her mastery of light. Whether it is in the form of glistening tears, glowing flames, or the glint of armor and glass in a dim room, Hans’ work truly shines.
Her color palettes throughout Die are heavily restrained, with pages often working in only two or three colors but several tones. Rather than feel oppressive, this restraint creates a sense of coherence while emphasizing the contrast between plotlines and emotional beats. For example: a heavily muted, grey-blue page highlights a meaningful conversation between Ash and Izzy that is filled with remorse. However, the stronger and brighter reds and oranges that fill the following pages return the issue to a sense of action, urgency, and aggression first and foremost.
The cover, also by Hans per previous issues, is heart-wrenching, featuring Izzy’s horrified, teary face framed by the collapsed bodies of Angria’s sleeping citizenry. The purples, blues, and smattering of stars contribute to the overall sense of not simply slumber but sorrow. This is the second issue in a row to feature a sobbing protagonist, and given the book’s emotional arc, it’s hard to see that changing any time soon.
Within the world of Die, our world-wearied protagonists are up against the threat of their RPG fantasy world collapsing in on the real world they left behind in 2019. Two dimensions will come one, the Fair prophesied, in 2020. However, to read Die in the very real, beyond-the-book 2020 book feels even more disturbing and threatening. Even if the heroes keep the two dimensions separate, what would prevent them (the creators, we hope) from coming back to an even more mortality-focused, escapist, confined world than the one they tried to prevent? For the characters of Die, it seems that the future is almost certainly going to get worse. Perhaps their dungeoneering will end in a party wipe. Outside of DIE, death is inevitable, but hopefully our collective future isn’t so grim. Yet, Die’s ability to occupy the liminal space between escapist fiction and the grim reality we leave behind makes it feel vital. Its demi-reality offers a place for catharsis to contemplate the deaths that have been and will be not just for its characters but for its readers.
Die #15 isn't only vibrant and violent but vital. Cathartic. Die begs us to run away, yet forces us to rethink our very act of escapism and to confront the confinement and mortality we'd hoped to leave behind.
Die #15: When It All Comes Crashing Down
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
User Review( votes)