Dungeons & Dragons is arguably bigger than it’s ever been and it seems to be flowing into every form of media. That said, though there are comics that take place in the world of the game, not counting their own comic series. But, Image Comics‘ Die #1 may well be the first time the actual playing of a Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is at the forefront of the plot.
The comic is written by the amazing Kieron Gillen, author of Wicked + Divine, with art by Stephanie Hans in her first ongoing comic, and lettering by Clayton Cowles. Die delivers on every promise that comes from such an ace team. The cover, also by Hans, deserves to be framed and is the first of many “wow” inducing moments the art brings.
If you could Jumanji into any game, most would likely pick Dungeons & Dragons. For the main characters of Die, however, getting sucked into their imaginary campaign nearly killed them as teenagers. Now, twenty-five years later, they get called back into the bleak landscape they barely escaped from and must find a way to survive again. This time, against someone they long thought dead.
There is a promise of horror in Image’s description of the book, and already the threads of that are beginning to be woven. Even without gore, ghosts, murder, or any of your other typical horror aspects, the psychological horror of what these kids went through is already apparent. Grown adults having breakdowns because of the present, a mother begging to be able to bury her son, and guilt over something the reader isn’t aware of yet, because none of the characters can talk about it. Can they not talk about what happened to them twenty-five years ago because it’s too hard for them? Maybe it’s because they are horrified by the memories of being trapped in another plane for two years? Or are they physically not able to talk about it? That’s one question that is left dangling at the end of the first issue, but it’s one that draws the reader into this dark tale in true Gillen fashion. He always excels at these elaborate stories full of more layers anyone might expect, and every layer is more intriguing than the last. Every answer leads to a question, and I never want it to end.
That’s not even mentioning the art throughout the issue. From an entire page of white and black with splashes of red and blue to a beautiful otherworldly desert empire, Hans wields her skill like the sword of a level 30 barbarian. You’d be forgiven in thinking this is only the latest major title in a decades-long career. It’s hard to imagine this is only her first on-going title.
Die #1 is an oversized issue, and thank god for that because this title is addictive as hell. Loving fantasy roleplaying games isn’t a requirement, but it certainly adds another level of enjoyment.
Rating: 5/ 5 D20s.