I’ve rewritten this introductory paragraph at least fifteen times. For some reason, I am desperately struggling to put into words the way I feel about this comic. That isn’t to say that it’s bad. Quite the opposite, actually. It may be the best comic book that I’ve read in the last decade. But therein lies the problem. The struggle comes from how difficult it is for me to convey to every single fan of comic books, fantasy, tabletop, or RPGs just how damn good this story is as well as how much you need to read it. But, I suppose, the best way to articulate these feelings is to be blunt about them, so here goes. With the end of the first “arc” of this series and the true stakes of the characters and their actions set, I truly believe that Image Comics’ DIE #5 from the creative team of writer Kieron Gillen, artist Stephanie Hans, and letterer Clayton Cowles has cemented itself as an instant classic deserving to be on every shelf.
This issue picks up immediately where the last left off. Our protagonists, Ash, Chuck, Matt, Angela, and Isabelle are still trapped in the Gamemaster Sol’s game. All of them, now freshly rested and recovered, have begun to enact a plan to bring Sol to them. With the goal of ending the game in mind, everyone has a part to play. The plan? Destroy Glass Town in an effort to draw Sol out of hiding in hopes to either appeal to him to allow them to leave or subdue him and make their escape. At first, all seems to go as planned, but nothing ever works out exactly right and over the course of the issue the things that they learn and experience will reshape their entire understanding of the game world.
Writer Kieron Gillen’s script is masterful. He manages to pivot from the fourth issue, full of pathos and emotion, into a smart, action-packed, and shocking fifth issue. The story moves quickly, but never in a manner that is unclear. The characters’ actions and motivations are perfectly in sync with who they are and what they’ve done through the series so far. Much of this might not sound like high praise but I think so much of this series as a whole is so fantastic because Gillen maintains the same quality that he has had up to this point. And that is nearly the highest praise I can imagine.
Again, artist Stephanie Hans outdoes herself. Every panel drips with style and substance, giving us some of the most beautiful scenes in the market. Hans’ ability to depict sweeping fantasy vistas and action on one page and intimate scenes of raw emotion on others is outstanding. Her passion for the genre is clear and what she creates for the page is all the better for it. Clayton Cowles’ lettering is perfect. It is never cluttered or unclear as to who is speaking. Dialogue is shown expertly, always visible and done in such a way that the reader’s eyes are drawn across the beautiful art as they take in the story.
This is the fifth issue of Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, and Clayton Cowles’ excellent series. That means that this will be the fifth consecutive month that I bother anyone who will listen to me about picking it up and reading. I have not been enamored with a comic series in such a way in a long time and I’ve loved every second of it. If you are reading this review right now, the next thing you do should be to purchase DIE #5. I guarantee you it is worth your time.
DIE #5 is available in comic stores everywhere now.