"Die #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Stephanie Hans
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
2018, 40 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on December 5th, 2018
A group of teenagers get together for a party in 1991. Instead of booze and drugs, they play a new roleplaying game...and then disappear for two years. All but one of them returns and it's clear that they've been through hell. One of them is missing an arm and they're all experiencing trauma, yet they can't speak about what they saw. Fast forward to the present day where these forty-somethings are forced to return to this tragedy once again, unsure of what they might find.
It's amazing how quickly we're pulled into the characters' lives in Die. Writer Kieron Gillen starts the comic off with narration from Dominic, explaining who's who and why they're all gathered together. The way it comes through, it feels like these are old friends, not only to each other, but to us. It's a natural progression that becomes shocking when we find out what happened to them.
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That isn't an entirely accurate statement, as you see the beginning and end of their journey, not the in-between. Your mind starts filling in the gap as to what could have possibly occurred and then Gillen starts to drop hints before revealing the size and scope of what we're dealing with.
Despite the everyday nature of the opening pages, there's a dark and ominous tone cast over Die. It could be because you know these are the last moments of normalcy for these characters, but it's mostly attributable to Stephanie Hans' artwork. Sol, the organizer of the game, looks downright evil at times as he hands out each individual die to his friends to prepare for the game.
The dreadful tone of Die comes out in Clayton Cowles' letters too. Dominic's internal narration is presented in black boxes with white lettering, the opposite of what we normally see in comics today. This presents a dark quality from the jump that's extended throughout the whole issue.
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Shadows are amplified, casting an eerie light on their surroundings. This extends to the present day sequences as well, like a dark spectre is haunting each of the characters well into their lives. They may have moved on to some extent, but they'll never be able to leave their past behind.
Die reaches a climax when we get a glimpse into this other world. It's a strange fantasy land filled with equal parts possibility and dread. Hans has some impressive designs for this place and how the characters change within it and I can't wait to see how it's explored in future issues.
Die is like a cross between Stephen King's It and The Never-Ending Story. These normal teenagers are whisked away to a fantasy world where they witnessed real terror that's haunted them well into their adult lives. Now they've been forced to return and face it once again, this time voluntarily. This debut issue set a very high bar for this series.