Comic Book Review: Die #1


This book right here was one of my most anticipated for the year. If it wasn’t the fact that Kieron Gillen was writing this, then they had me sold the minute Die was summed up as ‘Goth Jumanji.’ I mean, I honestly would not trust someone who doesn’t love Jumanji. Would you? I didn’t think so. Part of me also couldn’t help wanting to read this as someone who has always wanted to play D&D and had no one to start a game with. Die off the bat felt like the full package for someone who loves fantasy, role-playing, or even horror. They only sweetened the deal that this was also an oversized debut issue.

I felt hooked into this story from the minute it started. It was a familiar atmosphere between the way that this creative team introduced us to the kids to the night when everything changed for them as they played that D&D game. The way I would describe this was as if watching a 90’s movie read through a book. I have a weakness for that kind of approach because of the vibe given off from times where entertainment was a bit simpler. It was a lot easier for a group of friends to decide that the best way to spend a birthday party at sixteen was to play a board game. Not to mention this was a time where that particular group of friends would easily fall into cliche roles for people during that period. The way that the creative team also introduced us to each character at that point was great for the way that simple strings of words could tell you more about someone than an entire arc given to just one person.

The narration and color (black and red) given to it popped out immediately when the choice of words gave you the quick impression that we were bracing for the worst outcome from where this game was leading our characters. We knew whose voice this was and the obviousness that this is all being told from the perspective from someone in the present/future.

Now for the first issue, I couldn’t help but feel captivated by the way that they were only willing to give us only so much information into what happened to these kids once the game began. If we want to those answers, we have to sweat for them. Otherwise this wouldn’t be a dark fantasy story. For as much fantasy as you want to take from this book, there was an excellent balance of horror as well to keeps us guessing what comes next. This was more true when we jumped into present time when these guys are in their forty-somethings. Even without knowing what exactly happened to each one of them, you could still feel sympathy towards the way that they moved on in their lives. Living in the present, yet also dragged down by the past. You could as well see how that initial summary of each one of them was either something that would have evolved during these times, or remained the same. What continued to catch me off guard was where this first issue took us by the end. I’m glad that there’s so much that you can’t predict about the way that they meant that the unearthly horror they barely survived returned. Everything came down to the form that would take, and I would say that they chose wisely.

I will give credit to Kieron Gillen that you could see some influence from the way that he has written WicDiv, but this was more of the kind of story he could write with little limitation to madness. The rules are different, the dangers are different, and so is the personal obstacles. This was something you could either call a kid’s greatest fantasy, or their greatest nightmare.

When I put this first issue down, I honestly could not see this hitting me as hard with a different art team. Stephanie Hans (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Rian Hughes (Designer), all did a spectacular job with the interiors and cover. I don’t always say that the artwork is a dealbreaker for a book, but I felt like a book like this one really needed the best at work. This art team was right for the job. For Hans, I thoroughly enjoyed the way she painted the interiors. A wonderful rendering that worked so well because it was all her work that blended in between the characters, settings, atmosphere, and even the visual effects. She captured the role that these guys played as kids, the way that the game twisted their personalities as adults. It helped that there was a strong use of lighting and shadows for dramatic effect, not to mention adding dramatic effect to character expressions. I think where the artwork hooked me was the character design for the in-game. That was everything you could hope for and more between the attire and personalization of it all. As Gillen said himself, praise to Hans for the way that she applied sepia too. That was a very distinguishing coloring choice for this book. The lettering made a big difference here. It took many forms whether it was the narration, or the uniqueness for different tones. Beyond that, perfect decision-making for the way that page spreads and washes were used throughout among other visual techniques.

Has Die #1 lived up to the hype? I would not believe anyone who said this did not. It was everything as advertised when the world of real and fantasy clash. There was real emotion, terror, build-up, and a sense of wonder when actually exposed to what these guys got themselves into. Seeing is believing. You know, I might also toss in some elements of ‘It’ seen too. This may be bold to say, but definitely one of the best debuts for an original story this year.

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