Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #32 by Drew Barth
Fantasy House Party
With the recent publication of DIE #6, I was reminded of another series that I had written about previously: Coda. With its examination of fantasy tropes and classic D&D character classes as starting points for exploring what fantasy is and what it can be, Coda, and its creative team of Si Spurrier and Matías Bergara, became established as one of the best fantasy comic series in quite some time. The final issue of Codacoincided the release of the first volume of Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’s DIE—another series that examines fantasy, RPG classes.
Coda is like a traditional D&D game run amok with much of its magic being limited to a scarce resource, character quests proving futile, and whole warring factions undermined by the machinations of manipulative god. This would be a campaign in which every saving roll failed.
DIE uses the role playing game idea more literally, and then twists it. The characters are role-players who must inhabited the fantasy world they have ruined—almost calling back to the ruined world of Coda—and have to deal with the consequences of their teenage actions from when they were originally trapped in the game. There is also the World War I imagery throughout the series—one of Tolkien’s influences when writing about Middle-earth—even going so far as to have a hobbit-esque soldier dying in a trench as a commanding officer in gray smokes a pipe above his corpse. DIE deconstructs fantasy RPGs and their cultural DNA.
The two central figures of DIE and Coda—Ash and Hum, respectively—belong to highly verbal roles. Ash as The Dictator can speak emotions into existence, and Hum the Bard composes stories and ballads that make magic. Ash and Hum deal almost exclusively in deception through most of their series, relying on their words as a means of defense and eschewing responsibility for their impact. Interestingly, Gillen and Spurrier chose these untrustworthy characters as narrators for both series. How much of either story is actually happening, and how much is the manipulative discourse of our narrators? For Coda, we ultimately know that the majority of Hum’s narration is utter lies, no matter how much Hum wishes they were true. As for Ash of DIE, such dishonesty would clash with the themes of DIE at the moment. Then again, we’ll have to wait to see how the rest of the story goes.
DIE and Coda are both series that are masterful in kicking away our genre expectations. All of those subversions come with having a fine-tuned, fundamental understanding of what makes fantasy and role-playing compelling. Through this knowledge, some truly spectacular comics are able to emerge.
Commitment to creation and character drives these stories forward. When we have creators like Gillen and Hans and Spurrier and Bergara, the medium of comics gets better. When creators recast old forms for something new, we get stories that show us how far fantasy and comics can be pushed when given that right amount of thought and insight. Comics need to be pushed forward. DIE and Coda push hard.
Get excited. Play the game.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.