Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #145 by Drew Barth
Guess We’ll DIE
Let’s reach our way back to the second thing I ever wrote for this article and talk about what is now one of my favorite comics of this century: Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ DIE. It’s been over two years since the first issue released and, with the final issue releasing recently, it’s time to re-immerse ourselves into the roles of writer, readers, and passerbys as DIE takes a look at all the roles we play and finds a way to grind them down until only the purest part of our humanity remains.
As writer Kieron Gillen originally described it, DIE is like a “goth Jumanji” as a group of friends play a tabletop role-playing game and find themselves trapped in the world their friend and Game Master had created. This happened when they were all teenagers in the early 90s. Now it is 2018 and they are forced into the game again by invitation of the friend that was left behind in the original game. Things happen. People get hurt. People die. A city is leveled. A nation is manipulated. Problems upon problem. But all of that isn’t instant. A twenty issue series with creators like Gillen and Hans at the helm know was escalation should feel like—from five friends trying to figure out how to get back home to causing a city to be destroyed to helping prevent reality from distorting, everything builds. Background stakes remain the same—escaping—but everything else ramps up more and more in such a perfect arc that there’s likely an equation I can punch into my graphing calculator to match it.
One of the main things DIE asks us as readers is: How do we approach playing games? Do we recognize right away that we’re involved in a game and mentally divorce ourselves from consequences? Or do we embrace the world before us, embody our roles, and play them as though our lives were dependent on our actions? It is one of the more interesting aspects of playing RPGs—that chance to explore a different version of ourselves. But there’s a difference between playing the adventurer and playing a piece of yourself that you’ve left long-buried because you’ve had no other opportunities to examine, let alone acknowledge, that part. It’s what the characters in this series go through as well—will Ash embrace parts of themself that they’ve been burying or can Chuck look at the world of DIE as something meaningful even though he himself will die soon? Every character deserves their own deep examination as their arcs are just as splendidly done as the plot.
All of that and I didn’t even mention that the world of DIE is also in part the creation of writers like the Brontes, H.G. Wells, J.R.R. Tolkein, and H.P. Lovecraft. Or, at least facsimiles that the world of DIE needed to develop. There’s so much to DIE as a comic and a world that it’s difficult to condense it down into a few hundred words. But it is the kind of series with such deep thought put into so much of its pacing, characters, world, tension, and plot that you want to see it reflected in every series you read.
Get excited. Get DIE.