God of Comics – Die
Seeing the resurgence of Dungeons and Dragons in the modern zeitgeist has been great. It’s a fantastic game and a good way to connect with people and build friendships. It’s also rife with possibilities to turn it into almost anything, from comedy to horror to drama, allowing people to explore aspects of themselves. So, why has it taken almost forty years to find mainstream acceptance?
Political conservativism. As usual, their discourse attacked something harmless they didn’t understand by blaming it for tragedies that their own policies make inevitable. Pushing anti-gay, anti-drug, anti-poverty stances across the board led to people killing themselves. Rather than look at themselves, though, Conservatives instead attacked whatever was handy, which in this case was Dungeons & Dragons and those that played it throughout the late seventies and early eighties. By the time they were done, Dungeons and Dragons had been freed of their vilification while also being relegated to something only nerds and losers did with their time.
Still, like video games and comics (and really anything that makes life worth living), Dungeons and Dragons continued to move and evolve. Purchased by Wizards of the Coast in the late nineties, Dungeons and Dragons has since been refined until the designers hit a perfect balance of variety and play mechanics that make the same simple to learn while still rewarding creativity. It’s awesome stuff that has led to an increased popularity that feeds into people adding their own mark to an experiential powerhouse that shows no signs of slowing down.
All of which brings us to Kieron Gillan and his latest comic offering, Die. Kieron’s wheelhouse is looking at the cultural history of different aspects of life experience – music, religion, youth – and exploring the best and worst aspects of whatever it is he’s writing about. It’s what makes him such a powerful writer and makes his stories as haunting as they are.
Here, he has six childhood friends sitting down to play a game. They create characters based on aspects of themselves they want to explore and deal with, each being rewarded with a die for their creativity before they vanish for two years. Only five of them return, and one of the five is missing an arm. They can’t talk about what happened to them or where they’ve been, playing into the satanic panic previously discussed, but they do what they can to move on with their lives. They grow up, build careers and families, drink to forget and live until one of them receives a die in the mail – one of the die that they played with as children.
They gather to discuss what to do about it and find themselves transferred to another world.
Because that’s what happened to them as kids because that’s what happens to children.
We have stories about kids who are taken to other worlds and expected to save the day, we have stories about what happens afterward, we even have stories about children so traumatized by being taken they kind of go bad, but this story has more in common with It than it does with them. These were kids who barely escaped with their lives, who moved on and tried to become whole people, who are now trapped by past mistakes in a world that has only gotten worse for their absence.
And if all this sounds like a story with more than a few real-world parallels, well, that’s only because Kieron’s magic is rooted in that concept. He’s a powerhouse who is eager to explore every facet of humanity and that’s on full display here, with meditations on gender, sexuality, expectation, grief, faith, and more. There’s a complexity here that goes beyond what we’re used to seeing from him, suggesting that he as leveled up again.
Complimenting Kieron’s words is the incredible artwork of Stephanie Hans. Her vibrant and wild colors are given free rein to explore here, moving from the drab shadows of the modern world to the grim fantastic of the world our heroes escaped and find themselves trapped in again. There’s power here in her subtle line-work, in the way she works body language and expression. There’s few artists that capture nuance of character in still wordless frames the way she does, but you can learn everything you need to know about who these people are just by staring at her renderings of them.
And, of course, the legendary Clayton Cowles gets to play here, too, given license to use language like a weapon. The man letters pretty much any comic worth reading and here you can see why – he’s got an eye for spacing and emphasis that brings Keiron’s dialogue to life.
This is awesome stuff and I give it my highest possible recommendation. You can, of course, pick it up at your local comic shop (or mine~!), order it directly from the publisher, or support the Amazon that is currently not on fire.