Die #2

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics

There ain’t no rest for the wicked in Die #2, which introduces us to the individual character archetypes of the five players who have been called back to the fantasy world of their teens. It also continues the breakneck pacing of the first issue, as well as the exposition. This issue, however, feels more like a tabletop roleplay game session, which makes sense — now that Ash, Chuck, Matt, Angela and Isabelle are back in the world of Die after 30 years away, they are immediately confronted with the creatures who occupy that world. The results are… mixed.

One thing is absolutely certain: though Die is a fantasy world, the consequences of what happens there are absolutely real. That was evident in Die #1, but this issue raises the stakes. Although it’s easy for these characters to slip back into their roles and make pacts for survival, nothing is guaranteed — in fact, the overall tone of Kieron Gillen’s writing suggests that whatever decisions these characters make, not everyone will get their happy ending.

Maybe that sounds grim. In a real TTRPG, the possibility of death is always there; so is the potential for deeply upsetting storylines, often driven by NPCs whose investment in the players comes from planned backstory crafted by the game master. In Die #2, we see those storylines start to take shape; we also encounter NPCs, presumably controlled by Sol, who remained behind when his friends escaped back to the real world 30 years ago, then became the Grandmaster of the world himself after he killed the old one. Now that he’s finally brought his friends back to Die to join him, it’s clear that whatever has happened in the last 30 years, it’s changed Sol the same way the real world has changed his five friends. That’s as terrifying as it is realistic, adding significant depth to the storytelling herein.

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One of the best elements of this issue is how it demonstrates each of the characters’ unique abilities within their Die roles, as well as how it illustrates the beauty and power of each of them, in massive battles as well as more intimate and frankly horrible moments.  Stephanie Hans’ art is, again, dynamic and stunning. Die features primarily red, white and blue/black color palettes, with accent colors used to emphasize characters’ expressions and major changes to scenery. Flashbacks take on a stunning purple hue. Light, shadow and color play off of each other to create a jarringly hyper-realistic look at these characters and their fantasy world, yet again driving home just how high the stakes are in this series. In every panel, the details are so exquisitely rendered that it’s hard to stop staring and move onto the next one.

Letterer Clayton Cowles has a unique challenge there, as it’s important to keep Gillen’s words present on the page without overwhelming or undermining the work Hans’ art is doing. This is, of course, a challenge in any comic, and a good letterer — like Cowles — can handle it with grace. However, that feels like even more of a feat in this series. In Die, the lettering is so well done that it doesn’t distract at all, which is amazing. It’s impossible not to be impressed by how well these creators have crafted this all-important, exposition-packed issue that also gives readers the first taste of what violence is to come — as well as what past heartbreaks and mistakes will return to haunt our heroes.

Die #2 burrows under the skin the same way its predecessor does, once again reminding readers, be careful what you wish for. If you pick up just one book this week, make it this one.

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