Die #5 Review: A Most Critical Hit
“Die” #5 completes our first arc with a revelation, although in looking back it probably shouldn’t be. The seeds were there all along.
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Stephanie Hans
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
“Die” #5 brings the conflict of the previous issues to a head – Ash has a plan to lure Sol out into the open, and it goes off without a hitch. Sort of. Sure, it works, but the consequences are going to be dire, to say the least.
Gillen and Hans are tapped into something eerie, unsettling and unabashedly youthful in “Die”, and this first arc concludes with an appropriate cliffhanger. Gillen and Hans unspool the tragic consequences of the gang’s actions in the world over five issues, and all the clues are there. So why does this issue still feel like a punch in the gut?
Gillen is doing interesting things with his deep dive into RPGs – and not just with their mechanics, but with their effect on the consciousness of a generation. The comparison to “Stranger Things” is inevitable, but “Die” has a world that’s more malleable, visually interesting and suited to its medium than the beloved show can grasp for. “Die” looks at the deep need for belonging, adventure and detachment from responsibility that go into roleplaying games and turns those desires right on their head in brutal, simple ways. Ash’s dangerous teenage whims and Isabelle’s lingering angst are treated with the same attention and care, with very different results and consequences. Angela’s life is so very 21st century, but she’s still mourning the dog she lost as a child. Matt’s fatherhood arc is tested and tempered in every moment by his deepest doubts. And Chuck’s life, arguably the most successful of all of theirs, might not be as hunky dory as it seems. Gillen plays with all of these emotions as what they would be in the world of the game: weaknesses. And he does it with characteristic flair. We’re left chewing on what happens if part of you can’t ever really grow up, but the rest of you managed it anyway.
Hans’ art is gorgeous, and the perfect delivery mechanism for this intricate story. Hans blends fantasy tropes with interesting takes on gender for all of the characters (not just Ash) and a lot of explosive, bloody and exciting action. Sol’s wreathed in deep shadows, Ash is a perfect balance of angelic radiance and savage night, and Angela’s cyberpunk aesthetic blends seamlessly into the high fantasy background. Setting out angular panels with this art style is a challenge, but Hans choses action moments carefully in ways that accent the archetypical nature of the story instead of slowing or paralyzing the book’s momentum. The limited palette helps give the book a storybook, almost Medieval illuminated manuscript quality, and Hans plays with inks and dark washes in Ash’s not-so-proud moment at the end of issue #5 to great effect. Building the universe of “Die” with a soft line in the midst of quite a bit of gore and dark material is difficult, and Hans carries it off beautifully.
Cowles’ work is up to his usual high standard. Integrating digital lettering into Hans’ dreamy painted world is a difficult sell. Digitally-drawn balloons and fonts can immediately fight softer paint and pencil art styles, but Cowles remedies this with a peaky font and fine balloons. Narrative boxes are black with a nice red outline to separate them from Hans’ darker scenes, each of Isabelle’s gods has a unique balloon style and font for visual clarity and subtle character development, and the font Cowles chooses for the Fallen is ghoulishly youthful. And perfect from a plot standpoint. No spoilers, though!
“Die” #5 reveals more of the stakes and more about each of the characters than I’d anticipated. While their stats may be high, their roles lucky and their lore well-trod, the personal details Gillen chooses to highlight for every member of the party point at their deeper flaws, even as they are (so far) having quite the stroke of luck on the battlefield.
As for the emotional battle? Far more to come.
“Die” #5 wraps our first arc and is on sale tomorrow everywhere fine comics are sold. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, now’s the time. Whether you’re a lifelong tabletop gamer or never set eyes on a character sheet in your life, give this one a go. You won’t be disappointed.