After a short hiatus, Die from Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans is back. The first arc was an emotional story that introduced readers to the cast of the book. It featured great storytelling from Gillen along with beautiful art from Hans. Just when it seemed like the series from Image Comics had hit its heartbreaking peak, the next issue would raise the bar even higher. The “Fantasy Heartbreaker” arc ended with the party making a difficult decision, and their former friend-turned-enemy being worse than dead.
The hallmark of Die has been how deep its characters are. Gillen does this by never ignoring any of them; every issue has provided some insight into the party. Issue #6 takes a deep dive into the fears and motivations of Angela. Ash’s sister has consistently proven to be an important part of the group, and here she is even more essential. If the friends are going to escape the world of Die, they first need to escape their current circumstances. Angela appears to be their one chance.
Every issue of the series has shown the mental fragility each member of the party is going through. Being trapped in the fantasy role playing world has only made the problems of the real world seem even worse. It’s hard to say who is having the most difficult time (both in the real world and in the gaming one), but Angela’s life is filled with distress. There have been hints as to what is going on in her real life. The sixth issue fleshes them out, giving more depth to Angela’s character.
One of the main themes of the issue is choice and the lack of having any good options. An early issue of Die showed how important it was for Angela to be reunited with her canine companion, Case. From the dog’s initial appearance, it was obvious that a difficult decision would have to be made. Gillen does his usually masterful and poignant work as Angela agonizes over her decision. There is never really any doubt what she is going to do; she is a good person who loves Case. Still, the moment is much more harrowing than expected.
(Kudos to Gillen to also addressing the issue of what would happen if the party succeeded in escaping Die. It all goes back to the idea that having choice doesn’t necessarily provide options.)
Angela may be the central focus of the book, but she is not the only one who has to make choices that don’t provide as much freedom as the word would imply. As Ash points out as they return somewhere the party was trying to avoid, little has changed. The party also has to make a decision regarding the now Fallen Sol while Matt has to make a difficult choice regarding Angela. Each page of the book is filled with these powerful moments. Die is constantly working on the reader’s emotions.
What makes Gillen’s work so good is that it never seems as if it’s pandering to readers. The idea of friends being trapped in a fantasy world is not a novel one, but many of those stories tend to focus on the action while ignoring the emotional toll. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does leave audiences with generic characters like the Hero and the Villain. Die is filled with realistic characters in a fantastic setting. It has the requisite action but also seamlessly ensures readers care for its characters.
The art of Hans seems to have gotten better with each issue. The world of Die has been frightening and interesting, and there have been some great character designs and action scenes. The style Hans employs is perfect for Die. The series is as much about getting to know the characters as it is seeing them. The artist has been consistently up to the task, and her art has easily managed to keep pace with the strong writing.
Issue six’s art showcases Angela and the relationships she has. In particular, Hans does an excellent job of showing how important Case is. There is the expected panel of the dog sleeping, but there are also numerous panels that bring life to Case. Each of these moments highlight the affection the two feel for each other. Hans also gets a chance to show how beautiful the world is. This is another great issue to look at.
Die returns with more great moving storytelling. Writer Kireon Gillen draws readers into the world with powerful writing that does not allow readers to look away. The art of Stephanie Hans continues to impress bringing even more life and drama to the book. Together, the creative team tells a heart-rending story. The return of Die is a welcome one and it will be great to see where the adventure heads next.