REVIEW: Die #4, a high point for a classic in the making

Die #4  is out 3/6/2019.

Die #4 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, it happened. Die landed an issue that knocked me out, blew me away, floored me, thrilled me, you name it. Whatever cliche you want to go with for being impressed, that’s how I felt about Die #4. That’s not to say I didn’t like the previous issues. Hell, I gave very high marks to both Die #1 and Die #2, going so far as to write full reviews about them (which is something I generally only do for debut issues, prominent Big 2 titles, and creator-owned books I really like). In addition, the book is basically always one of our 5 Top Comics to Buy selections, and Die #1 was one of our best new comics the month it debuted.

So yes, I like Die quite a bit. I liked the dark tone it struck from the start, a tone I’ve long thought has been lacking from the wave of popcorn nostalgia-driven lookbacks at role playing games from the ‘80s. I liked how the real villain of this story seemed likely to become the lives we lived after being teens as well as the lessons we didn’t learn, and I loved how the book harkened back to Tolkien with its third issue, portraying the horrors of WWI he is likely to have experienced en route to creating this whole damn genre.

So, with all that praise heaped upon it, how then did Die #4 exceed my expectations even further to knock me out, floor me, thrill me...again, pick your cliche? This is maybe a cardinal sin as a reviewer, but I’m going to have to say I’m not quite sure. My best theory, however, is that through the first three issues, I become much more familiar with the backstories and desires of the lead characters, enough that in this issue when we get complicated stories for basically all of them, I found myself as thoroughly invested as I do in much longer running creator-owned books like Monstress, Saga, or Die writer Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine.

My other theory is that the creators themselves become more comfortable with the world, premise, and characters here, so much so that they were able to shift in this fourth issue to another gear. I certainly think Stephanie Hans’ stunning artwork achieves of level of clarity in this issue among the top tier of graphic sequential storytelling being done right now. Hans leaves us with a number of incredibly memorable visuals, starting at the very beginning with what is so far the book’s best cover. From there the list expands rapildy, with my personal favorite artwork including the establishing shot of the glass city, the characters being celebrated in its streets, wounded Isabelle in conversation with deities in the temple, the stories within the stories, and the list goes on. The year is young, but I think this issue is so far its most gorgeous fantasy book (although, I suppose Isola #6 may take issue with that).

As far as the story, Die #4 is the type of comic that’s told so well it seems like it must have been easy to write, like it all came together by some divine magic into one complete whole. This is a massive feat with an ensemble cast, one that the aforementioned best issues of Wic + Div have accomplished as have some of the best story arcs of B.P.R.D. Those are classic comics, to be sure, and if Die continues to put out out issues like this in the coming years, it will be right in the conversation with them.

Overall: Die #4 is a high-mark for a young series that has classic written all over it. This is the best type of new comic, one that tells a long story comprised of several disparate and wholly memorable chapters. Make space up there with Saga and Monstress, Die is quickly becoming one of Image’s best. 9.6/10

Die #4
Writer:
Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Die #2 subverts D&D nostalgia trend by charging headlong into darkness

Die #2 is out 1/9.

By Zack Quaintance — In the first issue of Die, a group of six young friends disappears into a fantasy world, returning after time has lapsed, beaten up with one of them missing and another missing an arm. In a pop culture moment laced with relatively bright (Stranger Things may as well be Disney compared to Die) nostalgia-laden D&D remembrances, the first issue of Die set itself apart, staking its claim as a darker, more serious alternative.

And now Die #2 is somehow even darker.

I suppose it’s a little bit on me and my expectations. This additional darkness is not a bad thing, quite the contrary (we’ll get to that), but I certainly expected this book to set up maybe some darkness when the characters were middle-aged and dealing with trauma in the real world, before plunging them back into youthful, likely cathartic fantasy adventure. That may still come, but based on Die #2, things have to get worse before they can start to get better.

Fair warning...this next part may contain spoilers. There’s a scene in this comic wherein the character who’s been lost in the fantasy world all these years (and as a result is presumably a bit stunted) models a villian off a shared middle school or high school crush...and another character gleefully destroys here. It’s a very real scene, real and adult and sensical. But holy hell is it dark. The creators know this, though, and it’s certainly not played for sensationalism (often an issue in lesser comics). I think one of the other characters even remarks at how twisted the whole episode felt.

So yes, that’s the one we’re dealing with here. With that established, the larger question becomes does it function well in the service of the story. I was going to write entertaining story there but at this point that doesn’t quite feel apt, at least not yet. There will likely be a victorious counterbalance to the challenges at some point (that’s how stories work), but it’s early in the proceedings here and we’re not ready yet. I think it functions quite well. As I wrote in my Die #1 review this is a patient and assured book. Gillen believes in his story, and Hans...well, Hans is a towering talent of an artist and everything she does on the page here is nothing short of a joy. It’s a great combo for a story that I expect to keep ramping up like the most memorable role playing campaigns.

And really that is this comic’s aesthetic: it’s the most memorable role playing game you’ve ever played (complete with Gillen penning engaging back matter about dice and characters and classes...like the sterling GM he is) mashed up with what I think is a creator’s interest in examining the lives of his characters over time, the ways that they’ve aged and why, and, perhaps, whether they can recapture how it felt to be young, or, on a darker note, whether they can avoid habitual pitfalls that sowed some of their lives’ disappointments.

Overall: Die #2 continues to embrace realism and darkness within the context of a mystical and immersive life-altering role playing game. Just as the debut before it, this sophomore issue is a thrilling slowburn that sets itself aside from the current wave of D&D pop culture nostalgia by doubling as an uncut look at the disappointments of middle age. 8.5/10

Die #2
Writer:
Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics asBatmansBookcase.

Thirsty Thursdays: December's Hottest Comic Book Art

By Allison Senecal — Superhero comic art has evolved at a really impressive rate in recent years...so much so that sometimes it can be a lot to handle. First there’s excitement, obviously, but then that excitement turns into something else...which is why each month we’re running our Thirsty Thursday rankings, a new and different way to look at our favorite comic art. Welcome to a sporadic examination of (as the kids say) the month’s thirstiest comics.

Enjoy!

Martian Manhunter #1
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
I would be remiss as a noted alien…enthusiast to not mention this sinuously-sensual scene at the very top of this month’s column. Deep Space Sixty-Nine anyone?
????? out of ?????

In space, no one can hear you scream.

Shatterstar #3
Artist:
Carlos Villa
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Carlos Lopez
I’ll be sad when this series ends next month, but at least it’ll clear up a monthly thirst spot for someone else. Who doesn’t want a slice of Shatterstar…
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

Not today, fine. What about tomorrow?

Marvel Knights 20th #4
Artist:
Joshua Cassara
Colorist: Matt Milla
This issue really got to me emotionally, and I think that amplified everything. T’Challa absolutely ROCKING those street clothes, too. Any man who does that double hand clasp. Phew.
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

When he apologized to Ms. Cruz? I felt that.

When he apologized to Ms. Cruz? I felt that.

Namor: The Best Defense #1
Artist:
Carlos Magno
Colorist: Ian Herring
FINALLY I remember to put Namor where he belongs: on a thirst list. It’s ok, we’ll go in-depth with more Namor later this month for the first *Thirst Spotlight* (not the official title, don’t quote me).
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

Namor… sigh .

Namor…sigh.

Die #1
Artist:
Stephanie Hans
It’s Stephanie Hans, so you automatically know you’re getting gorgeous art and beautiful people, but this literally hits every single one of my favorite fantasy character aesthetics in one go. *weep*
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

This comic had me at  fantasy role-playing.

This comic had me at fantasy role-playing.

Thor #8
Artist:
Mike Del Mundo
AngelaaaaaAAAAAAAAAA. I would pre-order the Heven out of a Del Mundo Angela mini, but I’m sure the man has other things to do besides draw my favorite Marvel ladies. (See: his Elektra series.)
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

Who said anything about worthy? The word is thirsty.

Livewire #1
Artists:
Raul Allen and Patricia Martin
The only other Valiant series I’ve read in its entirety is Secret Weapons, so I was more or less prepared for Amanda McKee being one of my favorite ladies again. Especially pleased to have her back in the hands of Allén and Martín, one of my favorite art teams going into 2019.  
💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5

I, for one, am absolutely electrified.

Coming later in January: NAMOR. Some Namor. More Namor. Followed by oh so much Namor.

Check out The Thirstiest Comics of November.

Allison buys books professionally and comics unprofessionally. You can find her chaotic neutral Twitter feed at @maliciousglee.

REVIEW: Die #1 is a MAJOR debut Image Comic

Die #1 is out 12/5.

By Zack Quaintance — Many comics—often comics I like—start with explosions or death or some kind of absolutely nuts narrative hook...often before we know anything at all about the characters. I understand wanting to open with excitement, like most films or TV shows, but the thing about a comic is the engagement comes slower. There is room, in my opinion, to be both intriguing and smart.

Readers (obviously) must turn the pages, making time pass as they process what’s happening in a deliberate way, deciding for themselves whether protagonists deserve interest or sympathy. With TV or movies, time passes irrepressibly, automatically engendering interest in whatever character an audience sees most (usually). Anyway, my point is that Die #1 is slow and patient at its start, giving us brief quiet time to meet our characters—and, more importantly—to like our characters before the stakes and action and magic begins. It does this, and does it well, and the effect is very engrossing, a comic that reads like a smart fantasy story for adults interested in thorough self-reflection (more on that later).

Die #1 is an all around patient and assured debut, often feeling as if Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans (what a combo, btw!) know just how good their comic is, how well-realized their characters, and how interested readers will be in their story. These creators, of course, do the narrative work necessary for fostering reasons to care, and they do it in a way that completely negates any sort of need for flashy trickery. There’s a pleasant lack of insecurity throughout this comic, a sense of freedom that shows through in the work.   

At the start, we’re given just enough info to know who our characters are and what they care about. When action does arrive, we’re in suspense, enthralled by the story’s mystery. There’s also an in-story reason some info is withheld. Basically, we know what that the characters’ know...until the characters don’t want us to (or, more accurately in this case, can no longer reveal certain things). The inherent mystery lends these proceedings a sense of grandiosity, doing wonders for Gillen’s writerly voice, which is generally quite strong (see another favorite of mine, The Wicked + The Divine).

The artwork is also absolutely wonderful. Hans excels at facial expressions, and she uses that gift to convey extra layers of meaning here. It’s one thing to draw a superhero wincing from an impact. Even without a clenched face, we get it—being blown up hurts. Hans uses expressions in Die for subtle inflections and added meaning, showing characters who may be saying one thing while feeling another. The conflict between the dialogue and appearances is both telling and true to life. Really, Hans attention to detail is just all around fantastic, applied to everything from shoes and to backgrounds, adding realism and making this story all the more absorbing.

Die #1 feels like a book its team has been thinking about for some time. It’s a fantasy story to be sure, delving into some familiar tropes (in the preview text, Gillen calls it goth Jumanji, which, perfect), but it’s also literary and smart. It’s not quite a deconstruction (not yet, anyway), yet it still seeks to approach the genre it operates withnin from a more intellectual place than is typical. Die #1 also incorporates RPGs directly into its plot in ways Stranger Things doesn’t. There’s a tendency in 2018 pop culture to fetishize D&D and the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. I haven’t seen another property do so as effectively as Die, though, which I think bodes well for its long-term viability. What also bodes well for this book is the complexity of its themes. A character says at one point: You have no idea how good this will be. This is fantasy for grown-ups. By the end of the issue, that quote sure does ring true.

Overall: One of the best debut Image Comics this year, which is saying a lot. Die #1 sees veteran writer Gillen operating in a story that demands to be told and also plays to the ample strengths of rising star artist Stephanie Hans. This book features nostalgia that fosters engagement without ever becoming a crutch. Read this comic, and enjoy. 9.5/10

Die #1
Writer
: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.