- The Good: Beautiful artwork that elevates the story
- The Bad: So much back story that you often feel lost
- The Literary: References and homages to classic fantasy abounds
Six friends sit down to play Die (as in the singular of dice, get it?), a new DnD-style roleplaying game and find themselves magically Jumangied into the land of the game, where they are trapped for two years, but only five of them make it back. The experience has left each of them traumatized and one of them maimed; and of course there’s the matter of the one who didn’t make it home. Years pass, they grow up, each coping as best they can. But when a mysterious and bloody package arrives, they find themselves transported once more to the land of Die, terrified to be back but hopeful that they might finally rescue the friend who was left behind.
The entire two-year ordeal of the friends’ original stint in Die takes place off-screen, so when the group returns the weight of backstory is heavy. And the relationships already in place are thick with hurts, resentments, and shared traumas of an intense past. As a result, reading the story is frustratingly similar to the experience of wandering into a roleplaying club that has been working through the same campaign together for a very long time. Everyone constantly makes reference to events, places, and characters that have no meaning to you.
Another side to the setup of the world of Die is that many of the places and characters are a collage of references to classic fantasy novels and well trod fantasy tropes. (I think perhaps this is a nod to something often seen in rpg campaigns? I’m not a roleplayer, so this may be more significant for readers in the know.) There’s an extended sequence set in World War I-esque battle trenches peopled by a hobbit-like folk in which Tolkien himself wanders in and talks about how much he loves using eagles to save the day. All of this seems to be trying to make some kind of commentary on fantasy as a genre, but the specifics are a bit muddled and the point is never quite clear.
The artwork of Stephanie Hans is beautiful and painterly with wonderful color, light, and graphical touches. It really serves to elevate the volume beyond what the story manages to achieve on its own. My only quibble here is that the sense of geography and space is often unclear, so that sometimes it is difficult to tell which character is where and doing what, a factor that matters a great deal in graphic storytelling.
All in all, I find myself hoping future volumes of Die will find their stride as characters and histories become more familiar and the arc comes into focus. Perhaps the lovely illustration and somber mood will be enough to keep readers interested long enough for that to happen, but you’d be forgiven for feeling lost enough to be put off entirely.
Recommended for rpg fans who wonder what might happen if the game became a little too real.