DIE
Die vol1 cover.jpg
Volume 1 cover
Publication information
PublisherImage Comics
FormatOngoing series
Genre
Publication dateDecember 2018 – September 2021
No. of issues20
Creative team
Created byKieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans
Written byKieron Gillen
Artist(s)Stephanie Hans
Letterer(s)Clayton Cowles

Die (stylized as DIE) is a horror/fantasy comic book about role-playing games, influenced by the portal fantasy and LitRPG literary genres, written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Stephanie Hans. The series focuses on a group of British adults who are drawn back to an icosahedron-shaped world they originally visited as teenagers; the group left behind a friend upon their original escape and never discussed the experience. It was published by Image Comics and ran for twenty issues, beginning in December 2018 and ending in September 2021.

It won the British Fantasy Award for "Best Comic / Graphic Novel" in 2020 and 2021[1][2] and was a finalist for the Hugo Award in "Best Graphic Story or Comic" three times.[3][4][5] Gillen and Hans also created a role-playing game adaptation of Die with British publisher Rowan, Rook and Deckard;[6] the Kickstarter for the game launched in May 2022.[7][8]

Synopsis

Volume One: Fantasy Heartbreaker

In 1991, Dominic Ash spends his 16th birthday playing a tabletop role-playing game with his younger sister Angela and his friends Solomon, Isabelle, Matt, and Chuck. The game was uniquely created for Ash by his best friend Sol, who plays as the gamemaster. As soon as the group roll their dice, they are transported into the fantasy world of Die. After two years, Ash, his sister, and three of his friends manage to escape Die, but they are forced to leave Sol behind.[9]

On his 43rd birthday, Ash unexpectedly comes across Sol's original 20-sided die and convinces the old role-playing party to come together again. When they are all in the presence of Sol's die, they are again transported to the world of Die, where Ash takes the form of a woman. The party discovers that Sol is still alive and in control of all of Die's realms. He states that he will only let them return home if they play his game.[9] The party travels through a war-zone overseen by a man that Ash believes to be J. R. R. Tolkien and finally manage to catch Sol's attention by orchestrating the destruction of the city of Glass Town. When Sol refuses to help them return home, Ash kills him, only for him to return as a Fallen, an undead being desperate to kill living players in Die.[10]

Volume Two: Split the Party

After the death and resurrection of Sol, Isabelle and Chuck decide that they find more purpose in Die than they do in the real world and leave the rest of the party. Isabelle takes responsibility for the displaced citizens of Glass Town and calls upon her ex-lover, the vampire Lord Zamorna, to help her confront Ash.[11]

Without the rest of the party, Ash, Angela, and Matt are unable to return home. Ash begins a campaign to develop allies against Isabelle and discovers that one of the rulers of the realm of Angria is her son, who she had after having an affair with Zamorna.[12] Her efforts to build political support are disrupted when Isabelle arrives in Angria and admits that the party destroyed Glass Town. The party, minus Chuck, is imprisoned in a jail run by a woman they recognize as Charlotte Brontë. The jailer claims that she is the original Charlotte Brontë, transported to the fictional world she created with her siblings after her death.[13] Zamorna arrives at the jail and releases Ash and Isabelle. Isabelle convinces Ash to stay in Die for the sake of her son, and the two of them leave without Matt and Angela. Ash then forces Zamorna to marry her, thus becoming the queen of Angria.

Volume Three: The Great Game

As queen of Angria, Ash faces unexpected hostility from the realm of Little England. When she meets the man who runs the realm, he identifies himself as H.G. Wells. Wells admonishes Ash for the destruction of Glass Town and describes how he combated the negative influence of wargames in the real world by writing his own anti-war manual, Little Wars. Ash explains that Little Wars actually inspired the continued creation of wargames, which eventually led to the creation of the game that brought her and her party to Die. Wells is horrified by the realization that his actions, like the actions of the Brontës, were moved by the spirit that runs Die.[14] Ash joins forces with Little England and sends an army to drive Eternal Prussia out of Glass Town.

Angela and Matt are broken out of jail by Chuck, who reveals to them that he is dying of cancer. While searching for Fair gold to power her Neo abilities, Angela comes across a Fallen that appears to be an older version of her daughter from the real world.[15] Angela is disturbed by this discovery and tracks down the Fair to demand answers. The Fair explain that the world of Die has been reaching into the past to ensure its own creation. It ensured that Sol created the twelve toy soldiers that inspired the Brontës to create Angria, and it brought the party back to Die to spark the creation of the magical dice that they first used in 1991. In her quest to overthrow Sol, Ash allowed Glass Town to be taken over by the realm of Eternal Prussia, who are now using it as a forge to craft the dice. Once the dice are completed, the time loop will be closed and Die can fully merge itself with the real world.[14] Angela, Matt, and Chuck travel to Glass Town and try to destroy the forge, but fail to do so in time. Ash arrives with Sol and Isabelle, and Sol suggests that they try to track down the dice before they reach the real world.[16] In the end they realize DIE is a true neutral entity that is ensuring its survival and granting only the desires hidden in people. That all the main characters could do was learn more about themselves based on how DIE shows the results of their desires. It is a bittersweet ending, now more capable in handling their PSTDs and themselves into their own world. It is shown DIE still exists and Sol still has the grand master powers that will complete DIE earth merge.

Characters

Publication history

Creative origins

Gillen has stated that the idea for Die came from a conversation with his longtime collaborator Jamie McKelvie about the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, in which a group of children are magically transported to the fantasy world of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. The final episode of the show, in which the characters return to earth, was never produced, and Gillen wondered what might have happened to the children.[17] Additionally, Gillen was inspired by Stephen King's horror novel It, and particularly the theme of adults returning to childhood experiences of horror.[18] Die's focus on role-playing games and game mechanics was born from Gillen's own interest in role-playing games. He has stated that while he played RPGs for most of his life, his interest was reignited in 2013, when he started to seriously consider "the nature of fantasy, and where this weird form actually came from."[19] These ideas became core themes in Die.

Gillen collaborated with artist Hans during his run on Journey into Mystery, after which they began discussing a collaboration on an ongoing comic. Hans had primarily worked as a cover artist, and Die was her first ongoing comic.[20]

Ongoing series

In September 2018, it was announced that the Die ongoing series by Gillen and Hans would be published by Image Comics.[21] The series launched its first story arc in December 2018. In January 2019, the first issue received a third print run and the second issue received a second print run.[22] Ultimately, the first issue received five print runs in total; every issue in the arc received additional print runs.[23] In August 2019, the second story arc began with issue #6;[24] per Diamond Comic Distributors, that issue was ranked #95 for "Total Unit Sales" for comic issues that month.[25][26]

The release of third story arc was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; it began with issue #11 released in June 2020.[27][28] In February 2021, Gillen and Hans announced that the fourth story arc, titled Bleed, would be the final arc. The final arc began with issue #16 in May 2021[29][30] and finished with issue #20 in September 2021.[31]

When asked if the intention of series was to run for twenty issues, Gillen stated:

We've got the numbers on the d20 on the back. So, it was sort of implied that we weren't going past 20. 20 issues and four movements was always the plan. The first arc is the travel to try to get to Sol. [...] Then in the second arc, the party is split. We follow their separate paths before we end with them coming together and Ash taking over Angria becoming the quote-unquote evil queen. Then in the third arc, we have a high-level war between the various regions of Angria. So we've gone from one party to two parties working at separate ends to a Lord of the Rings-scale world war. Then the fourth arc was always going to be we're going down a fucking dungeon. It's obviously a joke because we're doing a Dungeons & Dragons-esque comic, and we haven't gone down a dungeon yet.[18]

A hardcover collection of the twenty issues is scheduled for release in November 2022.[32]

DIE: The Roleplaying Game

In 2018, Gillen announced that he was preparing a role-playing game based on Die. He has stated that his influences include the games Paranoia, Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Legacy, Fiasco, Warhammer, and Dungeons & Dragons, as well as elements of Nordic LARP.[17][33] Gillen developed the game and the comic concurrently; ideas he developed for one would then crossover into the other, such as the secret of the Fallen originated in the game.[8][34] He stated, "I actually tend to think of the comic and the game way as two lenses of examining DIE. [...] It's also telling that when developing the game and writing the comic, ideas bounced between them freely. It was never me trying to adapt one to another, really. I was trying to do the idea as well as I could in two separate forms".[8] When compared to the art of the comic series, Hans stated that the RPG art "will be a bit more full of detail and thoughts. My traditional painting style is not that far from digital art. [...] So, I don’t think it will be that different, but in the composition, of course, there will be some mock-up involved" and that "there are inspirations from the comics that I want to use for the RPG".[35]

The original public beta version of the game was released for free online in June 2019 with the release of the trade paperback Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker.[36][37] Gillen also ran a closed beta to further develop the game.[18] Gillen highlighted that his early playtesting began before the publication of the comic and that reading the comic is not required for playing the game as it is not "like a traditional licenced RPG book".[8]

DIE: The Roleplaying Game was scheduled to launch on Kickstarter in October 2021, however, British publisher Rowan, Rook and Deckard later announced a delay due to concerns around shipping and material shortages.[38][6] The official Kickstarter for the game launched on May 12, 2022.[39][8] DIE: The Roleplaying Game includes two main rulesets – DIE Core, rules for games two to four sessions long, and DIE Campaign, rules for longer ongoing games. DIE Core is an updated version of the public beta game.[6][40][35]

Reception

In The Comics Journal, Mark Sable ranked the first issue as among the best comics of 2018, describing it as "the most memorable and accessible debut issue (he had) read in a long time".[41] In 2019, Io9 called Die "subversive" and "a heady combination of fascinating worldbuilding (and) compellingly broken characters tearing each other apart", lauding Hans' "vivid, striking artwork".[24]

At the review aggregator website Comic Book Roundup, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 10 to reviews from comics critics, the entire series received an average score of 9.4 based on 202 reviews.[42] Chase Magnett, for ComicBook.com in 2021, wrote that "the arrival of DIE #20 is a bittersweet moment. Over the past 3 years, DIE established itself as one of the most engaging and wondrously conceived series in serialized American comics. Each issue read like a gift and engaged all of the facets that made this concept sing: richly-considered characters, fascinating settings and conflicts, a rigorous consideration of humanity's use of games and stories, and some of the most stunning artwork found in any comic from 2021. [...] So whether you're finally coming to DIE as it concludes or, like many of us here at ComicBook, tensely awaiting one last issue, there has never been a better time to discover one of the absolute best comics series in years".[31]

Christian Holub, in his 2021 review of Die, Vol. 4: Bleed for Entertainment Weekly, commented that "it's always nice to see a creative team stick the landing. [...] The conclusion is fulfilling and satisfactory, so it feels like we can now confirm Die as a very good comic, one of the best mainstream offerings in years. Hans' painterly art makes Die look uniquely distinguished from every other fantasy series on the shelf, and proves more than capable of tackling the many, many different kinds of stories Gillen brings into their orbit. [...] Anyone who found themselves intrigued by Die's initial premise owes it to themselves to read all four volumes".[43]

In terms of sales, both the individual issues and the trade paperbacks were consistently bestsellers. Bleeding Cool highlighted that "while it's unusual for monthly titles to increase in sales following #1", from the third issue every initial order for each issue in the first arc was higher than the previous issue and "Die #6 has the highest initial orders for an issue of Die since #1".[23] Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker was #1 in "units shipped" and #9 in "dollars invoiced" on Diamond's "Best-Selling Graphic Novels" sales list for June 2019.[44] Die, Vol. 2: Split The Party was #2 in "units shipped" and #6 in "dollars invoiced" on Diamond's "Best-Selling Graphic Novels" sales list for February 2020.[45] Die, Vol. 3: The Great Game was #4 in "units shipped" and #6 in "dollars invoiced" on Diamond's "Best-Selling Graphic Novels" sales list for December 2020.[46] Die, Vol. 4: Bleed was #4 in "units shipped" and #11 in "dollars invoiced" on Diamond's "Best-Selling Graphic Novels" sales list for November 2021.[47] In January 2022, all four trade paperbacks were on Diamond's "Top 400 Comic Books" for graphic novel sales – volume one was #121, volume four was #208, volume two was #263 and volume three was #323.[48]

Awards

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
2020 British Fantasy Award Best Comic / Graphic Novel DIE Won [1]
2020 Hugo Award Best Graphic Story or Comic Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker Nominated [3]
2021 British Fantasy Award Best Comic / Graphic Novel DIE, Vol. 2: Split the Party Won [2]
2021 Hugo Award Best Graphic Story or Comic DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party Nominated [4]
2022 British Fantash Award Best Comic / Graphic Novel DIE, Volume 4: Bleed Nominated [49]
2022 Hugo Award Best Graphic Story or Comic DIE, Volume 4: Bleed Pending [5]

Collected editions

Title Material collected Format Publication date Pages ISBN Ref
Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker Die #1–5 Trade paperback June 5, 2019 184 ISBN 978-1-5343-1270-8 [50]
Die, Vol. 2: Split The Party Die #6–10 Trade paperback February 5, 2020 168 ISBN 9781534314979 [51]
Die, Vol. 3: The Great Game Die #11–15 Trade paperback December 16, 2020 168 ISBN 9781534317161 [52]
Die, Vol. 4: Bleed Die #16–20 Trade paperback November 3, 2021 160 ISBN 9781534319264 [53]
Die Die #1–20 Hardcover November 2, 2022 656 ISBN 978-1534323445 [32]

References

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  39. ^ Rowan, Rook and Deckard [@RowanRookDecard] (April 26, 2022). "We're shifting the start date of the DIE RPG Kickstarter FORWARD to May 12th. (We're doing this on the advice of the marketing team.) Aside from that there are no changes to anything and you can continue about your day. As ever, follow along here: [LINK][IMAGE]" (Tweet). Retweeted by Kieron Gillen [@kierongillen]. Retrieved May 6, 2022 – via Twitter.
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