Script by Kieron "I live to hurt you" Gillen, Art by Stephanie "My art makes everything better" Hans, Letters by Clayton "Letterers deserve a lot more respect" Cowles.
Die Issue 14 came to its tragic end, with Grief Knight Matt taking up a second weapon, and channeling the power of his rage, in addition to his grief, after learning that his father had passed away while he was trapped in Die.
Issue 15 begins with a terrified Ash realising just how screwed she is. She plots, schemes, and generally does all the semi-terrible, semi-awesome things that she's done for the prior 14 issues, in an attempt to keep her throne, and her life.
As usual, Izzy is at her side, trying to temper Ash's more... mass sacrifice-y plans, and trying to find a way to conclude all of this chaos without everyone in a 10 mile radius getting smashed into paste by a very angry, very sad man with a pair of rather large weapons.
Forced into a corner, by her own actions and the dire consequences she's had coming this whole arc, Ash must make a truly terrifying choice. And the results will be... unexpected.
On the other side of Die, Chuck and Angela continue to attempt to hack the Forge, and prevent the dice from ever being forged, and save both worlds in the process. But, it turns out that magical god forges are actually KINDA hard to hack, and a terrible price will need to be paid, if they're going to complete their task.
But when the final die is cast, and the broken players in this twisted play survey the fruits of their actions, there is only one choice left:
Next arc... we're headed DOWN.
I can't believe Die arc three is over, already.
Issue 15 sees the grand culmination of "The Great Game" which saw the poor players try their hand at running a city. Needless to say, it ended with a giant war and a whole mess of people dead. Which, frankly, is about as well as this ever could have ended, all things considered.
Seeing Ash really pressed was interesting: even at her worst, when everything seemed against her, there was always this feeling, deep in my gut, that Ash could pull it off. There was always another scheme, another machination, that would turn this situation around, and leave Ash on top once more.
And then Berserker Matt brought everything tumbling down.
It's vaguely ironic, I suppose, that it wasn't one of her many, many, MANY enemies that ended Ash's ill fated reign as queen. It was in fact one of her closest allies and one of the main reasons that she was even ON the throne in the first place. Oh well, the dice giveth, and the dice taketh away.
The other major plot line this issue, was Angela and Chuck and their attempt to prevent the cursed die from ever being forged. Seeing this somewhat cursed mission reach it's inevitable heartbreaking end was as tragic as it was expected; you don't send Chuck and Angela off on a mission and expect it to play out with no dark consequences.
From my new favourite recurring characters, the dwarves Dour and Delighted, to Angela's impossible choice, it was clear that there were going to be tears before this whole grim farce came to its end... but I have to say, I wasn't expecting it to mess with me in quite the way that it did. Delighted, the dwarf who can only express positive emotions, reminds me a lot of the SMILE fruit users from long running manga One Piece. Poor souls, cursed to smile and laugh forever, even when they're hurting. The fact that we're seeing all of this in Stephanie Hans's beautiful art just makes the scenes all the more chilling and emotionally impactful. An emotional one-two punch, and all the worse for how unexpected it was.
Overall, Issue 15 was a strong end to a decent arc. I'm not going to lie, I wasn't as huge a fan of "The Great Game" as I was of the previous two arcs, "Fantasy Heartbreaker" and "Split the Party". It wasn't a bad run, by any means, and was still easily in my top 3 arcs for the year. But, something about it left me a little unsatisfied, and I think reading this finale, I know what it is.
"Fantasy Heartbreaker" was one of the best first arcs I've ever read of a comic. It introduced us to the world of Die, with a cast of brilliant characters we'd soon come to love, and Chuck. It then teases that there was a greater darkness beneath everything we'd seen.
"Split the Party" showed us just how dark the world could get. It expanded on the concept of the Masters, and teased the idea that the timeline of Die might not be as simple as we'd been lead to believe.
Then we reach the "Great Game". And while many of the above concepts were expanded on, and we got a richer, broader view of the world... It kind of feels like this whole arc is setting up something huge to come. It still tells a satisfying story, but it ends up coming across as "The calm before the storm" and I can't help but feel like a lot of what happened is more about putting everything where it needs to be, for the fourth arc, than about being where they are now.
But this isn't always a bad thing. What this does, is puts a HUGE amount of pressure on the next arc, as now it carries not just its own purpose, but the purpose of "Great Game", as well.
And, seeing as I'm pretty sure that the fourth arc is also going to be the final arc of this story (I mean, come on, a series called Die ending in 20 chapters, one for each side of the Grandmaster's Die? It's too perfect NOT to do.) this means that the fourth arc has a whole lot riding on it...
Of course if anyone can pull this off, it's Gillen. His writing so far has been note perfect. Incorporating fantasy elements, nerd lore, and real world history in a way I've not seen so perfectly executed since Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman Library'.
And, of course, we can't talk about Die without talking about Stephanie Hans's masterful artwork. Over the course of this arc, we've been to a wider variety of locations than ever before; from the medieval grandeur of Ash's palace, to the steampunk insanity of Verne's Little England, each new location was given its own distinct feel by Hans's art. And, on a more affecting level, this arc brought some of the most emotional scene we've seen yet, and the subtlety and power she brought to those darker moments made them hurt all the more.
Honestly, I'm not sure I'll be able to get the look on Delighted the Dwarf's face out of my nightmares for a long time yet...
So, the third act of Die has come to its end. And I have to say it's been an absolute joy to watch two of comics best creators clearly working at the absolute top of their game, and producing work that I honestly think will be regarded as a classic, for a long long time to come.
And it saddens me to think, there may only be 5 chapters left.
DIE #15 from Image Comics releases November 18 from your local comic shop and on comixology