DIE #6: "Split the Party" Part 1 By Keiron Gillen (story) and Stephanie Hans (cover and art)
Gaming is, at it's heart all about rules. On the surface, sure, you're a super-hero. You can fly, punch robots apart in a single hit, and survive a fussilade of gunfire.
But you're only able to DO those things, because underneath, where it really matters, the game SAYS you can. The rules you're breaking are superficial, ever guided by the REAL rules, beneath the surface. But there is one rule, that you must never break. It is a rule which all gamers know, deep in their hearts. A rule which many have attempted to ignore in the past, and all have felt the consequences. I'm talking, of course, of the GOLDEN rule of gaming: NEVER.
Sadly, it seems the fine players of DIE were unaware of this most sacred of rules.
So, as we return to Kieron Gillen's critical smash DIE for the start of it's second arc, "Split The Party", it's to find our party shattered, after the climactic events of DIE #5, and already beginning to understand why this rule is considered so important. I'm not going to lie, I only picked up DIE #1 because I'm a huge fan of Gillen's other ongoing, The Wicked + The Divine (2014.) However between his brutal plot, immersive world building, and Hans' realistic yet beautifully sureal artwork it didn't take more than a couple of pages before I was a certified DIE Fanboy.
Gillen is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated writers working in comics today. His name is very rarely thrown around when people bring up the greats of the medium; but if you really stop and look at his body of work, the quality speaks for itself. and his work on DIE has to be some of his finest to date.
Gillen has already proven to us that he is capable of writing instantly loveable characters, and building intricate worlds for them to live in. However, it feels like this has all been practice, building up to DIE. The complexity of the characters, the depth of the world and it's associated lore; he tells us enough with each issue for us to understand what's happening, while also letting us know just how much is still left to explore. We've only seen the very tip of the world of DIE, but already it has become one of my favourite fantasy universes.
But comics are at heart, a visual medium. So what would a great story be without great art to back it up? Thankfully, Stephanie Hans has proven herself more than up to that challenge. I've been a fan of her work for a while now, but I think we can all agree, that she's living her best life, working on DIE. Her painted style instantly evokes the idea of a classical fantasy world, but the character designs, and some of the more fantastical creatures the party encounter along the way (we all remember last arc's steampunk dragon, no?) clash in such a jarring way, as if to remind you at every step that this is not your comforting old-school fantasy, where at the end of the day all is well... The first arc "Fantasy Heartbreaker" was an emotional rollercoaster, introducing us to our party, establishing the polyhedral world of DIE and setting the pieces in place for the grand things to come.
This is now paying off, as it leaves DIE #6 free to hit the ground running. There is no time to rest, relax, or even breath as things pick up where they left off after last arc's stunning cliffhanger.
DIE #6 focusing mostly on Angela, our Cyberpunk Rogue, known in world as a "Neo". Neo's powers operate on "Fair Gold" and are granted by bargains struck with her enegmatic patrons, The Fair. Described in the first arc as "Elves, designed by William Gibson", the Fair seem anything but, and their cold logic will leave our Neo friend with a tough decision to make.
Combine this dark tale with Angela's real life stories of the stress of being a games designer, and the exhausting nature of "The Crunch" and you leave this issue with a new warmth towards the character, who up until now had not truly had a chance to shine.
We're only one issue in, but let me tell you this: If the rest of the arc can be as gripping, intricate, and emotionally damaging as this opening issue, we are in for a REAL treat. So get your anti-depressant of choice ready, and dive with me, back into Gillen's fantasy distopia!
I should note, here at the end of the preview: if you've already been reading them, it is WELL worth going back to check out Gillen's 'Author's Notes' that he includes at the end of every issue. Not only are they a fasciniating insight into the world of DIE, and the creative process behind the comic, but they also keep you up to date on the upcoming DIE Roleplaying Game, that is currently in development. Although, I'm not sure many people could read a story as dark as DIE and immediately think "Oooh yes, I want to go through that!"
But who am I to talk, I've already downloaded the Beta files.