Die #12, Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Stephanie Hans,
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
This is going to be quite a hard issue to write about. The previous arcs of Die were fairly action packed, filled with deep character exploration, and world building. This makes for easy reviewing as there's plenty to unpack and mull over.
But there's only so much time you can spend building a world, before you have to start living in it. Die's third arc “The Great Game” is very much about what happens when you've won the game you thought you were playing, only to realise that in fact the game has only just begun.
As it has been since the great divide at the climax of the first arc, Die #12 is split into two distinct plots:
This issue begins almost exactly where #11 left off. With Angela, Matt, and Chuck deep in the sewers... Along with Angela's daughter Molly, now one of the zombie-like Fallen.
Man, was that a gut-punch of a cliffhanger, or what?
Well, if you're hoping for a nice, neat conclusion, you're reading the wrong book.
One of the running questions that has been plaguing Die's readers for a very long time is: what exactly IS the deal with the Fallen?
We know, by now, that they're dead adventurers that are brought back to life to act as fodder for new explorers of Die's varied realms. And yet, when Sol CREATED the world of Die, they were already there. So, just where did those first Fallen come from?
And why, if this really is Molly, Angela's daughter, does she seem to be older now, than she was when Angela returned to Die?
And just when we don't think it's possible to get any more confused, our good Dwarven friend Dour decides to tell us all a story.
Remember Die #9? (If you don't, refresh your memory by reading our review here), wherein we met Charlotte Brontë, and learned the tragic tale of her siblings, and the 12 cheery red wooden soldiers that caused all the trouble?
Well, it seems Gillen wasn't done punching us right in the heart. And the brains. Because in this issue we find out a little more about the creation of those toy soldiers, and it's... It's not quite what we would expect. I don't know where Gillen is going with this, but it has the potential to be magnificent. If handled correctly.
The issue ends with the party deciding to go and see the Fair Folk, because when everything else is a guaranteed disaster, even 50/50 odds can be appealing.
The second plot follows Ash and Izzy, currently monarchs of Angria, attempting to prevent all out war with Little England.
There's only one problem; it would seem that someone has been talking. And now Little England know all about how Angela gained, and maintains, her power. And they're having none of it.
And that's where Ash and Izzy find themselves. Trying to talk politics with people who want nothing to do with them, and are well aware of what they're capable of doing.
And the worst part is, the only way that Little England could have found out what they know, is if someone talked.
So, who among their inner circle is the traitor?
Hard questions must be asked, and favours cashed in from Izzy's god friends.
This introduces us to another of the Pantheon, to go alongside the amazing Mistress Woe, who we met last arc.
This time around, we're introduced to False Friend, a trickster god in the Loki archetype, but far far creepier. His design is probably my favourite we've seen so far, from Die's wayward gods. If only he was as useful as he was fun to look at...
But when an interesting choice of words from Little England's negotiator flips a switch in Ash's memories, the path becomes clear for our struggling monarchs.
This leads to the issues conclusion, and the introduction of the latest "Master".
If you really think about the design of Little England, it should be quite clear, who they're going to meet!
Overall, I enjoyed this issue, but I could understand if people disliked it. It really feels like this arc has been all about laying groundwork and bread-crumbing plot points that are going to pay off in a big way, down the line. While each individual issue may not be as entertaining as the previous arcs, the payoff should be worth it.
I do really like what Gillen is doing with the concept of the “Masters” though. Historical figures, each the inspiration for one of the 20 facets of Die. The way he's worked in such legends as Tolkien and Brontë is masterfully done and always leads to very strong issues. I can't wait to see what he has in store for us this time around, with the Master of Little England!
And I can't let a Die review pass without once again talking about how much I love Stephanie Hans' art. Seriously, every page is like a work of art, ready to print off and hang on my wall. I have to really restrain myself, when picking panels to use in these reviews, because I just want all of them.
To wrap up, some bad news. Because the current world-ending pandemic doesn't already suck enough, Die is taking a break and won't be publishing an issue in August. So, assuming we all survive, I'll see you in September, for issue 13!