30. Wild Card: Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen, Illustrated by Stephanie Hans
List Progress: 27/30
What happens to the special children after they return from the fantasy world? I have seen this premise tackled before; the echoes of people who were unsatisfied by how series like The Chronicles of Narnia ended. But I haven’t seen an approach as brutal as the one in Die, a comic series by writer Kieron Gillen and illustrator Stephanie Hans. Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker collects the first five issues and sets up the story of The Stafford Six and the game that ruined their lives.
In 1991, six teenagers sit down to play a tabletop role-playing game and vanish. Two years later, five of them reappear. And twenty-five years after that, these five broken and confused adults get a sign that their long-lost friend Solomon might still be alive, still trapped in the magical world that they escaped so long ago. They all have to face their pasts, their sins, and their teenage selves to try and survive.
I wonder how accessible Die would be to those with no background in RPGs. I have played D&D a handful of times, have followed D&D comics for many years, and am nine months into a Monster of the Week campaign, and I could still feel some references flying over my head. But because this fantasy world was partly crafted by the teenagers themselves, the narrative is very blunt about these things being references, and how smug and self-satisfied the characters feel about people not understanding them. I don’t think this series would appeal to a complete RPG newcomer, but someone with a bit of familiarity could easily get by, and possibly feel even more immersion as things whoosh over their head.
But beyond the gaming trappings, Die is a very human story, with some lush artwork by Stephanie Hans to carry it. It can be a little too serious for its own good, but that could be a side effect of reading five issues at once, instead of as they come out. There is a strong enough grounding and hook from these characters that I am eager to jump in further, and luckily the second and third volumes are already out. I wasn’t particularly grabbed by Kieron Gillen’s previous series, The Wicked + The Divine, but this is certainly one I am excited to…roll the dice on.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.