By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, it happened. Die landed an issue that knocked me out, blew me away, floored me, thrilled me, you name it. Whatever cliche you want to go with for being impressed, that’s how I felt about Die #4. That’s not to say I didn’t like the previous issues. Hell, I gave very high marks to both Die #1 and Die #2, going so far as to write full reviews about them (which is something I generally only do for debut issues, prominent Big 2 titles, and creator-owned books I really like). In addition, the book is basically always one of our 5 Top Comics to Buy selections, and Die #1 was one of our best new comics the month it debuted.
So yes, I like Die quite a bit. I liked the dark tone it struck from the start, a tone I’ve long thought has been lacking from the wave of popcorn nostalgia-driven lookbacks at role playing games from the ‘80s. I liked how the real villain of this story seemed likely to become the lives we lived after being teens as well as the lessons we didn’t learn, and I loved how the book harkened back to Tolkien with its third issue, portraying the horrors of WWI he is likely to have experienced en route to creating this whole damn genre.
So, with all that praise heaped upon it, how then did Die #4 exceed my expectations even further to knock me out, floor me, thrill me...again, pick your cliche? This is maybe a cardinal sin as a reviewer, but I’m going to have to say I’m not quite sure. My best theory, however, is that through the first three issues, I become much more familiar with the backstories and desires of the lead characters, enough that in this issue when we get complicated stories for basically all of them, I found myself as thoroughly invested as I do in much longer running creator-owned books like Monstress, Saga, or Die writer Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine.
My other theory is that the creators themselves become more comfortable with the world, premise, and characters here, so much so that they were able to shift in this fourth issue to another gear. I certainly think Stephanie Hans’ stunning artwork achieves of level of clarity in this issue among the top tier of graphic sequential storytelling being done right now. Hans leaves us with a number of incredibly memorable visuals, starting at the very beginning with what is so far the book’s best cover. From there the list expands rapildy, with my personal favorite artwork including the establishing shot of the glass city, the characters being celebrated in its streets, wounded Isabelle in conversation with deities in the temple, the stories within the stories, and the list goes on. The year is young, but I think this issue is so far its most gorgeous fantasy book (although, I suppose Isola #6 may take issue with that).
As far as the story, Die #4 is the type of comic that’s told so well it seems like it must have been easy to write, like it all came together by some divine magic into one complete whole. This is a massive feat with an ensemble cast, one that the aforementioned best issues of Wic + Div have accomplished as have some of the best story arcs of B.P.R.D. Those are classic comics, to be sure, and if Die continues to put out out issues like this in the coming years, it will be right in the conversation with them.
Overall: Die #4 is a high-mark for a young series that has classic written all over it. This is the best type of new comic, one that tells a long story comprised of several disparate and wholly memorable chapters. Make space up there with Saga and Monstress, Die is quickly becoming one of Image’s best. 9.6/10
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.