As a fan of Kieron Gillen’s ability to tell stories that balance humor, danger, and philisophical exoplorations on what humanity is and how we react depending on the stories we believe in, I looked forward to Die when it was announced. Six human teenagers are drawn into their own created world of a Jumanji-like fantasy role playing game along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons, and when they reappear in the real world a year later, one teenager is gone, one is missing an arm, and none of them have the ability to tell the truth of their disappearance. Decades later, our traumatized role-playing group are now in their 40s, and find themselves pulled back into the fantasy world, coming face to face with the consequences of their actions in the world they created as teenagers.
While the first volume drew me in, the second and third volumes didn’t feel quite up to par for a Kieron Gillen story. The reader has no idea what sort of world the main characters created as teenagers, so as they come across locales or people they are clearly familiar with, they must stop and narrate the background of said locale or person to the reader so we understand why said background or person is important to the current conflict, slowing the pace of the plot immensely. Stephanie Hans’ use of limited color palettes is gorgeous and lets the colors themselves carry the emotions of multiple scenes, but her thick lines and somewhat blurry details can occasionally make it difficult to tell one person from another, or determine what is happening in an action sequence.
However, knowing that Gillen tends to throw the reader for a loop in the final stages of his graphic novels and wrap them up satisfactorily, I gave Vol. 4 a chance. My conclusion is that while Die is not necessarily an enjoyable read one or two issues at a time (unlike his masterpiece The Wicked + the Divine), Die really does shine if you’re able to read the entire story all at once. Vol. 4 brings together all the previous hanging plot threads to the type of thought-provoking conclusion where you find yourself ruminating on a character’s words at 2a.m. when you should be asleep (or finishing reading another book for your review website…). Hans’ artwork has tightened up a bit, and she has painted some absolutely gorgeous pages in the final chapters. Our main group members, while successfully wrapping up their character arcs, don’t all necessarily get a happy ending, but the final battle is an allegory for main character Dominic’s inability to accept his true self, and a reminder to all characters and readers that the choices you make as a teenager are a part of you and your past, no matter how much you have grown–or not–as an adult. Escaping to a fantasy world doesn’t make your problems go away, it just kicks those problems down the line, shattering them into little pieces that stubbornly stick to different bits of your adult life, forcing you to deal with them eventually anyway.
Gillen’s graphic novels often explore the theme of how different stories and myths throughout time shape our modern thoughts and way of life, but Die explores how the story you tell yourself shapes your life. It’s an interesting twist to his usual themes, and a fantastic read if you like a little philosophy amongst the action in your graphic novels. The last volume in a series can make or break an entire series depending on how skillfully it concludes a long-running story, and I’m pleased to say that Die Vol. 4: Bleed rolled a perfect 20 and passed the test.
Disclaimer: I purchased this graphic novel on my own with my own money. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Title: Die Volume 4: Bleed
Author: Kieron Gillen (author), Stephanie Hans (artist), Clayton Cowels (letterer)
Publication date: 03 November 2021
Print Length: 169 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars