Image Comics’ DIE No. 3 review: A Tolkien look at war


In DIE No. 3, Ash is separated from his friends in the RPG world, and is faced with the realisation that there are more people suffering in this realm.

DIE No. 3

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Stephanie Hans

DIE No. 3 cover (Credit: Image Comics)

The world of DIE was created by Dominic Ash’s friend, Sol, as his own version of Dungeons and Dragons – except, in this alternate reality, meeting a dragon is one of your worst nightmares. As Ash and his friends attempt to tackle the dragon in DIE No. 3, Ash becomes separated from the group. While he finds refuge among a small group of soldiers, his interaction with them is a harsh reminder of what nightmares are truly made of.

To make matters worse, a mysterious figure comes to Ash’s aid – is he real or just a hallucination brought on by the dragon’s attack? It’s hard to tell as the lines between reality and fantasy continue to blur in the game-world. What is apparent is that Ash and his gang have to get out of this hell, but what about the rest of the people trapped in it?

The previous installment of DIE was a tough read, as it was written almost like a manual for the role-playing game. With DIE No. 3, writer Kieron Gillen gets the story back on track with a homage to one of his heroes – J.R.R. Tolkien. The tribute is a neat plot device that binds the narrative with this installment’s central theme. Said theme seems to come from nowhere, but it is hard-hitting and poignant.

Sol’s world is a warzone, and Ash’s gang fall into battle after battle without even realizing it. They have all been immersed in their own tragedies ever since they were sucked into the game as teenagers, but in DIE No. 3 they realize that suffering is not restricted to them. It’s a heartening look at the real world through the lens of fantasy, and isn’t that what all good fiction should be?

As if the central premise isn’t exciting enough, Stephanie Hans’ art is quite literally out of this world. One cannot reiterate enough how spectacular the watercolor style that she has adopted for this series looks. The juxtaposition of the vivid beauty of her art with the inherent darkness in the fantasy world gives DIE an unsettling and eerie atmosphere. Who among us wouldn’t frame this image of the dragon?

The Dragon in DIE No. 3 (Credit: Image Comics)

So far, the series has concentrated solely on Ash and his characterization. We have been given snippets of the other characters’ personalities, but not enough to make them read as rounded people. Of Ash’s friends, Matt is the most fascinating, but that may be because he is deeply troubled.

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One aspect of the series that has been left unexplored is Ash’s avatar. In the real world, Dominic presents (and appears to be) male, yet his chosen avatar in the game world is the female Ash. With his female form come several assumptions, especially in DIE No. 3. Would the young soldiers have interacted with Ash differently if he was male? It appears so, since the game world has an early-twentieth century aesthetic. The soldiers are all men, and one of them pleads with his wife to prevent his son from joining the war when he’s older. It does make one wonder why fantasy fiction is constantly bogged down by real-world prejudices. If there is an in-comic reasoning behind these sentiments, it would be best for the creators to address this directly.

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It still isn’t clear where this series is headed. Ash and his friends are desperate to return home, but from Gillen’s afterword it appears he may be invested in investigating the game world some more. How will this affect the characters? And will Gillen be able to keep up the pace as he has successfully done in these first issues? One can only hope.