Image Comics’ DIE No. 4 review: Into Glass Town we go


Readers finally learn more about each character in DIE No. 4, as Ash and his friends venture into the magical Glass Town to find a way to defeat Sol.

DIE No. 4

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Stephanie Hans

“If you’re looking for a simple answer, you’re reading the wrong story.”

DIE No. 4 cover (Credit: Image Comics)

In DIE No. 4, Ash and his friends set out in the direction of Glass Town, the first town born in the world of DIE, and thereby its most precious and magical. There’s an aura that surrounds the mysticism of Glass Town, especially since that’s where the new Grandmaster – their estranged friend Sol – has established his base.

Once the group enters Glass Town, they are greeted as ‘Paragons’. Yet when the friends should be helping free the town of Sol’s tyranny, they are instead mired in their own troubles. The Godbinder Isabelle has been injured and must appease the gods in an effort to heal herself. Matt, the Grief Knight, wallows in the knowledge that his family is growing up without him. Chuck, the Fool, is irreverent, but is there something deeper eroding away at his carefree surface?

Angela, Ash’s sister, has been worryingly quiet thus far. In DIE No. 4 she unleashes her inner turmoil, and it is at once surprising and sweet. Ash, however, continues to be a mystery. Despite being given plenty of page-space in this series, he remains an arresting character, who has good intentions, but must occasionally use dark means to fulfil his tasks.

For this first time in DIE, the rest of the characters directly address Ash’s gender change for his game-world avatar. Ash doesn’t answer them, but he implies the reason for presenting as female in DIE. One hopes writer Keiron Gillen will elaborate a little more on this aspect of Ash’s character, simply because gender politics are rarely examined head-on in comic books. This series has attempted to touch on the subject, and there is room for it to be analyzed further in the upcoming issues.

The story of this series is absorbing, though each installment reads like there’s been a time-jump beforehand; at times it is disorienting. DIE No. 4 feels like it wants to pack in as much as possible before this arc ends in the next issue. It’s evident that Gillen and the creative team are intentionally playing the long game with these characters, but it’s still a shame the characters weren’t given more room to grow until this point. Matt’s melancholy has been teased throughout the series, and it comes across as only a little more concrete in this installment. The other characters, however, still come across like abstracts.

DIE No. 4 (Credit: Image Comics)

Isabelle’s injury wasn’t evident to the reader, so the stakes for her didn’t feel high enough in this issue. Same with Angela, who hasn’t spoken since she arrived in DIE, but neither has the reader been given the chance to assess her feelings and reactions because she hasn’t been given any panel-time.

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The previous issue of the series hinted at Gillen’s love for Tolkien’s work; DIE No. 4 breaches the boundaries of homage and veers on the cliff-edge of copying Lord of the Rings. The drunken dwarfs were too on the nose, as were the many allusions to different parts of Middle-Earth. The world of DIE can stand on its own – there is plenty of evidence that the vision of the series has been informed by classic tales of fantasy, we don’t need to be hit over the head with it.

The need to fill every panel with text also erodes Stephanie Hans’ breathtaking art. There is no denying the brilliance on display, but her work feels stunted in this issue. The narration alludes to details in Glass Town that really should have been shown to the reader through the art – Hans has the talent to showcase that detail, she just needs to be allowed to put it on the page.

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Despite the few flaws in DIE No. 4, there’s no denying the immersive world that the creative team have built for the reader. For fans of tabletop gaming, there are hints and clues that tantalize, but even the average reader can enjoy this series and its central themes of loss, fear and grief.