Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ TP, out June 5 from Image Comics.

Cover to ‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ TP. Art: Stephanie Hans/Image Comics

by Arpad Okay. We bring our world into games no matter how far away from ourselves we attempt to play. We’ll play as our dreams, as exaggerations of ourselves, as our desires. But the blind man is the one who can’t grow up, dig? The game in Die is as real as it is inescapable for a cursed circle of friends. The past is a monster rotted, waiting for its turn to come around again.

Why do people put themselves in crazy danger like this? Friendship. To explore together the collective imagination of yourself and the people close to you. The world and its inhabitants are pre-constructed to a degree, but more an extension of the group. What makes Die a real nightmare isn’t that it transports you to another world thrillingly designed to kill you so much as it’s an exploration of the mind of someone you went to high school with and haven’t spoken to since.

I guess making a connection is significant even if the person you’re connecting with is terrible? That said, we are responsible for the fucked up fantasies we concoct. Everyone is a rough sketch of an adolescent crush or bully turned into a princess or a creature, to be counted as an ally or killed in cold blood. Or both. To take a sword to anything that stands between you and home. A battle against absolute evil is often an excuse to unearth some of the worst aspects of human nature.

Die is thick with language. The voice Kieron Gillen speaks with speaks endlessly. Storyteller, historian, spectator, a heavy inner monolog showing all the cards, getting in two worlds and several decades before the first issue is finished. The many characters, each a mood, spar with wit more than weapon. Words are a flood. Then, Gillen eases from adrenaline into quiet drama; once you’re in it, silence is allowed to speak.

And so the collaboration between artist Stephanie Hans and letterer Clayton Cowles is huge in this book. Hans creates spacious art; she has the eye of a fine artist for composition with negative space. Cowles fills it to the line but not past with excellent lettering. An attractive, archaic and grand font, fitting fantasy. Magic voices in many styles and colors. The narrator is white on black—a double dynamic as thought bumps up against dialog—and it reads clearly.

Hans’ art is bright and colorful and lush. Strength of spirit communicated as vivid portrayals of dark deeds. Each page is a Romantic painting, idyllic natural settings reach out towards billowing clouds. But here it is smoke above the tree line. Here the acropolis inside the twenty-sided glass shell must fall.

Each page is war, knights and wizards and lesser gods fighting armored monsters and chemical warfare WWI robot dragons. The magic is beautiful and terrible. One moment it looks like a tarot card and the next Heavy Metal magazine wizard lady in a bar booth. Hans gives me the same thrill I get from the James Jean Fables covers, but on every page.

The crux of role playing games, of Die, isn’t about violence or victory. It’s about friendship and it’s about identity and the promise of the unknown. The party. A place where we can figure out what we wish we were, what brings us pleasure, excise demons as well as slay dragons. It’s not therapy, exactly, but it is a chance to travel a path you feel intensely without the restraint of reality. The kids in Die, they were exploring their identities. As adults, it is a test of spirit.

Image Comics / $9.99

Written by Kieron Gillen.

Art by Stephanie Hans.

Lettered by Clayton Cowles.

Designed by Ryan Hughes.

Edited by Chrissy Williams.

‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ TP hits stores June 5.

Check out this 8-page preview of ‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ TP, courtesy of Image Comics!

More Required Reading…

‘Twice Fated, Thrice Tried’ a mix of magic and inner DIY strength

‘Grunt: The Art and Unpublished Comics of James Stokoe’ a fierce resource from a raw mind

Uncompromising and potent, ‘PTSD’ brings us to the realm of the discarded

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