Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker
Kieron Gillen, writer; Stephanie Hans, artist; Clayton Cowles, letterer
Image Comics, 2019
Writer Kieron Gillen is like the world's biggest nerd. Phonogram, his first big creator-owned project, related directly to his career as a music journalist and die-hard music fan. Die (which takes its name from the dice used in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, although the body count is pretty high as well) relates to his history with RPGs as a player, as well as his work as a computer game journalist.
The main players are a group of six friends who get together to celebrate a birthday in 1991. One of them has designed a new game for the occasion, and the next thing anyone knows they have all disappeared. They reappear two years later--minus one member of "The Stafford Six," as they have come to be known (Sol, the master of the game)--with no memory of where they have been in the interim.
25 years later Sol's die mysteriously reappears, and the group gets together to decide what to do about it--only to be transported to the fantasy realm that they escaped from as teenagers. This is all in the first issue! Sol greets them and tells them he's not only still alive, but he defeated the Grandmaster of the realm and assumed his role. He has called them back to finish the game. The rest of the arc follows their adventures as they figure out how to defeat the Grandmaster and return home to their world.
It goes without saying that they do not go home at the end; it's pretty clear that the series means to show their struggles to get back, which is more complicated than it appears at first. The story makes reference both to RPGs and the fantasy literature they came out of (e.g. Tolkien, who is the focus of one issue, as well as C.S Lewis' Narnia books and Mervyn Peake's Gormengast series). So the story is bound to be more relatable if the reader shares that background. Personally, I have never played a RPG, and my reading includes Tolkien but not the others. So I felt a bit of distance, but the fantasy setting is somewhat self-explanatory. Stephanie Hans' artwork is gorgeous, which makes it easier to enter this world.