This issue just missed its saving throw with an ill-considered reference altering the tenor of the work.
From its inception, Die #12 has played fast and loose with the pop culture strings of readers' hearts. From its TTRPG roots to its Big Chill styled ensemble cast, it has a heavy grounding in the disappointments over, as Billy Joel sang, "all the promises our teachers gave/if we worked hard if we behaved." As it thrust its cast into interesting new directions and opened up effective revelations, an ill-considered last page reveal undid so much good work that it's genuinely tragic in scope.
Let's get caught up: 2018 brought five people back to the mystical land of a tabletop role-playing game they all disappeared into as teenagers in 1991, where they left one friend behind. Now three seek any means of getting out of this realm of vampires, artificial intelligence, and elves who play by Harvey Dent's rules, while the other two seek to rule and improve what they feel they left undone. As noted in previous reviews, all that's fantastic.
If you've ever played Esper Genesis, Angela the Neo shares many traits with what's called a Cybermancer (sorcerer in traditional Dungeons & Dragons parlance, just with universe-altering code instead of eldritch powers). On one side of the table, she got a very unpleasant surprise last issue that drives her to despair, looking desperately for a solution. At the same time, the sadness powered Grief Knight (paladin) Matt and the devil-may-care Fool (rogue with luck feat pumped up to "whaaaaat?" who is also dying of a terminal disease) called Chuck to follow along, unable to return to their lives unless the entire group agrees to go home.
On the other hand, war has come to the borders of the vampire-ruled land of Angria, as powers that be are aligned against its new de facto ruler, Ash the Dictator (imagine someone who can command any one person at a time to do almost anything, but loses control of that person should they use this power on another). We finally find the reason why this road to hellish consequences is paved so neatly with the desire for betterment … and that's the greatest sin herein.
One of the problems with fantasy and far-flung science fiction is their slavish adoration to the popular ideas of the arguable modern era (for example, the pilot on The Orville teaching a Celine Dion song to an alien three hundred years from now). When this kind of cultural shorthand pops up, it does three things. First, it creates an out-group: unless they are very interested in cultures not their own, literally billions of people around the world will have no idea who the person on the last page is (and honestly, many people in western cultures won't either). Second, it often uses a kind of cheat code, hoping that the significance and impact of this historical figure can be used in lieu of character development. Third, it continues the culturally imperialist stance of elevating certain historical, societal, and chronological periods to an importance that (according to most of history) doesn't check out. There was no need for Leonardo DiVinci to be involved in the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D., for example. It's completely unlike when Sting sang, "caught between the Scylla and Charybdis," as those are memetic foundational elements of western culture that have survived centuries, so choosing something with personal relevance often leaves literary standards hanging.
With these issues on the table, it's jarring and dissonant to ram such an old idea into so many new ones (the planet is shaped like s 20-sided die). This is, by no means, a bad book. Now that last page is canon, alas, it does mean that this series lost a step, and that's a bad roll of the, well … die. RATING: HONORABLE MENTION.
Hannibal Tabu is a writer, journalist, DJ, poet and designer living in south Los Angeles with his wife and children. He's a winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, winner of the 2018-2019 Cultural Trailblazer award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, his weekly comic book review column THE BUY PILE can be found on iHeartRadio's Nerd-O-Rama podcast, his reviews can be found on BleedingCool.com, and more information can be found at his website, www.hannibaltabu.com.
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