After the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, still-president Barack Obama knew what he had to do. Seizing power to protect America from itself, Obama made racism illegal while freeing non-violent offenders from prisons nationwide and this was just the start of his third term of indefinite length. Meanwhile, a shadowy cabal of United States politicians moves in secret behind the scenes ordering assassinations of anyone who interferes with their plans and engineering sick stunts to convince the public to side with their radical agenda. This isn’t just a GOP nightmare, this is reality in the world of Image Comics’ ongoing series, Die!Die!Die!
Die!Die!Die! debuted in July 2018 out of nowhere, when it just showed up in comic stores around the world to the surprise of the entire industry. The series comes from a heavyweight creative team; written by The Walking Dead and Invincible’s Robert Kirkman from a story devised by Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple, who served as showrunner for AMC’s The Walking Dead adaptation from seasons four to eight. Batman Incorporated’s Chris Burnham serves as artist and co-creator backed by regular collaborator, colorist Nathan Fairbairn and indie letterer superstar Rus Wooton.
The series served as an experimental new way to get comics to readers by sending copies to stores with no prior warning, similar to surprise album drops like Beyonce’s self-titled fifth album and Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Announced just one day before it went on sale Die!Die!Die! promised to be a blood-soaked, action-packed story of assassins and political intrigue but over the course of its thirteen published issues, it has got so much weirder and more wild than that.
Die!Die!Die! ostensibly starts out as the story of three brothers — John, Paul, and George — who were trained as assassins from childhood and went in three very different directions in life. Paul serves as an agent and an assassin for a shadowy cabal of politicians who nudge the world in whatever direction they want through tactical killings, John has retired to the woods and George is an amoral killer-for-hire who very much enjoys his work. The paths of the three brothers intersect after years apart after George is hired to kill Paul and take his place, forcing John to come out of retirement to figure out what’s going on.
However, the series grows from this starting point in the strangest and broadest ways as we dive deeper into the world of underground political assassinations, but once you’re strapped in and enjoying the ride it all makes sense organically. Even when one of the supporting characters we’ve seen in several issues is revealed to be sharing their body with a moth alien from outer space or when the cat ninjas show up, Die!Die!Die! is such an irrelevant and off-the-wall title that you’re ready to just go with it.
Die!Die!Die! is also an incredibly violent book. It combines Burnham’s talent for fight scenes and action set-pieces he first established on Officer Downe and later honed during his time on Batman Incorporated with the glorious showers of claret on display in some of Invincible’s bloodiest fight scenes. Burnham really is an absolute master of the craft in terms of fight scenes and along with Chris Samnee on Fire Power, Robert Kirkman may be working with the two best fight artists working in comics today. Definitely the two best fight artists named Chris, at least.
There’s a moment in the first issue where George, out of bullets, stabs a dude in the neck with the barrel of his gun and then kicks the gun so the barrel goes straight through, killing him. It was at that moment, I knew I was reading my kind of comic. Fairbairn deserves a great heaping of credit as well. He’s one of my favourite colourists working today and he brings a pop-art splash to every page of Die!Die!Die! but the reds of his blood splatter are especially vibrant and help frame the action in a way that only a skilled colourist could accomplish.
So what about the Obama thing? It’s really not as big of a deal in the comic as I maybe made it out to be in the opening paragraph, but I needed to grab your attention. From my description of it, you may think that Die!Die!Die! is a ham-fisted conservative comic warning of the dangers of liberal overreach but it’s very much not doing that; it’s lampooning the greatest fears of those on the right by creating a world where their worst fears play out to hilarious results.
Die!Die!Die! mocks conservatives by highlighting the hypocrisy of many of their causes. When the shadowy cabal introduces a birth control pill that has the side effect of making men pregnant, suddenly the GOP is very much in favour of easy access to abortion and universal healthcare to cover it and when a certain brand of gun cleaner is discovered to make men infertile, rednecks march on Washington demanding gun control.
These are very silly moments in what is a very silly book, it’s not something you’re supposed to take seriously at all. I don’t know if Robert Kirkman has a reputation as a particularly political writer and I don’t want to ascribe any views to him that he hasn’t publicly stated, but I first noticed a particularly left-leaning slant to his work with the final year of The Walking Dead. I wrote about it for Polygon in detail, but the last story Kirkman told with his blockbuster zombie megahit was about how in a world where all the systems have been torn down, the biggest sin would be to rebuild them.
There’s nothing particularly big or clever about Die!Die!Die! and yeah, hillbillies carrying signs that say “gun cleaner broke my peener” is particularly immature, but not everything needs to be From Hell. I’ve never particularly liked the phrase “you have to turn your brain off to enjoy it” which is used for big, dumb action movies like The Fast and The Furious series because I think you can engage with such work on an intellectual level while also recognising something is dumb and fun.
In its defence, it’s not all dick jokes and violence; Die!Die!Die! is a comic with something to say. If you look at the panel above, there are fun jokey signs like “Release my Snyder Cut” but there’s also someone just straight up wearing a t-shirt that says “Pinochet Was Right” with an image of a helicopter. Elsewhere in the comic, a lower ranking member of the cabal asks when they’re going to get around to tackling all the societal problems caused by women, before slinking away, unable to name one. Die!Die!Die! is a comic with a point of view and similarly to the final year of The Walking Dead it posits that a better world is possible but we need to figure out how to move beyond the way society is set up because it is not working.
Nate’s journey to raise his daughter without hiding the ugliness of his world is a particularly affecting subplot and when he’s finally united with wife, it’s genuinely touching emotional payoff for his character. Meanwhile, more recent issues have started to lean towards some actual consequences coming down the pike for Senator Connie Lipschitz, one of the book’s main characters and the mastermind of the cabal. After finally climbing to the top of the ladder, she’s started to realise the cost of her actions and that the people she’s been treating like game pieces are still people.
The only real downside I find with the series is that it comes out on such an irregular schedule; the first issue dropped in July 2018 and #14 is supposedly out today, though it may have been delayed again between me writing this and publishing it. Die!Die!Die! is a comic that really is not for everyone, but I also think it’s for more people than are currently reading and talking about it. If you like the action set pieces of John Wick or the over-the-top satire of Saints Row then I think Die!Die!Die! could be your new favourite comic.