Some stories need to be told twice.
Truly skilled writers can create worlds so rich, plots so intricate, and characters so deep that you can’t take them all in with just one telling; each subsequent reading reveals new details that you never noticed before. Other stories are simply too convoluted, or lack exposition, to fully understand what’s happening without a reread. Still others are just so enjoyable that they never get old, and multiple passes endear them closer to your heart.
Jenn Manley Lee’s Dicebox falls into all three of these categories – a profound, labyrinthine masterpiece.
Don’t get me wrong – when I say it’s convoluted, I’m not criticizing it. I like writing that respects me enough to not hold my hand and explain everything (anyone watched Primer?) as long as it still gives me enough information, through context and dialogue, to piece it together myself. Many stories attempt this, but fail. Dicebox succeeds.
Dicebox is the story of itinerant workers Griffen and Molly, who travel the galaxy from job to job in the far future. At least, that’s what it seems to be about at first. Then the questions start piling up: what is the nature of Molly’s uncanny hallucinations? Why does Griffen seem to be able to bypass computer security with her brain? Who is Captain Donny Grae, and what does she know about Griffen’s past? And are Griffen and Molly married in, like, a romantic way? Or is it more of a tax-benefits-hospital-visitation thing?
One thing’s certain – no matter how big the universe might be, our heroes can only run from the past for so long.
The funny thing about Dicebox is that the universe isn’t that big. Griffen and Molly are always running into someone they know, usually other migrant workers or working-class people who run in the same circles and sleep at the same flophouses. Lee creates a fascinating culture in these people, who drink togther, find passage on ships together, hook each other up with jobs, and have generally uninhibited and uncomplicated sex with each other. (Monogamy and heterosexuality, in this universe, seem to be strictly upper-class affairs.) It should be noted that these scenes can be quite explicit, and people at work should probably not be reading them.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite thing about this comic. Is it the vast, beautiful setting? The huge and diverse cast, each member of which feels like a real, living person? The tense machinations of government agencies, the Corps and the Bureau, that our heroes get caught up in? Or is it Molly and Griffen’s endless smartmouth banter and the trouble it constantly gets them in?
It’s that last one. Definitely the last one.
Griffen has a fierce temper, a razor wit, and zero tact. Molly is more level-headed, the one who steps in to finish the fights that her wife inevitably starts with everyone they meet, and her wit is more the quietly devastating kind. Together, they make a formidable team. Well, actually, hm. No. They make a semi-competent team? A team that, at the very least, stays out of prison? A team where one of them waits in the hospital with the other, while she recovers from the consequences of her poor choices? At the absolute minimum, they definitely make an entertaining team.
The fierce love and loyalty these two share is unlike anything I’ve seen in any other story. They might ruin everything else in their lives, but they’ll always have each other to sleep next to under the stars. On the uninhabited planet that they crashed on.
Final verdict: Dicebox is one of my very favorite comics. I recommend it unconditionally. But be ready to read it again!