Review: Ether #1
“Ether #1 is an honors class in epistemology and how we know what know wrapped in the trappings of a truly engaging tale of self-discovery.”
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: David Rubin
Release Date: Wed, November 16, 2016
The use of magic in fiction is often a crapshoot, as its very conceit is regularly ill-defined, hard to grasp, even ethereal, leaving readers gobsmacked as to how to relate to the world the creators are building and how to connect to the overall narrative. The result can be frustrating and sometimes will do more harm than good in crafting an engaging yarn.
These are concerns that writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin seem to be keenly aware of and want to address head-on, as they tackle the nature of magic in their new creator-owned series Ether, on sale this Wednesday, November 16, from Dark Horse Comics. Kindt and Rubin’s proxy is Boone Dias, an empiricist and scientist who believes that magic is only science we haven’t been able to explain… yet. To prove his suppositions to be correct, Boone has made several journeys to a land of supernatural beings known as the Ether, rejecting that the world he’s experiencing has any other basis than in scientific phenomena. Part of the ride of Ether will be in how Boone’s experiences will change his idea of the world—if at all.
Kindt’s writing leaves a good deal to unpack. At first blush, Ether can be taken as a story of magic and mystery and creatures that would put Jim Henson to shame. Boone Dias is a hero that’s cut from the same cloth as high-flying adventurers as Doc Savage or the crew from Jonny Quest. While he’s a bit cocky and on the arrogant side—he hopes to explain away magic, after all—Boone is, at his foundation, a man with a good heart who genuinely seems to want to aid the citizens of the Ether, who have given so freely to him their time and resources. It’s their generosity of spirit that makes him so ready to assist the people of the Ether when trouble knocks and his unique skills can be put to use, a murder that stabs at the heart of the realm and, maybe, the heart of Boone. It is Boone’s goodness that cuts his high-falutin’ nature so that audiences can cheer him on, whether we agree with his paradigmatic notions on reality or not.
And it’s there where Kindt tackles one of the primary ideas that threads throughout the first issue of Ether: the nature of reality. Boone is an empiricist, with an outlook toward the world that is deeply rooted in cold, hard facts. The idea that magic exists in contrary to everything he believes in his core and he’s determined to prove that the world and peoples of the Ether are not magical, but rather beings and locales that merely haven’t been totally explained or vetted with the scientific method. Kindt hints that this obstinacy is rooted in some trauma Boone has experienced, but he doesn’t linger on the idea too much in the premiere issue, instead letting readers become acclimatized to the setup of the story. Empiricism and linguistic anthropology are definitely on Kindt’s mind, but so is the nature of how we know what we know as he creates the Ether’s world. This particularly comes into play and knocks the wind out of readers by the end of the first issue.
Ether’s world foundations and fleshed-out citizens owe much to Rubin’s artistic aesthetic. While reading the first issue, I kept finding myself thinking back to artist Steve Ditko’s work on Doctor Strange, which created a fully-realized, psychedelic world seemingly from the ground up. Ditko’s sensibility definitely veered on the edge of quirky, which Rubin’s work immediately revokes, particularly in his designs of the sinister Lord Ubel, his library and his minions the Deweys. Floating jellyfish, anthropomorphic bird people, purple, towering apes—all these serve to not only put whimsy on display, but to fully impart on readers that the Ether is a world removed from anything they’ve ever experienced. However, that quirkiness never feels forced, but central to the conceit of the tale for which Rubin and Kindt are laying the foundations. The fantastical has an element of weight to it, which is absolutely pivotal to make the world of Ether work. Rubin helps readers retain their sense of joy in examining the magical without disconnecting from the narrative.
Ether #1 is an honors class in epistemology and how we know what know wrapped in the trappings of a truly engaging tale of self-discovery. Kindt and Rubin’s tale dazzles with fun adventure, but lingers in the maw of your stomach as you ponder your preconceived notions of reality.
Ether #1, written by Matt Kindt with David Rubin on art, is on sale this Wednesday, November 16, from Dark Horse Comics.
From the official issue description:
That’s the question at the heart of ETHER, the much anticipated creator-owned series by award-winning writer Matt Kindt (DEPT. H) and artist David Rubín (BATTLING BOY) featuring magic bullets, purple gorilla gatekeepers, faeries, golems, a mystical portal and one science-minded adventurer who firmly disbelieves in the supernatural, despite all the evidence around him.
Boone Dias is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes. But maybe, just maybe, keeping the real and the abstract separate is too big a job for just one man?
ETHER delivers spectacle, the supernatural, high adventure and heartbreak beginning November 16, 2016, when the first issue goes on sale.