Ether is getting a lot of positive buzz this week, and I’m happy to see that. Fantasy comics definitely have an audience but at times seem to have to fight for attention among the tide of releases each week despite how well they tend to do on the book market once collected.
The team up of Matt Kindt and David Rubin, when announced, kind of blew my mind. I knew their similarities as well as their differences as creators could make this a fascinating book–for sure a wild flight of the imagination. Matt Kindt is, of course, known for both writing and drawing Mind MGMT and Dept. H. and writing a number of other works like PastAways, Ninjak, The Valiant, Poppy, and more.
David Rubin’s previous work that captured my imagination was the two volume book The Hero, a modern retelling of the Heracles (also known as Hercules) myth. His artwork is explosively lively and detailed, and his color palette seems to take hairpin turns from sunset to twilight hues. I already loved his inking and color choices, but seeing him take on a single issue comic series like this is a real treat.
Even though I had read taglines about Ether, and knew the work of both creators, so had an idea of what to expect, I have to say that Ether was a different experience than I anticipated. It was much richer, funnier, and deeper than I thought it might be. In the interest of telling a solid adventure story, creators sometimes have to leave jokes, asides, background characters, or even emotional depth behind, and as a reader I’m quite forgiving of that choice. But Ether’s issue #1 veers sharply away from that tactic. One of the reasons the comic is able to include so much “extra” for the reader is a kind of professional economy from both Kindt and Rubin.
Kindt, having worked very densely on Mind MGMT has developed a real acuity for packing in detail in a fluid, lively way, whether through dialogue or labelled extra information in panels. Rubin seems to have had a kind of mad insistence on including small extra elements and background characters in his art for some time, but also does some amazing things with panel layout in this first issue to include as much visual information as possible while creating the effect of movement and transition. In short, both of these guys know how to make a comic much bigger inside than it has to be, and they seem really determined to do that in Ether.
Plot-wise, the comic has a deceptive lightness to it at first, meaning it seems off the cuff, a kind of blend of elements from fantasy tradition that might pop up in our dreams, but for that reason universal and engagingly familiar. But as the story moves, we get to watch this strange human exploring a world seemingly built on the principles of magic in the city of Agartha, we understand that central character Boone Dias is sparkily “watchable”, self-lovingly verbose, actually quite excitable, but perhaps strangely lacking in self-esteem and confidence. He’s an explorer between worlds, but what does that make him? It’s that much harder for anyone, himself included, to know his own worth.
And in this first issue, the most masterful turn is taking Boone back to the human world at the end, and showing us how he appears and acts there by contrast, as well as seeing some flashbacks from his life. This move packs an emotional punch that I was very far from expecting in this first issue of Ether. I wanted to follow Kindt and Rubin on their strange journey in a magic land, but I have become hooked on a comic that’s telling you two stories at once–and the mysterious relationship between the two is what you and Boone have to unravel for his sake.
Oh, and, crazy props to Kindt and Rubin for the back cover of the comic and the character of the small yellow bird known as “The Bloody Screecher”. As the owner of a small yellow parrot who makes more noise than the entire universe combined, I now know that I am not alone in the cosmos. Thank you.
Ether #1 came out on November 16th, and is currently in shops. Issue #2 lands on December 21st and is currently available to order right here.