Script: Matt Kindt
Art and Lettering: David Rubin
Publisher: Dark Horse
A review by Christoph Staffl
The last time I read a Matt Kindt story was a few months ago when I tried to catch up on Dept.H. And like Dept.H, Ether is a story that defies a usual category. It’s not just a magic story in a fictional world, it is not just a crime story becoming a witch hunt, it is not just a plea for science our world desperately needs, it is not just a story about family and tragic. No, it is all that and so much more. The story has immense potential, unfortunately Matt Kindt doesn’t always succeed in delivering those potentials. In this review I will try to explain why that is and what I expect from further stories.
Let us begin with a simple question: What is Ether about? The story takes place on two different worlds. First we have the world we know: Earth. A few years ago someone discovered portals to another dimension, another realm. It’s not that easy to enter this realm, but once you went through some funny and disturbing inconveniences, you get to a world full of wonders, magic and fascinating creatures called Ether. Our protagonist is Boone Dias and he is kind of an Ether expert. He has studied it for decades now and has lost a great deal of his life on Earth because of it. One problem is time – it works differently in the Ether: one month there is a year on Earth. But there is another downside: humans can’t digest the food of the Ether, so you have to eat before you enter it and leave every now and then – otherwise you die of hunger.
Boone believes in science and not in the magic of the Ether and his adventures have but one goal: to prove to everyone, on Earth and the Ether, that magic doesn’t exist. He has come far on his journey and earned the trust of a lot of people there. Therefore he gets hired to solve the murder of a very important person. Who is behind this? What has his past to do with all of it?
We accompany him and Glum on his quest. Glum by the way is the guardian of the gate to the Ether. A lavender coloured furry creature, who is also the comic relief in this journey. He is not just very funny, but also acts as a welcome distraction from Boone, who sometimes is a bit annoying. Especially when he goes full on science mode and talks about his discoveries. So it’s good to have a sidekick like Glum.
Throughout the story we also get some flashbacks of Boone and the time he had a family. We learn what has happened to them and how addicted he is to the Ether. These flashbacks are wonderfully coloured. At first in a brownish/reddish kind of way, but that changes with the fifth issue. In addition to that we have flashbacks within flashbacks which are purely black and white. The artwork is just brilliant and has this other-worldly touch to it. Especially the different styles between the occurrences on earth and the Ether are remarkable. The panel-structure is somewhat unconventional and most of the time easy to follow. But I have to say that sometimes the speech bubbles are confusing. It doesn’t happen often, but two or three times I wasn’t exactly sure how they want me to read a certain part.
I really love the world Matt Kindt and David Rubin introduces us to, because it is such a rich and wonderful culture. We even get to see a map of the surrounding cities, rivers and mountains, with all kinds of weird names. I hope we get to see some of them in the coming issues. I also liked that magic is really just technology they don’t understand. It reminded me of the Matrix sequels or the Dark Tower books by Stephen King, were they use or interact with machines, but most of the people have forgotten how to use them or who built this stuff in the first place. That is also the case in the Ether. They don’t understand it and therefore it has to be magic. I would like to know what happened and why the few people who understand it, doesn’t share their knowledge. Maybe it has something to do with power? But that’s just a wild guess.
Now let me talk about the things I didn’t like: first of all, the first story-arc ending was very unsatisfying. There are a lot of open story elements and therefore the first five issues feel more like a set up for what’s coming next rather than a full story. They introduce the world, the main characters, but nothing much really happens. I mentioned the VIP who gets killed in the first issue and is introduced to us as a really, really vital figure to the realm of the Ether, but no one seems to give a damn about her death. So why should I, the reader, care about her or the solution of the mystery? That’s a bigly (sorry, I couldn’t resist) problem for the story. I cared more about a side character, which gets her very own flashback in the third issue. In my opinion, that issue is the best one within the arc, because the light and amusing tone of the first ones take a hard turn and it gets dark and gritty. You really feel the high stakes and feel with her. But I didn’t get that from the rest of the story.
Wait and See! This first story-arc is a good introduction to the world and because it is such a rich one, I can forgive the flaws. I recommend that you read the story-arcs as a whole in the trade paperbacks. Would I have read just the single issues one by one and not all five in one sitting, I think I would have quit halfway through. I will definitely check out the second volume because of the world and the creatures within it and I hope to get more of the motives of our main characters.