Ether #1

Ether #1. Story: Matt Kindt Art: David Rubin Variant Cover: Jeff Lemire.
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: David Rubin
Variant Cover: Jeff Lemire

Coming on the heels of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange movie, the completely unrelated Ether promises the reader yet another magical romp through a multiverse populated by odd beings and even odder technologies. This is exactly the kind of comic book series one would expect from author Matt Kindt, known for being the creator of the hyper intricate ur-conspiracy Mind MGMT and the ongoing undersea murder mystery Dept H. But the comic displays a lighthearted approach not usually found in his past works. This owes a lot to Kindt’s artistic collaborator David Rubin. It’s only during the last few pages that the comic transitions into something more recognizably like Kindt when the atmosphere becomes more oppressive and terrifying.

Rubin’s art resembles that of Rafael Grampá, and that quality of cartoonish exaggeration is essential to the comic’s world-building. The first alien encountered is a gruff, giant purple ape-like creature called Glum, the self-described gatekeeper to the alternate worlds of the multiverse. Other weird denizens include the Bloody Screecher, a bird resembling a canary that wears an unsettling, toothy grin. Or the Magic Bullet, a projectile that resembles an unborn fetus. While Rubin doesn’t spend nearly enough time exploring the streets of Agartha, the capital city of the magical world known as Ether, his bathing the setting in an otherworldly combination of vibrant ruby, emerald and cerulean hues is charming enough.

But the true oddball in this place is Earthling and main protagonist Boone Dias, who dresses like a more dashing Ghostbuster and whose personality could be described as a mix of Egon Spengler, Sherlock Holmes, and Indiana Jones. Boone discovered the Ether years ago and has since refashioned himself as the mighty explorer of an exotic new world. He’s apt to use adjectives like “beautiful” and “fascinating” when describing the wonders of the Ether. And like so many white males before him, he’s more than a little condescending towards the natives and what are to him their backward superstitions. Nonetheless, the rulers of Agartha admire his rigorous scientific mind, and he’s been often called upon by them to solve various crimes. Boone has even cultivated a rivalry with a would-be Moriarity figure whom he grandiosely describes as his most dangerous adversary.

And the Ether isn’t half as interesting as the opulent detail found in the comic’s twist ending. Rubin’s illustration of present-day Earth makes it into a dystopian nightmare. And even Boone himself reacts by seeming to shrink in stature. But the reader has only seen the world through his eyes. How much of his experience is real or imagined? Or the product of evil machinations of yet-unseen parties? Kindt has set up another twisted puzzle for us to untangle.