New To You Comics #99: Sherlock Meets Narnia In ‘Ether’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Dark Horse Comics’ Ether Vol. 1: Death of the Last Golden Blaze, from Matt Kindt and David Rubin. Here’s what Dark Horse says about the book:

‘A science-minded adventurer gets mixed up in the mysteries of a fantasy world in this charming new adventure from an award-winning creative team.

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 keeping the Real and the Abstract separate is too big a job for just one man.’

Brendan Allen: This is another one that strays a little out of my usual comfort zone, but it found its way into my review queue a while back, and it pulled me right in. 

Boone Dias is a scientist who is convinced that anything that appears magical is just science that has yet to be explored and explained. He is obsessed with applying logic to anything that appears remotely magical in order to suss out that scientific explanation. Super fun at parties, right?

He’s found a portal to a magical land called the Ether, and on his latest trip, he gets tangled up in a locked room murder mystery that involves copper golems and magic bullets. 

The whole angle of searching for logic in a completely illogical situation is probably what hooked me. I love crime procedurals and detective noir. Locked room is one of my favorite sub-genres, and this is a really great example, as unlikely as that sounds. 

Tony Thornley: I read the first two issues just before #1 came out to interview Kindt and Rubin, and I really enjoyed it at the time. It had a fun “Sherlock meets Narnia” vibe that I enjoyed. I fell off with the rest of the mini though and I’m glad to finally pick up the rest of it.

Brendan: Matt Kindt is an amazing storyteller. The script flows so naturally that there is no moment of hesitation where the reader has to decide to invest. Magical snail taxis? Flying octopi? A giant lavender ape that dropkicks visitors between dimensions? It all plays, and plays so well, you don’t even question it. It just all fits in the world that he’s created. 

Tony: See, I liked the story mostly because there was some really interesting world building, but I also thought it was only slightly above average. There’s interesting details throughout, and some stunning moments (like the reveal of how you have to make it into the Ether, or Dias’s existing connection to that magical realm). I also liked the characters quite a bit, though Dias mostly felt like a Reed Richards or Sherlock Holmes pastiche to me. In short, good, but not “wow!”

For me, that changes when you factor in Rubin’s absolutely stunning work, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

Brendan: With any of these genres alone, you have to expect a certain level of retread. Fantasy, procedurals, and detective stories have been done so often, it’s hard to avoid at least some of those tropes. 

I thought it was all tied together nicely, though, and I really like the timeline-altering difference between Earth time and Ether time. You have to make every minute in the Ether count, because you’re actually losing exponentially more Earth time. Hazel was Ether-side for what, three days? And five Earth years passed. What’s the conversion on that?

Tony: And you notice that conversion is much different by the time Dias is making regular trips through.

Brendan: Is it, though? He is very calculated in the amount of time he spends, and limits his trips. He’s basically destroyed every relationship he has on Earth in the pursuit of Ether knowledge. Seems like he’s just resigned himself to the cost. 

Tony: That’s the part of it I think is most interesting. That side of the story is where it pushes away from standard portal fantasy? That’s where it pulled me in. 

Brendan: Kind of like a drug, isn’t it? The guy was super careful and learned the risks, but every time he’s back on Earth, he longs to get back into the Ether, despite the cost. It gets to a point where his original mission of disproving the existence of magic becomes almost ridiculous. Magic bullet, you say? Yes, but what’s the science behind this living, animate projectile? The absurdity of his quest for logic becomes clear almost immediately.

Tony: It goes back to the scifi concept of “magic is just science we don’t understand.” I did like that quite a bit, especially when Dias is refusing to acknowledge that yeah, these things could not happen in the mundane world, even with the most advanced science possible.

Brendan: Let’s talk about David Rubin’s art. Rubin pulled lines, color, and letters on this thing, and I don’t think the book would be nearly as good without his visual representation of both worlds. Leaving aside the amazing creature designs and cityscapes, the colors really stand out for me here. 

Earth seems grimy and dirty. Dull compared to the bright, shiny colors of the Ether. Light doesn’t even appear to behave under the same rules between realms. Going back through a portal to Earth is like removing rose colored glasses after wearing them for a while. Nothing looked shitty before you put the glasses on, but it’s hard to adjust back to a regular palette when you take them off.  

Tony: Absolutely. Rubin took a story that was interesting and just blew me away. The detail he puts into the Ether and the world around it is just gorgeous. I said it a minute ago- he’s the reason for me that Ether works. He’s thoughtful, colorful, and expressive. The back of the trade is full of Kindt’s sketches, which are good, but Rubin takes those interesting and distinct ideas and makes them fantastic and larger than life. 

I got the Kindt/Lemire/Rubin graphic novel recently entirely because of him and I can’t wait to read it.

Brendan: Obviously, I’m a fan. I really like how Ether takes an age-old subgenre of detective fiction, the locked room mystery, and elevates it with science fiction and fantasy elements. I could have easily spent an entire review talking about any of the single elements that combine to make this a great book.

Where does Ether fall for you?

Tony: It’s a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone.

Brendan: Unbelievably, next week’s piece will be our hundredth New To You Comics already. What do you have planned for the big 1-0-0?

Tony: We talked long and hard about this one. We’re going to be rejoined by our friend Scott Redmond, and we’re going to go with the series that in my opinion started comics’ current creator owned renaissance- Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples!

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