August 4, 2017

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One Man, Two Worlds-- a review of Matt Kindt and David Rubín's Ether: Death of the Last Golden Blaze


Boone Dias is an addict. When he’s on a high, he’s bright and alert. He looks like Indiana Jones or John Wayne at their best and most heroic. But when he’s crashing, all of that goes away and he looks like a destitute man who has lost everything. Matt Kindt and David Rubín’s Ether Volume 1: Death of the Last Golden Blaze shows us a man who lives in two worlds, one’s that’s cruelly real and another that’s deceptively fantastic.

Rubín’s otherworldly Ether is the world of a fantasy picture book. It’s full of fantastic beasts, magic, and imagination. It’s easy to understand Boone’s attraction to this world because it looks so much better than anything that we would call “the real world.” The Ether is a world of imagination that Kindt and Rubín fill with wonder and awe. And while it’s a place of danger as well, that danger is colored by the whimsy of the magic that fills every corner.

Contrast that to when Boone has to return to the real world (and the creators give him a wonderful reason why he can’t just stay in his blissful fantasy world,) Rubín draws a dingy world that Kindt fills with heartbreak and shirked responsibilities. While in his own mind Boone may want to think of himself as a hero or at least a good man, the reality that he so callously and recklessly abandons begs to differ. Boone daily faces the decision to live in a fantasy world or the real world and he repeatedly chooses the fantasy over reality.

But how can you blame him? There’s one really quiet visual cue that Rubín uses repeatedly that’s easy to miss but really highlights the differences between Boone’s choices. When showing Boone in the present day in our world, Rubín draws solid borders around the panels while the panels in the Ether don’t have those boundaries as the colors bleed to the end of the panel. It’s a small thing and really isn’t all that noticeable. And it would be easy to say that a panel in this comic is just a panel whether or not there’s a black line around the image but it’s such a strong indication of the differences between the two worlds that Boone has to regularly choose between. 


The symbolism here is that there are no limits in the world of the Ether while the real world is a constrained existence, bound by almost arbitrary rules. So why wouldn’t any of us be like Boone and want to spend every moment we could in this imaginary world? And it’s not just that there are no bounds in the Ether but that there’s no end to the possibilities of that world either. Kindt and Rubín metaphorically draw a line between these two worlds which, while danger and mystery exist in both, give Boone the ability to be the adventurous hero in one and a ragged deadbeat in the other. It’s the same man in both but the world helps define him to himself and his loved ones.

While Ether Volume 1 is wrapped up in a murder mystery wrapper, the heart of Kindt and Rubín’s story is this tug-of-war between these two worlds for Boone’s soul. While the mystery drives the plot, Kindt’s writing, like so much of his writing, is about what this man is willing to give up in pursuit of something else. Think about the world of Mind Mgmt where so much of the story is about conflicting desires between people but this book is about the conflicting desires of these locations and their pull on our hero. And part of that conflict is having to struggle with the unheroic sacrifices that Boone makes to be in the world that he wants to be in.

The picture book magic that Kindt and Rubín display in Ether Volume 1: Death of the Last Golden Blaze is pretty and seductive. For the reader and for Boone, we’d rather spend our time in a world of magic and imaginary creatures to escape from the real world and the weight of everyday life. Kindt and Rubín’s Boone is a character that’s easy to both deplore and to understand. When you realize what his escapades into the Ether really cost him, it’s shocking to think of what a man would give up to pursue an imaginary dream. But it’s easy to understand the allure and the power of that dream to overwhelm his senses and to give him a high that he otherwise wouldn’t have.