Dark Horse Comics series Ether takes a big detour this week away from the main plotline following Boone Dias and the havoc he has previously wreaked in the land of Ether as well as from the specific investigation in Sherlock Holmes-style of a major murder rocking the capitol.
Instead we’re walking through the childhood of Dias’ significant other Hazel and her own strange encounters with the Ether. The story of Dias and Hazel has been creating a sorrowful undercurrent in the series, adding poignancy to Dias’ strange isolation from his own native reality. This will no doubt give more insight into their relationship and what exactly happened to separate them.
Either way, this shows that like another successful Dark Horse series, Harrow County, the world of Ether can expand into side-alleys and related tales as needed to build the bigger story. Writer on the series Matt Kindt has shown he’s a big fan of asides in Mind MGMT and even his currently written and drawn Dept. H. Artist David Rubin showed in his OGN Hero that he’s a master of incorporating multiple stories into one narrative as well.
In this issue, we also get the chance to experience what the Ether would be like for a child, how wondrous, terrifying, and alarmingly illogical everything would seem. We’re introduced to the concept of “poisoned ideas” and a “quarantine” the Ether tries to enact for visitors, which in calm reflection might seem like a good principle, at least in part.
Hazel discovers for us that the Ether is “beautiful” but the Ether is also “dangerous”, in case we haven’t been taking the darker aspects of this magical land seriously. But in realizing Hazel’s suffering, and her isolation from the human world she returns to, we are reminded again that Dias might have some serious flaws of his own. Did he fail her in some way? Wouldn’t he of all people be able to help her deal with her experiences?
It’s not all jokes and whimsy in the Ether, but it is magical. This series does a great job of breaking magical fantasy out of stereotypes of being either light and humorous or being dark and sinister. Rubin’s artwork, as ever, seems to scale those heights and depths with ease. His color palette in this issue is exceptional, using a kind of earth-tone to convey Hazel’s earthly experiences and creating amazing contrasts with the fiery/painful aspects of the Ether to suggest trauma.
This seems like it might have been the most emotionally difficult issue so far both for Kindt to write and for Rubin to draw. They needed to create a specific gravitas only hinted at in previous issues. Based on this, we begin to understand why taking this detour into Hazel’s past was so important to the trajectory of the series thematically, but also look out for some developments in Dias’ “present day” as well that will change the dynamic between Earth and the Ether forever.
Ether #4 arrives in comic shops today, February 15th.