Written by Matt Kindt
Art and Lettering by David Rubin
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Forget your cold and dreary world - and instead, step into the magical realm of the Ether, a beautifully-rendered story by Matt Kindt and David Rubin. Taking the adventurous spirit of an Indiana Jones movie, dropping it into a gorgeous fantasy world, and ending with a surprisingly poignant twist, Ether is one of the strongest debuts from Dark Horse in some time, and is a comic book that owe it to yourself not to pass up.
Kindt and Rubin’s hero Boone Dias, in many ways, brings the contagious enthusiasm and curious spirit of a Reed Richards, but instead of exploring the myriad worlds of super-science, Boone is an explorer of the mystic, catapulting himself (sometimes literally) into an otherworldly dimension rooted in sorcery and magical monsters. It’s a fantastic setting for an artist like Rubin, whose cartoony but ultra-detailed work stands confidently alongside masters like Rafael Grampa, Paul Pope or Brandon Graham. While Boone himself is a striking lead, oftentimes Rubin doesn’t even need to show off the character in order to impress - just an image of the capital city of Agartha is both alien and enthralling, lit by an eerie green sky and punctuated with buildings with eyes and teeth.
Yet while Rudin lovingly displays the realms of Ether with inventiveness and vigor, Kindt also takes great care to create a compelling lead character with Boone. Determined to investigate the methodology of magic, Boone looks at all the weirdness with absolute wonder, and that sense of awe translates nicely, making whimsical elements like bug compasses or slug cabs more fun than they should be. And Boone’s inquisitiveness also allows for this series to stretch beyond its ordinary confines, as Kindt takes a sharp turn into detective fiction when our hero is called upon to investigate the murder of a champion of the realm.
But Ether isn’t just about magic and mysteries - without giving too much away, there’s a fantastic twist to this book that turns Kindt’s story completely on its head, giving a tremendous sense of poignancy and loss to this otherwise chipper and inquisitive character. Kindt realizes that magic isn’t just about thrill-seeking, it’s about escape - and learning where Boone is coming from makes for a tremendous punch to the gut that might outdo any similar storytelling in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye or Reborn. When Boone leaves the realm of magic, Rubin also outdoes himself completely, shifting his art style to be grittier, more sharply-rendered, more bleak and oppressive in his color style. It’s the sort of artwork that could carry a book on its own, but the fact that Rubin seems to effortlessly shift between the two styles is worth the price of admission alone.
Magic is out there, and if Boone Dias has his way, he’s going to find it, catalog it, and understand what makes it work. There’s something inspiring and engaging about a hero like this, and it makes Ether the kind of comic book that stands out among the rest, even including the rest of Dark Horse’s typically gorgeous lineup. Matt Kindt and David Rubin haven’t just come up with a winning formula, but they will cast a spell on their readers - if you’re looking for the best drawn comic of the week, look no further than Ether.
Written by Pamela Ribon
Art by Veronica Fish, Brittany Peer, Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Roller derby has crashed back into the mainstream in a big way over the last few years, from feature films like Whip It! to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association bringing their recent championship tournaments to ESPN3. Novelist and former derby skater Pamela Ribon brings the frenetic pace and emotional impact of derby to monthly comics in Slam! #1, out this week from BOOM! Studios.
For those unfamiliar - and as an avid derby fan, you should find a local league and familiarize yourself post-haste - roller derby is an aggressive, fast-paced sport that pits two teams of five skaters against each other. There’s the jammer, who scores, and blockers, who stop the other jammer from scoring, and help their jammer break through the other team’s defenses. Derby can be played on a flat track or a banked track, and while the rules between the types of track leagues may change, the goal is the same: make sure your team can score, and make sure the other team can’t.
But, more than that, and what Slam! #1 explores with a touching authenticity, the best derby leagues offer an incredible sense of camaraderie and belonging to anyone who walks through their doors, be they new skaters, volunteers, or fans. Slam #1 introduces derby newcomers Jennifer Chu and Maisie Huff, two rookie skaters who find themselves drawn to the Eastside Roller Girls banked track league at pivotal moments in their lives. The two become best friends through the rough and tumble training period of their fresh meat orientation, only to be drafted to two separate teams within the league on the night of their first bout. Though Jennifer and Maisie promise not to let the diverging paths of their derby selves Knockout and Ithinka Can get in the way of their friendship off the track, their worries loom large at the end of the issue. After going through rookie hell together, getting split up now may mean change is inevitable.
Ribon does an excellent job introducing Jennifer and Maisie and building their friendship throughout Slam! #1, from their divergent introductions to the league to their bonding throughout training leading up to their first bout. Jennifer, whose life has direction but few friends, finds herself recruited by Eastside skaters after a trip to the gym, while Maisie, who has concerned friends but little direction after a difficult break-up, reluctantly signs up after the bout that inspired Jennifer to enthusiastically join in. Ribon and artist Veronica Fish do an incredible job adding layers to both women and their friendship through small details in the art and dialogue, from the Lost in Translation poster both womens’ rooms have in common to the ways their spaces change over the course of their growth in derby.
Maisie’s room in particular is particularly striking; after her break-up, her apartment is cast in mournful shadows with Brittany Peer’s stellar colors, littered with the small details of a life someone seems to have abruptly left - a half-empty closet, the box left over from a new TV hastily purchased. As Maisie grows more confident and finds her way again, derby expands to fill the empty spaces left in her closet, and the colors brighten up as you see her smiling after practice. Panels from their fresh meat journey look like photos from Maisie and Jen’s lives, taped into a scrapbook as a training montage to commemorate their work and where it takes them.
Though this week’s issue is light on details about the rest of the league (we learn the names of some other skaters in passing, and get hints one skater may have it out for Ithinka Can), Slam! #1 is a thoughtful and emotional book that feels like an authentic representation of the experiences of countless women like Ribon who were able to discover new families and new parts of themselves through roller derby. Jennifer and Maisie are relatable characters whose journeys will resonate whether you’re a veteran skater or a curious newbie who may not have seen a bout in your life. Slam! #1 is a visually beautiful book with a strong premise and a great deal of promise, and even if you’re only familiar with derby in passing, it’s absolutely worth checking out the first issue tomorrow.