The original concept of Doctor Mirage was a rather novel one, as two paranormal investigators get caught up in a situation that ends up with one of them (Doctor Mirage) essentially dead, but still tethered to his living wife. So how do you go about continuing a marriage when one of half of the couple is now a ghost? That was a strong hook for the series, although the original The Second Life of Doctor Mirage series petered out a bit after a good beginning and then really fell apart once the original creators, Bob Layton and Bernard Chang, left the series about a year into it. The new Valiant take on Doctor Mirage is a similar idea, with a significant twist in both plot and how it is approached. Now the “Doctor Mirage” in The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is the wife and rather than just being able to talk to her dead husband, she can talk to dead people…EXCEPT her dead husband. And while the original series took a sort of lighthearted look at the whole thing (with relationship issues being the driving force of the series) the new take is a good deal darker. Jen Van Meter, Roberto De La Torre and Dave Baron take on the character in a new mini-series from Valiant Comics that opens with an evocative and delightfully dark and moody first issue that gets to the heart of just who Shan Fong (Doctor Mirage) is and what kind of creepy adventures we can expect to see from her going forward.
The issue begins by establishing Doctor Mirage’s bonafides as well as her poor financial situation when her agent sets her up with a group of grieving widows. Van Meter really grips the anguish that these women are feeling while also not hiding how aggravating the situation is for Shan, as well. I really like how well Baron translates the mood of the series – he lights the whole thing as if it is in a perpetual end of day lighting, sort of like an endless twilight. That works really well for the style of the book. De La Torre, meanwhile, helps matters a lot by giving the characters an almost ethereal feel through really loose lines and non-detailed designs. Almost hints of characters rather than fully defining them – in a book about ghosts that fits quite nicely.
With Mirage now established, the story kicks into high gear when she encounters a mysterious client who is bound to a demon, a demon who promises Shan that he can get her into contact with her dead husband if she helps the demon. It’s one of those things that just seems like it has to be a trap, but at the same time, can Shan really afford to pass up an opportunity – any opportunity – to find her husband? She’s been studying this sort of thing for years, but her husband was the true occult scholar, so is she even truly prepared for what lies beyond? Can she even trust the client she is working for? Those are the central tensions in the series as Shan sets off to find her husband at the end of the first issue.
I really admire how well Van Meter defines Shan’s character in this first issue. Everyone is shadowy but one thing we can rely on is Shan herself. I also like how she establishes the mysterious client – subtle things like him obviously being a racist – they work to establish a general feeling about a man we don’t know a whole lot about. Even Shan’s agent, Leo, is given a lot of room to work almost as a mini-Greek chorus and as a sounding board for Shan to explain to him (and through him, us) what she is thinking.
This is mostly an establishing issue before things get REALLY trippy beyond the threshold in issue #2, but it establishes everything really well and gives us a lead character we’d gladly follow anywhere – even beyond the grave.
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