A welcome addition to Valiant's line, "The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage" by Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre is equal parts clever and emotional as it sets up an impressive new hero, even if Dr. Mirage herself would rather not be one.
The story focuses on Dr. Shan Fong, aka Dr. Mirage: an investigator who deals with the supernatural recovering from the death of her husband. She's emotionally and physically cut off from everything and on the verge of losing her home, her only real sanctuary. Perhaps most interestingly, though Shan can communicate with the dead, she's unable to communicate with her husband. She doesn't know where he is, or how to find him. It's her belief that she finally has a lead on her husband's afterlife whereabouts that eventually causes her to take on an incredibly dangerous case from a client she doesn't particularly care for. It sets an emotional and compelling tone for the series right out of the gate.
One of the greatest strengths of what Van Meter has done in this first issue is to present a really well rounded main character in Dr. Mirage. Shan feels quite real as she deals with the challenges of grief and her new shady client. The supernatural world that Shan inhabits as someone with a gift for communing with the dead and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the paranormal is both terrifying and wondrous. There's a lot of information to convey in this first issue and it's to Van Meter's credit that it's done so organically without a lot of heavy-handed exposition, instead relying on a more natural flow of conversations and Shan's everyday life.
De la Torre's art has a loose feel with good energy and some rough edges that's both appealing and fitting for the blend of real world and supernatural. His Shan is gorgeously designed, unique and specific in her details and realistic in a way few comics manage. She's also got a great costume that is a fantastic blend of superhero and reality. Specifically, she doesn't look completely ridiculous walking around in it, but it still has it has all the potential for superhero-ish adventures. De la Torre's characters are rooted nicely in the real world, faces filled with character and life experience. It's a particularly nice contrast for when a decidedly supernatural and inhuman character arrives on the scene. There are also a lot of mystical elements in the book -- from occult objects to ancient art -- and de la Torre handles them very well. That said, the execution of some of the spirits Shan communicates with could use some work. It seems like an opportunity to push the visuals (including the colors) but instead the execution feels a bit ill-considered. There are times when the art is slightly muddy on the details, but on the whole the visuals are pretty and smart with an emphasis on strong character work.
Colorist David Baron makes some truly interesting choices, almost all of which pay off. For the most part, the book's palette is desaturated and restrained. This operates as a wonderful contrast to the more dramatic choices, such as a blood red sky followed by the reflection of that red light into Shan's home. It evokes a setting sun that feels oppressive and powerful rather than idyllic. The blues and purples of Shan's home at night feels like the calm before the storm. Plus, the blend of monochrome purples and yellow-greens as Shan embarks on her dangerous trip to the other side evokes a feeling of discomfort and apprehension.
The history of "The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage" is already incredibly rich. Beyond the exciting way Van Meter leaves off the debut issue (one which defies readers to ignore the second), there are so many layers and aspects to both Dr. Mirage and her world, both ripe for exploration.