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Van Meter Defies Death in “Doctor Mirage: Second Lives”

by  in Comic News Comment
Van Meter Defies Death in “Doctor Mirage: Second Lives”

This week sees the return of one of Valiant Entertainment‘s most acclaimed characters of the relaunch: Doctor Mirage. A natural occultist with the power to see ghosts (and hear about all their problems), the one thing Shan Mirage wanted was the one thing she couldn’t find: the soul of her dead husband, Hwen. In attempting to get Hwen back, Doctor Mirage achieved a partial victory. Now, he’s back on Earth and is living with her, albeit as a ghost.

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As the second miniseries approaches, the creative team of Jen Van Meter, Roberto de la Torre, David Baron and Dave Lanphear all return for “The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives,” as the occultist attempts to work out what she should do with her life. She has her husband back, at least in (ahem) spirit, but not in body. And in her mission to try and recover everything that was lost to her, it appears that she may cause more damage to the supernatural and living world than she could possibly have imagined.

CBR News: When we last left Doctor Mirage, she’d got what she wanted. What kind of mindset is she in now?

Jen Van Meter: I think that she and her husband Hwen are very happy, but they are longing to be able to renew a physical relationship, and get their life back. In the first series their house was destroyed, and rebuilding that and their marriage are their immediate priorities. They are looking for some sort of magical resource that may help them get him some kind of physical material presence in the world so he can be more active in the world — and in their marriage. Their attempt to find this is going to open up a can of worms.

While Shan was the focus of the last series, Hwen was quite hands-on. Now, as a ghost, he can’t touch anything. That must be affecting his state of mind.

I think they’re both struggling with being a little ashamed. Well, maybe not ashamed, but a little guilty with what they have. He’s very glad to be back, but he feels cut off from the things that make him who he is, which is a big motivator. What I am exploring is the way people have to build a relationship after a long separation, and his lack of materiality becomes somewhat of a metaphor for that. When you have a long relationship, but have been apart for a long time.

As a scholar, researcher, inventor and husband, all those aspects of his life have been pretty limited by being a ghost. They know who they were before he died, and they were a very dynamic, physical, active kind of couple. They had a pretty great vibe together, and they want that back. Part of the question of the new series is going to be, “Do you get to go back to what you have, or do you have to have something new?” So they’re working on that!

The first series felt like it was focusing on the idea of ownership, and loss of ownership. The house, the relationship — things emptied out a lot for Shan. Would you say this is more about rebuilding that sense of ownership, of self?

Absolutely. I think that’s a good read of what we tried to do in the first series, and for where we are going with the second. It’s about rebuilding the self, but it’s also about re-establishing community. In the first series, I was really interested in focusing on Shan’s isolation, the things which had made her feel alone and the things which she had to do because she felt alone. One of the things which this series is about is their investment both in the community of ghosts who are all over the world, as well as their participation in the community of other people who are dealing with the occult and magic.

I sort of treated Shan as having backed away from the community of people they knew while Hwen was alive. So one of the things which happened in this new series is them trying to engage their friends and colleagues, and the other ghosts, and figure out their place again in that world, as a couple and as individuals. It’s fun to get to do that. When I was writing the first series, Valiant wanted to do some extras for bonus editions, and one of those was a page from a professional directory of other occultists with entries for, “If you need someone to do an exorcism, who do you call?”  It was a fun thing to do at the time, but now we have this new series and I get to use all those people!

That was really fun, to try and imagine them having friends from college who also do this thing. Now, we get to mess about with what it’s like to live in that world. If the first series was about sending her to the world of spirits to get her husband back, now we’re opening up what this world has looked like to her for her whole life, and getting to see a little more of the context she lives and works in.

We’ve seen Shan go through the worst time of her life — how is it now to get to write her get a victory? Have you found writing “Second Lives” to be a pretty rewarding task?

It is rewarding to get to write them happy, because that was the goal of the first series. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the first series, but the whole time I was writing towards, “Won’t it be great when they’re together again?” I wanted even the partial victory of getting him back as a ghost to feel like an enormous victory.

But then of course, when you’re writing characters, the pleasure is in writing what will happen to them next. They don’t tend to get a long rest! But getting to write them from a happier place, and more confident place, is something I’ve really liked. It’s interesting to write her feeling a little less brittle, and I think in the first series one of the pleasures for me was in getting to spend some time with what loss really means. That sounds weird! But there is a pleasure in looking how deep you can go, and dig into something that feels really real to me.

Having done that, it is very interesting to try and figure out what she’s like now, after five years of being used to that brittleness and having withdrawn from the world. What’s the emotional experience of being happy — and will she now get to stay happy?

Will we be seeing any more of Leo, Shan’s manager from the first series? Who’ll be the supporting characters?

Leo’s around. He wants them back on TV, so they can make money and rebuild their house. He is really interested in their financial stability in a way neither of them are. That’s one of the tensions, trying to figure out a way to get Hwen on camera.

We’re also going to meet Seline and her family, who are the of the magic world — a 200-year-old family who are the established occultists. They have a shop in Barcelona… that moves. At a certain point, we reach out to them, as certain things become a growing issue, and Seline becomes deeply involved in the rest of the story.

That was fun to do too, because Barcelona is such a gorgeous city — Gaudi really went to town there. It feels like if anywhere would be a centre for magic, it would be Barcelona, and the artist got to draw all these places.

It’s all a little bit off-kilter.

There’s something so organic about that city. It doesn’t feel like the rest of the world.

The first series drew power from the other side into the real world — now, you’re in the real world. What’s your approach to how magic works on Earth?

In part, because I think Shan and Hwen see themselves as scientists, they approach magic as science. Shan can see ghosts, so she knows they are real. The fact everyone else thinks they are a superstition — to her, that’s just science which we haven’t caught up with yet.

She perceives herself as being similar to the physicist who says, “Well, you haven’t bought into string theory yet, but I know it’s right because I have done the math.” So it is only ephemera until she can explain it clearly enough — for her, this is science. A lot of the people they associate with collegially probably handle it in different ways, but they also know people who are Wiccan and approach it as a religion. Or specialists, whose speciality might be, for example, sex magic. But that would be like saying, “We’re all scientists — I’m a chemist”!

They know people who approach it with different techniques, or points of reference. Another way of thinking of it is that place where math and music intersect. There are people who are performers and self-taught, and people who are musicologists and are deeply involved in theory and history. They have points of common intersection, but they don’t work in the same way. They can appreciate what one another does.

If we look at Shen as a scientist, she’s quite a reckless one! Especially when it comes to her own safety.

Oh, yes — definitely!

Do you think she has an element of self-destructiveness in her? How far is she willing to go in her pursuits?

In the first series, we did a little flashback to when she and Hwen first met. I always envisaged him as being a very practical scientist — an inventor — whereas she comes to it from having this unique experience of having actually spoken to ghosts since childhood. So she doesn’t necessarily come to the field of study as wanting to be a scholar of the occult: she comes wondering how she can manage this thing which is driving her crazy.

She also knows that she is aware of a population whom the rest of us are not aware of, these literally invisible people who need help. They are part of the world, and depend on her and others like her, if there are any! Her recklessness is partly her feeling like she is uniquely capable of taking this on and doing this work, and also I think her temperament generally is a little reckless. I think when we met her in the first series, she was even more so as she felt she had very little left to lose.

I think she thinks of herself as not having any particular genius, but she is aware of having a unique path and approach towards the deceased.

The first series did skip back and forth a little bit as well, so we got to see her throughout her life — before she got into a relationship, when she was a child, the present day. It filled out a lot of details about who she is and why she’s become the person she is now. Will we see any similar time-jumping through this second miniseries?

There’s not so much in the way of flashbacks, but we do cut away a lot more now for scenes Shen is not present for. Though, there is a scene which I’ve got in my head which keeps getting shuffled around, and I’m not sure if it’s something I need to write so I can cut it, or if it’s going to find a place at some point.

I want to write what their television show was like, before Hwen died, because in my head, it’d be a lot like a show that was on the air when I was a child called “That’s Incredible!” It was like, “here’s a guy with a collection of pennies worth more than their house!” and it was really goofy — I picture Shen’s show as being similar to that. I have a notion that just before Hwen died, they hit on a plan for their show, a mission statement at last — but one which was cut off when he died. I would love to do that scene, but it keeps getting set aside for more important stuff in the present. It may also not be necessary!

What do you think that mission statement was?

I think they see a psychic ecosystem, and ghosts who stay and never cross over into an afterlife. They stay to maintain the spiritual health of places, and Shen realises that human action can drive ghosts away. And if too many ghosts are driven away, then places can get sick. Their realization was that they felt it time to inform the public of this reality they can’t see, and get people to take this seriously. They want to move away from this being seen as a crazy thing and into a more legitimized branch of science.

How do you view them as a pair, then? We don’t get many couples in comics — what does the dynamic drive into your storytelling?

I would say that when you are in a long-term relationship or marriage — or even a business partnership of many years — there’s a sense of stability and trajectory, and you’re working together on a universal aim. That might be financial stability, retiring young, making great art, whatever your vision is as friends, a marriage, or business, whatever. I think the sense of shared purpose is important to relationships in that sense. I think of Shen and Hwen of being a bit Nick & Nora Charles, or a bit like the couple from Topper — the fun and breezy (but super-committed) couple. They do it with flair, and fun, because they are so into each other that everything is easier.

On one side, that’s the model, but on the other side I think of the Curies. I just saw a really cool documentary about it. When her work advanced to the stage where they realized “oh, I need a whole lot more of this radioactive material than I thought we needed to,” they pretty much built what they needed in a barn, and did everything themselves in terms of isolating the material they needed. They were out there at night, stirring the pot, keeping the fires hot, and that sense of throwing everything into a single idea or goal feels very romantic to me. I don’t know if everybody will agree with that! I find it very romantic to think of the Curies in their rubber gloves, sweating through the night as they work on their science!

It depicts a relationship we don’t see a lot of, and I think there’s something somewhat majestic about it. I would love to depict something similar for these two. A grand romance or passion is one thing, but a passion channelled into making the world better is something we don’t see enough of. Think about what all that energy can do! That explosive passion of Heathcliffe and Catherine — what if it was harnessed towards something?

What’s it been like to work once more with Roberto de la Torre, David Baron and Dave Lanphear on this new miniseries?

I sent Dave Baron an email this morning about the coloring in the books, and I was looking through the whole thing. I was struck by how beautifully they all work together as a unit, as a body. What Roberto does is put something extremely emotional and evocative into his work. And Dave with the coloring — he’s got this gorgeous sense of how light falls on stuff. I don’t know another way to describe it, but he uses light next to the way Roberto uses shadow, just beautifully. And then, when Dave Lanphear gets there and starts lettering things? I feel so honored to work with the three of them, as they have this harmony together.

It’s such a delight to write to. When I sit down to script and say, “It’s a group of people sitting at a table, talking,” I know he’s going to do something with it that is never just “a group of people sitting at a table.” I know we all love the characters, so we’re all very unified when it comes to giving them what they need.

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