The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1
Writer: Jen van Meter
Artist: Roberto de la Torre
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artist: Travel Foreman
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US (regular)/$4.99 US (plus edition)
I haven’t delved into the recent revival of the Valiant/Acclaim super-hero line, which offers new, fresh spins (I assume) on a variety of unconventional concepts that enjoyed a surprisingly level of popularity in the 1990s, driven in part by the speculator boom of that era. I never had much of an attachment to those characters, though I certainly tried checked out of a few of those comics. I was a major fan of Quantum & Woody, but it was the creators on that book, not the Valiant brand, that drew me in. However, I did have some fondness for one of Acclaim’s lesser-known titles: The Second Life of Dr. Mirage, featuring the adventures of a spectral hero and his still-living wife, though much of my appreciation of that comic stemmed from the work of artist Bernard Chang. Nevertheless, the name “Dr. Mirage” was enough of a nostalgia trigger to get me to delve into this latest iteration of the Valiant Universe of the first time. I liked the intensity and emotion that come out quite effectively in the script, but when I reached the end of the issue, I wasn’t all that driven to find out what happens next in the story, and that hook is a rather vital component in serial comics.
Dr. Shan Mirage is cursed — not so much by her gift of being able to talking to the recently departed who loom imperceptibly all around us, but rather by irony. She earns money is enabling those mourning their loved ones a chance to talk with them one last time, to achieve closure, but Shan herself is recently widowed, and she has no idea where her husband’s spirit has gone. She can’t make the connection she’s able to grant others, and the loss of her husband and not knowing his fate in the afterlife haunt her. Dr. Mirage has been reticent to accept new clients, but the promise of a big payday, a startling encounter with something not at all human and the promise for a clue as to her husband’s ultimate destination prompt her to undertake what will likely be her most dangerous mission/adventure to date.
Roberto de la Torre’s art helps to reinforce the sense of intrigue and enforcement in this comic. His style seems more like it would be paired with a crime comic; his efforts here remind me of the styles of such comics artists as John Paul Leon, Alex Maleev and Sean Gordon Murphy. He and colorist David Baron do a good job of conveying the ghostly figures earlier in the issue, but it’s the rough, loose quality of the linework that goes so far to convey the ethically mercenary tone of the title character and her activities. The one aspect the art didn’t quite click for me was in rendering Shan Mirage’s race. That element of diversity is a relevant factor in the story, given the character’s client’s attitudes about such things. But more importantly, this character of color isn’t consistently presented as such.
The greatest strength of this inaugural issue is the powerfully admirable and relatable character that writer Jen van Meter has crafted in Dr. Shan Mirage. She’s savvy, confident and acutely skilled, but she’s also portrayed as somewhat broken, emotionally fragile and held together at this point seemingly by sheer force of will. She’s no doubt seen horrors in her life, but what haunts her (figuratively rather than literally) is the loss of her husband. Van Meter offers us with a portrait of a determined hero and a believable, vulnerable human being. The dialogue also does an excellent job of establishing an atmosphere of danger and intrigue. Mirage comes off as something of a soldier who’s seen combat on an astral battlefield rather than an academic.
Van Meter’s script is, as I noted, incredibly effective in establishing mood, conveying emotion and challenging the reader. But in the end, I wasn’t champing at the bit to find out what comes next for the title character, and I think I know why. For all of the strengths I found in this book — not the least of which is the introduction of a new, compelling and strong female protagonist — there are weaknesses, and those weaknesses take the form of clichés. the old man trying to atone for something, cure something that happened years ago in times of war. The notion of Nazis and the occult. A client the heroine can’t quite trust. The prize she can’t quite resist despite all the warning signs she perceives. These elements — the core components of the plot driving this character forward — feel far too familiar me to get caught up in them, in the mystery. While the plotting leaves a little to be desired, the scripting is undeniably well done. In the end, I’m glad I read this comic, but I’m not convinced yet to take on the five-part series as a whole. 7/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.