Review by Ian Keogh
Shan Fong, Doctor Mirage has the gift of being able to channel the dead. No scam, no lies, she can see ghosts and enables them to pass a final message to their loved ones, but they have to be willing. Her tragedy is that her own husband is missing, presumed dead, but there is no contact. Something she keeps to herself is that she has a wider experience of the occult and the parapsychological, but as knowledgable as she is, there’s still much that’s down to instinct and bluff where she travels.
Based on his artwork here, Roberto De La Torre has been wasted on superhero assignments he obviously has little enthusiasm for. These pages are a stylised synthesis of gloom, with the influence of Alberto Breccia strong in the linework and the layouts. A strong feeling of otherworldliness and foreboding is essential for the story to work, and he supplies that in spades, with scratchy, blotchy art and constantly indistinct faces. Even after reading the book you’d be hard pressed to describe Shan to a forensic sketch artist. David Baron’s colouring is essential for the overall effect. He uses just a single shade per panel, but it’s extremely atmospheric in combination with the thick areas of De La Torre’s black ink.
Jen Van Meter keeps the plot indistinct, the methods of magic to be taken at her word, but doesn’t overplay this. Her Shan is a likeable woman on a dire mission, and the threats she faces intriguing from an opening episode in which she’s very aware someone is trying to deceive her. That’s part of what makes the story work so well. Shan is finding her way in one location, while a group of one time mercenaries also have a part to play, desperate men attempting desperate means. Everything works to a very satisfactory ending, and you can choose to leave it there, or head for a sequel in Second Lives.
Both are combined in an oversized hardcover edition perhaps confusingly also called The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage, but with a very distinct cover. To add to the confusion, it’s the cover from Second Lives.