Review by Ian Keogh
This hardcover collection combines the two Doctor Mirage graphic novels by Jen Van Meter and Roberto De La Torre. Valiant issue oversized hardcovers as a matter of course, and while their art standards are generally high, this is a definite case where the opportunity to have the art reproduced at slightly larger than normal size is a major inducement. Given a supernatural series to work on, De La Torre really impresses with linework, layouts and use of black ink that bring the great Alberto Breccia to mind over a stylised synthesis of gloom. He’s superb at evoking the otherwordliness and foreboding necessary to the plot via scratchy, blotchy art that deliberately obscures faces. Even after reading through two complete stories you’d be hard pressed to describe lead character Shan Fong’s features, yet that hardly prevents understanding of her character. David Baron’s colouring further plays a strong part in perpetuating the mood, the shades never bright.
Having established The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage looks spectacular, it’s comforting to report that the art services two thoroughly readable plots, with Van Meter switching her approach between stories. The first, confusingly also released in paperback as The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, introduces Shan Fong, recently widowed and with the gift of being able to see the dead, and, if they choose, communicate with them. She once hosted a supernatural mystery TV show with her husband, and he died during an investigation that went wrong. However, when you have Shan’s abilities, death, even the death of others, isn’t necessarily the impediment it might be. The first story mixes a deceitful rich man, Shan’s agent, and some very dangerous creatures seeking access to Earth.
Does the mission to retrieve her husband succeed? Well, the tone of the second story, published in paperback as Second Lives, is different. It’s set on Earth, makes clever use of characters and circumstances we’ve already seen, and is a brilliantly paced procedural mystery. It further defies readers who might believe the plot to be following a predictable path, and anticipates possible plot flaws nicely.
If you can’t resist the sample art, rest assured you’re getting a good read, and this is surely the format of choice if affordable.