September 4, 2014

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Rose City Roll Call 2014: Jen Van Meter and The Death Defying Doctor Mirage #1 of 5


Rose City Roll Call! Cambot! Gypsy! Tom Servo! Croooooow! Periscope! Dark Horse! Kurt Busiek! Ooooooooooonnnnni! It's another Panel Patter feature on creators and publishers who will be at Rose City Comic Con! You can find all our features for the show right here!

The Death Defying Doctor Mirage #1 of 5
Written by Jen Van Meter
Art by Roberto de la Torre
Colors by David Baron
Letters by David Lanphear
Valiant Entertainment

Doctor Shan Fong is a woman whose life isn't going so well right now. Her husband won't talk to her, and it's not because he's dead. Plenty of other dead people talk to her (just not him). That's the hook for the intriguing, suspenseful and moving first issue of The Death Defying Doctor Mirage, from Valiant.

The story begins as Doctor Fong, or Doctor Mirage (she just likes to be called "Mirage") shows up at a gig that her agent/manager Leo has set up for her. It's a group of widows, who've hired her to help them communicate with their dead husbands. She does this successfully, and brings them each messages from their husbands. It's here that Mirage first mentions that she's not able, for some reason, to communicate with the spirit of her husband. Back at her home, she's not doing well. Leo comes in person to tell her about a new job he's set up for her with a reclusive billionaire named Linton March.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to take the job (it is $30,000 just to consult).

Mirage goes to see March at his mansion, and he begins to tell her a story about something called Operation Sockeye (the supernatural equivalent of Operation Paperclip), an effort to recruit Nazi occultists after World War II. March was himself part of this group, originally part of Army Intelligence, brought over to find paranormal activity (magic, out-of-body travel, telepathy) and see how it worked. March tells her of an attempted extraction of two top Nazis that went terribly wrong, and caused him to be spiritually bound to something from another plane of existence.

Mirage sees this and is ready to leave, when she hears a voice from another being to which March is somehow bound. Mirage sees this being (which hints that it knows the whereabouts of her husband's spirit), and she changes her mind and decides to take on the case and investigate how to break this bond. In Mirage's discussions with Leo, it's clear that she doesn't trust or believe March's story about how he became bound to this being from another dimension, but if there's a chance she can get in touch with her husband's spirit, she will take the risk. As the issue ends, Mirage prepares herself for the journey to the spiritual plane. During this issue, there are also scenes showing that someone else has taken an interest in Mirage's meeting with March, another mystery to unfold.

This series is off to a very strong start. The issue builds the main character of Doctor Mirage to someone about whom a reader would want to know more. What happened to her husband? How did they come to live in a house they protected by magic spells? There are many other questions as well, and Van Meter wisely doesn't attempt to answer any of them here. What she does is make you understand that these questions are important, but are ones that will be dealt with in service of a larger story. It's an immediately interesting plot, too. The first scene that we see in the comic (where Mirage helps grieving widows communicate with their dead husbands) is emotionally affecting, and it makes clear that in this book, even if esoteric magic or spiritual forces are involved, this is a story that affects real people and shows real emotional consequences.

The art in this book from de la Torre and David Baron is striking and perfectly suits the tone of the story. It's moody and has an noir-like emotional darkness to it without being overly obvious. Even the few scenes in daylight seem to have the slightest pall over them. The coloring is very effectively used to highlight the supernatural aspects of the story; as seen here, the presence of the spirits (the way their presence shines a light on Mirage, in particular) is extremely effective coloring. The presence of spirits is something only she can sense, but the brightening of the room is memorably illustrated. Elsewhere the coloring varies from more realistic to hyper-stylized, but is nicely used to provide emphasis to certain aspects of the visual storytelling.

The sequentials from de la Torre are strong in this book, as de la Torre moves from close to medium to far shots to provide a nice sense of scope and perspective. The character design is also well-rendered. De la Torre captures Mirage's weariness, and the toll that communing with spirits, takes out of her. We see this effectively in her facial acting and in her body language. He also does impressive line work here which calls to mind the work of Sean Murphy, while being very much de la Torre's own style.

Van Meter and de la Torre give Doctor Mirage a real personality and a sense of presence. She's a powerful person, but she's in a bad situation; she also very clearly comes across as someone who has a low tolerance for bullshit in her life. She doesn't like treachery, supernatural or otherwise. She's also someone with empathy - she may not totally trust the being from another plane with which she had contact, but she seemed to empathize with it. The other characters in this first issue, while not quite as fleshed out, are also rendered as interesting and memorable in their own way. Leo is frumpy, weathered, well-meaning and seems to really care for Mirage. March is, from the outset, presented as someone about whom one should be skeptical. The interesting question isn't whether he's lying, it's why, and what is he hiding? Stay tuned, and find out.

This is an entertaining first issue that raises intriguing questions, and strongly establishes the main characters and the world they live in. For fans of stories delving into supernatural (who also appreciate well-crafted characters), The Death Defying Doctor Mirage is worth a look.