There’s a mismatch between the exuberant, almost gleeful title of The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, and the sober, grief-laden detective story that actually takes place in its pages. Writer Jen Van Meter and artist Roberto de la Torre’s relaunch of one Valiant 1.0’s latter-wave titles is maybe the most drastic reinventions in the new line – not better, not worse, just different.
If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Doctor Mirage exists squarely in the supernatural corner of the Valiant Universe, first established over in Shadowman which has spent most of its run establishing the “rules” of magic for the publisher (it involves a lot of alternate dimensions, essentially, and the people who can interact with them). It actually seems like a pain in the ass – the things there can see you and a lot of them aren’t happy about it.
Shan Fong is one of those unfortunates who can see too much. She’s able to communicate with the dead, a finicky ability that lets her help grief-stricken widows get in a final word with their loved ones or helps Shan keep her bank account afloat by taking on the odd case for wealthy clients in need of someone with knowledge of the occult. The twist: the only spirit she can’t talk to is that of her late husband, Hwen, who vanished in the course of one of their previous adventures together. But her latest case, helping an older-than-he-looks millionaire figure out how and why a demon is tethered to him, might be her key to figuring out her own mystery.
Ultimately, the whole thing ends up feeling like Hellblazer with a little less of the cynicism and self-loathing, an urban supernatural story with a hint of noir, a complete 180 from the original which was one of Valiant 1.0’s sweeter books. The change is a little safe – dark and deadly serious urban fantasy is an easier sell than “The Thin Man with ghosts.” But that’s kind of selling short the way Van Meter has found a higher-stakes mystery for the new series than the one which formed the basis of the original.
That original series was all about the playful and funny relationship between the married couple at its core.* There, Hwen was around, but not “around” – he was made incorporeal and the spine of the series was figuring out how to get him back into a physical body. And while the new Valiant Universe has shown that it’s not shy about having fun in its books (Archer & Armstrong, Quantum & Woody), Van Meter and de la Torre have opted to go another way, and as long as you can divorce your opinion from nostalgia (I think I’m the only nostalgic for that 11-issue run), the new Doctor Mirage works.
*The original book was also notable for its no-big-deal interracial relationship between its two leads, the Asian-American Hwen and the Latina Carmen. While it doesn’t feel like anything was specifically lost in the new Doctor Mirage, it’s just a notable switch that the couple is now Asian American.