There’s just something about Christmastide and ghost stories. The lyrics to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” promise as much, and great writers of Christmas Past and Present have always delivered, from Dickens with the quintessential A Christmas Carol to MacDonald with the lesser known but no less written The Shadows, to Jen Van Meter in this week’s latest from Valiant, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1. True, the story itself lacks a yuletide setting, and subsequent readings will divorce this debut issue from the happenstantial timing of its printing, but I’ll still count it as fortuitous to have a tale of harrows and hauntings at just the season for such; All Hallow’s Eve has nothing on Christmas Eve.
Doctor Mirage follows a powerfully simple premise: Shan, possessing the natural clairvoyance to perceive and communicate with the deceased, makes the logical use of her abilities by becoming a paranormal investigator on a low-budget reality television program, alongside her husband Hwen. The latter himself perishes, but given the nature of Shan’s abilities, the two are not so sundered by the seeming separation, each remaining monogamous, despite being by death parted in matrimony. Now they hunt for the Vita Secunda in the hopes of restoring some semblance of normality to their relationship.
So straightforward a plot permits a plethora of world-building to come. Van Meter wisely doles out only so far sparse details, dumping us in the action instead of bogging us down with exmersive exposition. With any luck later the series will have fleshed out a fiction as fully realized as the Potterverse or Promethea, which both borrowed likewise real world paranormal paraphernalia and philosophies. The latter even inspired me to immerse myself in a (purely academic) study of Hermeticism, finding in it the same sublime beauty of internal consistency as found in the Corpus Doctrinae or the Legendarium. That internal consistency which inspires secondary belief in a sub-created world (as Tolkien would describe such) is the real magic I hope to find in the pages of Doctor Mirage, the seeds for which Van Meter here has planted.
Helping matters immensely is Roberto de la Torre’s art. To call him a poor man’s Sean Murphy certainly suggests the style but belies the beauteousness evident in every page and panel. He’s more the upper-middle class man’s Sean Murphy, affluent but not opulent in his similar skill set. It lacks the extreme wide angles or blueprint-precision mechanics, but is every bit frenetic, both in terms of brush-strokes and subject matter.
I only review about half the books I read each week, mostly reserving my favorites for pure enjoyment and personal entertainment. I’d hate to sully Secret Wars or Tokyo Ghost with a constant critical eye. Such had been my approach to Valiant’s equally wonderful Imperium and Ninjak, but The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage deserved to be evangelized. I’ve sadly heard little hype regarding it prior to release, only trying it out on a whim when I saw de la Torre’s gorgeous art within. But lacking buzz before, I’ll beat the drums for this title here and now: buy Doctor Mirage. ‘Nuff said.