Saturday, January 17, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 5: The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage

When they first appeared, most of the books in the Valiant line left me cold. I did eventually come to love Archer & Armstrong, especially the Barry Smith issues, but their revisionist version of Magnus, Robot Fighter did nothing for me, and I saw the new characters as spinoffs of that, so I mostly didn't bother.
Well, looks like I might have been missing out.
The latest Valiant revival includes a magic-based title, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage. Now, while I don't go nuts for EVERY comic about magic, there are some I cherish, like the Smoke and Mirrors miniseries of a couple years ago, good Doctor Strange stories, and the magical aspects of Gaiman's comic book work, especially the first Books of Magic mini-series. Looks like I should add Doctor Mirage to that list.
de la Torre's art from Issue 2.
The Mignola influence is clear.
By writer Jen van Meter (how is it that this book is neglected in a year when comics are taken to task for a lack of female creators?) and artist Roberto de la Torre, who also did some nice work on The Hand storyline in Daredevil a few years ago, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage tells of widow Shan's attempts to reunite with her deceased husband, the only spirit she cannot access. 
The five-issue mini-series, now complete (and presumably awaiting collection) is mature in every sense of the word. While it does contain a smattering of grisly content, its maturity derives more from the subtlety of its storytelling and characterization. Odd to say about a book about ghosts and Nazi wizards, but The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is quite introspective and tender, but not lacking in action and energy.
In a Comics Alliance interview, van Meter says, "From a character perspective, one of the imaginative challenges becomes, “Who is this person that keeps walking into the worst day of somebody else’s life’ over and over and over again?” As I was trying to develop the personality of the character, I was thinking a lot about other people I know who handle things like that, like ER Doctors. I know a couple people in medicine who deal with fairly traumatic sides of what they do and I’ve know some cops in my life. I was trying to kind of think about what their resilience is, what are the personality quirks that go with being able to keep that job and stay healthy. Where are the cracks for people that are having a hard time with that role? The maturity to it for me is trying to bring a thoughtful perspective to what it would be like to really be this person and not have it all be just battling monsters."
The coloring by David Baron is subdued and spot on, enhancing the story's flow elegantly.
Elegant may be the best word to describe this book, despite de la Torre's art having nuances of raw, unbridled Mignola in spots.
The best way to describe The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is that it's a smart, magical superhero Gothic romance. Not a bad way to spend five issues! 
No word on following appearances of the character. But as always, we live in hope.
Next: Best Comics of 2014, No. 4, which bites and snarls.