Dr. Shan Fong-Mirage is a PhD, who also happens to be able to see ghosts, which comes in handy because the man she loved, Hwen, died in the last Death Defying Doctor Mirage miniseries and is now a ghost himself. In The Death Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1, writer Jen Van Meter and artist Roberto de la Torre craft a new adventure for Shan as she looks into the dangerous “Vita Secunda” (Second Lives in Latin) scroll, which was commissioned by the diabolical Roman emperor Caligula to enslave the ghosts of his enemies and his ancestors, to find some way for Hwen to be able to seen and heard by people other than her. (This would be good for the ratings of her paranormal investigation reality TV show according to her actually affable agent Leo.) And best of all, she can touch the man she loves again if this book can be detoxified of all its dark magic.
Van Meter kicks off Doctor Mirage #1 with a couple flashbacks that introduce the importance of “Vita Secunda” as well as the relationship between Shan and Hwen. The second flashback is the series at its most fun with Shan showing up at a haunting-themed wedding where the bride and groom read Tennyson poems to each other in place of vows. (This sounds like a fun idea other than the spirits going restless, but I would’ve picked Keats, Byron, or maybe one of e.e. Cummings’ love poems.) This little incident is also a showcase for de la Torre’s wispy art style where he uses thinner inking to differentiate ghosts from humans for the most part. And if the difference gets confusing, letterer David Baron saves the day with his light grey letters for them, and David Baron uses an eerie blue color palette. He keeps this palette for most of the story, except towards the end when he uses jarring red as Van Meter kicks up the plot another notch with some globetrotting and a twist or two.
Doctor Mirage #1 is a book centered around a melancholic relationship between Shan and her ghost husband Hwen, and the plot revolves around her almost desperate attempts to make him tangible. However, Van Meter gives her a wry sense of humor like when she geeks out about successfully making a potion/energy drink with yak pee and espresso that gives her enough adrenaline to search the house for “Vita Secunda”, or her little flirty moments with Hwen. Their relationship is incredibly sweet and will definitely have readers rooting for a corporeal reunion between them even as the story goes some morally shady places. A lot of comic relief also comes from the various ghosts that show up in Shan’s adventures, like the Roaring Twenties ones that show up during the cold open. However, some of the others ones don’t have as charming personalities and exist as harbingers of doom or givers of exposition.
The Death Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1 is a fun, yet tragic Ghostbusters meet Indiana Jones paranormal adventure with an intelligent, complex female lead, who has a subtle sense of humor. As a first issue, there is a lot of set-up for future issues in the miniseries, but Jen Van Meter’s writing keeps things interesting with a jet setting pace and a tender central relationship between Shan and her incorporeal hubby Hwen. Roberto de la Torre’s art is a real treat with gorgeous cathedrals, churches, and libraries dotting the scenery to go along with his literally spectral linework. This comic is worth checking out for fans of supernatural and adventure stories and does an excellent job of introducing the character of Dr. Shan Fong-Mirage for those who didn’t read the first miniseries (Like yours truly.)