By Alexander Jones
The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage Issue #1 marked an important change in the history of Valiant Comics. The publisher finally opened up their stable of characters and swapped the gender of Dr. Mirage, turning the character into a widowed super heroine searching for her late husband in the afterlife. The first installment featured Shan Fong raising up from her paralyzed grief and taking one step forward into the supernatural world. Author Jen Van Meter caught Comics Beat up on the journey of Shan that led her to this point, and the beginning of Valiant Entertainment starting to explore a different type of story.
Comics Beat: The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage seems to have a rich history that goes deeper than her appearance in Shadowman, how did you integrate her further backstory into the title?
Jen Van Meter: Shan’s brief appearances in Shadowman were what we had to start from; she was a sparking, salty personality there, but we didn’t have much in the way of information about her past or present, really. As we started building a notion for what this story might be like and where we might want to take her, all that history and backstory just evolved as part of the process, really — it isn’t so much something I had to think about integrating as it is functioning elements of the the story and the character.
CB: How did you craft the unique voice of Shan?
JVM: I think of the magic-users in this setting as approaching what they do on a spectrum the same way people do in other fields. For some it might be something like a religious calling, while for others it’s more of a science or an artistic pursuit. Shan, as someone who talks to the dead and makes her living, effectively, as a medium, has always had to work against people’s presumptions that she’s some kind of huckster or flake. Her temperament and voice sort of reflect her practiced need to establish that she’s legit, and that she’s got a body of professional expertise–she talks like a technician because that’s how she thinks of herself and it’s what she wants to project, to distinguish herself from somebody playing on your emotions to con you. I also imagined, early on, that in learning to be comfortable talking to the dead, she grew a little impatient or irritable with the living, and that got worse after Hwen died.
CB: Did artists Robert De La Torre and David Baron come up with the design and color palette for the new Dr. Mirage costume and the series?
JVM: For that you would have to ask them! I will say that both have been wonderfully imaginative in their choices and terrifically supportive of my weird scripts! And don’t they work together beautifully?
CB: How do you balance the tone of this series between the supernatural, noir, and drama influences enriching the tale?
JVM: I suppose I think about what sort of story the characters think they’re in. For Shan, ghosts are a part of her everyday natural experience, so interacting with them doesn’t make an encounter like that particularly ‘supernatural’ for her– she’s always in someone else’s ghost story, in a sense. I feel like this book sits in between a lot of genres, which kind of gives me the freedom to pull what I need from any — when she’s detecting, it’s a mystery. Balance –to me–is just getting the thing to feel like it’s moving the right way, a way that feels true to what we’re trying to accomplish.
JVM: I’m very pleased and proud that the folks at Valiant wanted me for this–it matters to them and that has made it matter even more to me; I’ve had a wonderful experience working with all of them.
CB: There are many mysteries that are peppered throughout this first installment, how do you weave secrets into the story while keeping the reader engaged?
JVM: I suppose I go with my gut on that, and rely on my sense of what keeps me engaged. I like unanswered questioned–or rather, deferred answers. I like a scene or a page that leaves me wondering what’s around the corner.
CB: Did you get the chance to flesh out the further world of Dr. Mirage including the underworld and some of the mystical settings featured in the title?
JVM: About 90% of the story takes place on the ‘other side,’ so we get a lot of time there to get a feel for what that looks like to Shan. One of the things I wanted to play with is that that whole sphere is really malleable and perception-based — a landscape that looks to Shan like a grey, barren battlefield might look like a 17th century coffeehouse to another visitor. There’s no materiality, so all of that is sort of visual metaphor. It’s tricky, but I think Roberto is having some real fun with it.
CB: How will the bond between Shan and Hwen continue to be explored further in the subsequent issues to come?
JVM: Well, that’s really kind of the story, isn’t it? Structurally speaking, there are some flashbacks, and they do eventually get to interact again; it’s not really a spoiler to say straight up that she is going to find him. Then there’s what happens after that!