Just because one of the book's two main characters is dead doesn't mean it can't come back, especially in the case of The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage. Tuesday at the #ValiantSummit, Valiant announced that Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre are resurrecting Shan and Hwen in a new series titled The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage: Second Lives.
The husband-and-wife supernatural investigators return looking for a way that the ghostly Hwen can interact with the mortal world in a four-issue series. Newsarama talked to Van Meter for more about this new series, how it fits within Valiant continuity, and the potential pitfalls of trying to bring a loved one back to life.
Newsarama: Jen, what can you tell us about The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage: Second Lives?
Jen Van Meter: You know the first series was about Shan Fong-Mirage going in search of her dead husband—well, it’s both a spoiler and the least surprising spoiler ever that she found him, right? At the beginning of this series, Shan and Hwen are trying to rebuild their marriage and their house and their careers, only he’s a ghost. I want it to feel lighter now, a little Topper, a little Hart to Hart, a little more like the vibe of the original Valiant series from ’93, The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, where Bob Layton and Bernard Chang did such a fantastic job of making the marriage the real adventure of the book. The “Second Lives” subtitle is a deliberate callback to that.
Nrama: Did you know during the writing of the original series that a second volume would be coming, and if so, did you seed anything to pick up on in this new volume?
Van Meter: I knew throughout the production of the first series that I’d want to do more if the opportunity presented itself, and I made a lot of choices in that book with an eye on the kinds of stories I’d love to tell if I got to do more—I left a lot of doors open. I’m thrilled that the response to the first series was such that Valiant wanted me to do more, and this seemed the most natural of the ideas to pursue next.
Nrama: How would you describe Shan and Hwen at this point, leading into Second Lives?
Van Meter: They’re in a pretty optimistic place, for the most part—they each spent a very long time thinking they’d never be together again; they’re deeply in love and glad to have one another back. But that doesn’t mean everything’s rosy. Shan’s the only one who can see or hear Hwen, and he passes right through stuff — he can’t pick up a hammer or turn the pages of a book and they don’t feel one another’s touch. It’s isolating—they’re cut off from community in so many ways, since the rest of the world can’t interact with him much at all, and they’re isolated from each other in some really essential ways. He’s also cut of from building, making—the very material side of the way he did magic, so it’s hard to feel useful. Their desire to see if they can’t do something about that is what inadvertently kicks off the crime they’ll wind up investigating.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the threat in this series?
Van Meter: In the first story, I wanted to make the plane of spirits and afterlives really rich and dense and populated—a place with neighborhoods and traditions and terrain. It seemed vital to me that this next story look at this plane, where we are, and try to see it as Shan an Hwen see it — ‘our’ neighborhoods, all constantly and casually haunted by the ghosts who don’t move on, who are part of what I’m liking to call the ‘psychic ecosystem.’ There’s this invisible second population, totally necessary to the way the world works, but unseen by almost everyone. In that sense, Shan and Hwen become the only ones equipped to protect the ghosts, investigate crimes against them, exact any kind of justice on their behalves.
So that’s context. The threat’s pretty simple: something has gotten loose, willing to murder the living and apparently murdering ghosts — not sending them off to another plane against their wills, but evaporating them, kaput — and is capable of doing it on a massive scale. Even if Shan and Hwen didn’t feel responsible for the something getting out there, they would still feel compelled to try and stop a crime of these proportions — for them it’s a little like finding out that a jar you opened released a deadly virus into the population, and you’re the only two CDC operatives in the country. But it’s not a virus.
Nrama: Some of Valiant’s books are intricately tied into their connected universe. Will this see any ties like that?
Van Meter: I wouldn’t say intricate. There are ties, and Shan and Hwen live in that same world, but in this story at least that connectedness isn’t necessarily that obvious. I have plans and dreams for the future on that account, though.
Nrama: Roberto De La Torre is returning for this second volume. What’s it like having him back on board when writing your scripts?
Van Meter: Roberto is amazingly, wonderfully talented, and he’s doing gorgeous work. What else can I say? That he and David Baron and Dave Lanphear all wanted to do this second run is super-gratifying to me; they’re all so talented, and when the pages come in, they’re heartbreakingly beautiful.
Nrama: What would you say is the theme for this new series?
Van Meter: This is a comic book about a kind of funny but bad-tempered gal and her ghost husband fighting ghost crime and hanging with their witch friends and being awesome.
But I’d love it if the readers and we can get to the end and have shared a story that maybe says a couple thoughtful things about the hard work that goes into rebuilding a relationship after time apart and after, in some sense, serious injury. I heard an interview with a couple done shortly after one had returned from military service profoundly injured, and they were trying to describe their complex feelings of gratitude and anguish and guilt — all of that on top of the totally normal but wildly difficult adjustments when a marriage is interrupted by any lengthy separation. And yet, not a moment’s doubt that their love would get them through it. It was profoundly moving, and if I can capture a fraction of how it made me feel and work that into this story, I’ll be very happy.