Usually when you think of clapboards you think of Hollywood and the movies. “On tonight’s episode…” adjusts the image to TV and adds the sound of an announcer’s voice. Then comes Nick Robles’ art, which sheds some light on Magdalene Visaggio’s words and Dave Sharpe’s letters (both are guilty of exaggeration). Now you’re in the realm of reality TV and what a strange and wonderful place to start Valiant’s new series on Doctor Mirage, a character who’s appeared in the Valiant universe before, but who you don’t need to be familiar with to use this issue as a jumping on point (or at least that’s what I’ve been doing and it seems to be working out so far).
That being said, I’m not sure whether Shan Fong not being able to see ghosts anymore is a new problem or one that’s been carried over from an earlier series. The point is it doesn’t really matter why it happened. What matters is that it did, and you can’t be a paranormal investigator (with a TV show) if you don’t have a way of getting in touch with your clients.
More importantly, Shan Fong has lost contact with her dead husband, Hwen, forcing her to grapple with his loss in a way that she’s never had to fully face before. That’s why this issue’s use of reality TV is so fascinating. Reality TV isn’t a money grabbing scheme for Shan Fong. From the narration you’re aware of how deliberate and manipulative the angles are, with Robles pulling you in closer during moments when Shan Fong’s privacy should be respected, yet there aren’t any real cameras, and it’s Shan Fong who’s directing, so why would she want the cameras to keep rolling?
Instead of finding relief from no longer being in the spotlight, that’s the time Shan Fong wants to go back to – the time that was captured on TV – and a time when she wouldn’t have been able to stay in bed all day, because that’s bad television.
By pretending the show still exists, Shan Fong is trying to give herself the motivation she needs to get moving – to harness the falseness of reality TV and turn it into something real. It’s like how at first Sharpe has the announcer’s narration cover up the blue and white boxes where Shan Fong addresses the reader directly. At the time you wonder why include the blue boxes at all but it’s all about taking baby steps.
With Shan Fong working towards a return to the status quo, though, is that really moving forward? Shan Fong wants her powers back. That makes sense but, going by Jordie Bellaire’s colors, it might not be a healthy goal. For the most part Bellaire sticks to a palette of pinks and blues. The only time there’s a jolt of rainbow is when Shan Fong thinks she might’ve have found a way to fix her abilities, but should her happiness be so reliant on an outcome that might not be possible, and what about teenager, Grace Lugo, who shows up at her door? Can she really help Shan Fong or does her bright, red hair mean she’s doomed to bring Shan Fong’s hopes up for nothing?
Reading this issue, there’s a real sense of unity and singular vision. This is a creative team that’s in sync. Available now from Valiant Comics, for many, reality TV is comfort television. In Doctor Mirage #1, it’s a coping mechanism.