Monday, January 29, 2018

Review - Mata Hari #1 (@DarkHorseComics)


"...help me make my revenge."

One of the most important components of war is espionage. The thing is, you never hear that much about it--otherwise, the spies would be really bad at their jobs. Dark Horse Comics takes a look at a spy who wasn't bad at her job in Mata Hari #1. The issue is written by Emma Beeby, illustrated by Ariela Kristantina and colored by Pat Masioni.

Dancer. Courtesan. Spy. Executed by a French firing squad in 1917. 100 years on from her death, questions are still raised about her conviction. Now, the lesser-known, often tragic story of the woman who claimed she was born a princess, and died a figure of public hatred with no one to claim her body, is told by breakout talent writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd), artist Ariela Kristantina (Insexts), and colorist Pat Masioni drawing on biographies and released MI5 files. In this first part of a five-issue miniseries, we meet Mata Hari in prison at the end of her life as she writes her memoir--part romantic tale of a Javanese princess who performed ''sacred'' nude dances for Europe's elite, and part real-life saga of a disgraced wife and mother, who had everything she loved taken from her. But, as she sits trial for treason and espionage, we hear another tale: one of a flamboyant Dutch woman who became "the most dangerous spy France has ever captured"--a double agent who whored herself for secrets, lived a life of scandal, and loved only money. Leading us to ask...who was the real Mata Hari?

As far as spies go, the Mata Hari is probably one of the most renowned in history and Beeby does an excellent job of conveying that to the reader. The book is rife with the characterization of both the main character and the supporting characters, with Beeby using both sides effectively in building up her character. Beeby also crams the book with plenty of dialogue, but the exchanges amongst the characters feels natural in both their presentation and how they inform the reader. If there's one minor point with the issue it's Beeby's pacing, in that she sort of jumps around a lot chronologically and it's a little difficult to get a handle on what's happening when. Beeby sort of starts at the present and works backward which makes sense by the end of the issue, although there is something of a learning curve for the reader along the way.

Considering the Mata Hari was an actual person there are clearly historic inspirations for her appearance and Kristantina captures her look cleanly. Her linework is crisp while also emphasizing bold, black lines that give the characters a sense of history. Kristantina crams the pages full of panels, switching between blackened gutters and no floating panels, all of which works in concert to give the Mata Hari an ethereal presence at point. There's some gorgeous full-page shots by Kristantina that really underscore the Mata Hari's physical assets which she used throughout her life. And Masioni's colors are somewhat somber in that they're darker and evoke the aforementioned sense of history.

Mata Hari #1 is a great take on the character. There's some debate about her espionage methods, but the issue captures that and more. Bebby's script is smooth and engaging, showcasing the essence of what made the Mata Hari such an efficient spy. Kristantina's artwork is a great fit and renders the older era when Mata Hari lived very well. Mata Hari #1 is a great way for readers who don't know much about the character to be introduced to her without being steeped in all the other political intrigue of the time.

Mata Hari #1 is available now.

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