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Advanced Review: Mata Hari #1

Mata Hari is the life story of the infamous German spy from World War I. Beyond that it’s hard to provide a summary and hard to review. The biggest difficulty in comics criticism is that we’re dealing with a serial medium in which we must occasionally evaluate enormously complex works in bite-sized pieces that don’t always lend themselves to such analyses. It’s a bit like trying to talk about a film fifteen minutes at a time and Mata Hari is a prime example of this problem in action.

Mata Hari is a complicated house of cards that leaps back and forth through the life of its main character. We see her over the course of many years, first as a child and then an adult, facing trial for espionage and on the road to her execution. Writer Emma Beeby clearly has a fascination with her subject and a good grasp of the various historical sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate into a coherent narrative and there is a studied ambiguity to the way details are presented that makes Mata Hari elusive. I don’t know much more about her now than I did before and that, I think, is part of the point.

The art by Ariela Kristantina is a mixed bag. While I would rate it good overall, it’s a bit inconsistent. It’s clear that she was trying to draw two different stories using different styles: one a sultry spy thriller and the other a portrait of a woman facing the injustice of society’s expectations in the wake of an unconventional life. Kristantina manages both well but the shock between the two is jarring and since most of the more titillating material is in the front and back of the book, many readers may have already been turned off by the cover and the previews.

Mata Hari is certainly an interesting book though it demands a lot of the reader in terms of attention to both the written words and the pictures themselves. You’re going to want to read this one carefully and probably more than once. I don’t know that it’s a great comic book, but it certainly reads like the first chapter of a very good graphic novel. Given editor Karen Berger’s reputation for producing many such longer form examples of the medium, it’s a bit mystifying to me that Mata Hari is being serialized at all. From what I’ve seen it will be a fascinating read when complete but is not particularly well served by being chopped up for monthly publication. That said it was good enough that I’m on board for at least one more installment.

Story: Emma Beeby Artist: Ariela Kristantina
Story: 7.0 Art 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Buy (but wait to read until the entire series is done)

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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