Advance Review – Mata Hari #1 (Dark Horse)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (Berger Books imprint)
Writer: Emma Beeby
Artwork: Ariela Kristantina, Pat Masioni (colours)
Release Date: 21st February 2018

Next month sees the release of Mata Hari, a fictionalised account of the life and death of “the original femme fatale”. One of the flagships of former Vertigo Editor Karen Berger’s ‘Berger Books’ imprint, the new series sees Emma Beeby working alongside Ariela Kristantina to tell Mata Hari’s story, and the first issue does a tremendous job of introducing us to our leading lady in all her contradictory glory.

Through the constant stream of reinvention, misinformation and out-and-out lies spread about her, it can be fairly difficult to cut through the noise to the core of who Margaretha MacLeod really is. And that’s something Beeby fully embraces here, providing us with a likeable but flawed protagonist whose life appears to be full of contradictions.

One constant runs throughout all the different versions of Mata Hari we get to see here, however. And whether she’s an unashamedly sexual exotic dancer, a fiercely determined independent woman, or – if the authorities are to be believed – one of the most dangerous spies ever apprehended, Hari’s keenly developed survival instinct is on full display throughout the course of this issue.

The issue is mainly based around a sham ‘trial’ for our leading lady, where her crimes and wrongdoings – such as they are – are laid bare. The level of judgment and out-and-out slut shaming on display feels uncomfortably relevant in today’s world, yet Hari remains steadfast and controlled throughout, never letting her veil slip as she keeps her emotions in check.

Kristantina paints a wonderfully expressive leading lady with her typical artistic flair, and while things are significantly more restrained than her work on, say, inSEXts, the level of subtle emotion on display really helps the story to resonate. It’s also readily apparent just how much research Kristantina has done into the era in which the comic is set, with everything from the outfits to the furniture feeling impressively authentic.

The pages are also beautifully laid out, with the court scene in particular interspersed with some truly eye-catching flashback panels featuring the exotic dancer version of the defendant. Colourist Pat Masioni also deserves a huge amount of credit for the look of the book, with a muted palette filled with rich, dark colours and a striking contrast between the different ‘veils’ Mata Hari wears.

There is perhaps a small amount of assumed prior knowledge about just who Mata Hari actually is, but nothing that will hinder those readers who know little more than the exotic enigma’s name. It can also be a little disorienting on the first read-through as Beeby flits back and forth between a variety of different timelines, making it difficult to get a grip on how these different scenes relate to one another.

Ultimately though, as an introduction to the title character, her strengths and her flaws, this first issue definitely gets the job done. Featuring a female editor encouraging two supremely talented female creators as they tell the story of one of the most intriguing women in modern history Mata Hari is a new series that comes highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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